In October or November, Shake Shack (66 E. Ohio St., no phone yet) opens in River North, thickening the custardy geographical blanket the chain covers by adding Chicago to a roster that already includes Philadelphia, Florida, the D.C. area, Boston, locations in Europe and the Middle East, and its home base of New York City. Shake Shack grew into its continents-spanning empire from an unassuming cart in Madison Square Park, run by the much more assuming chef Danny Meyer (no relation to your Dish co-correspondent), known for establishing the fine-dining spots Union Square Café and Eleven Madison Park, among many others.
Shake Shack’s Chicago touchdown is a spiritual homecoming of sorts—since its founding as a cart, it has served a Chicago-style hot dog. “It’s Vienna Beef,” says Mark Rosati, Shake Shack’s culinary director. “Out of all the hot dogs we’ve tasted, we love the delicious flavor and level of smoke. That’s our mainstay hot dog going back to cart days.” They collaborate on a pickle relish with Rick Field of Rick’s Picks, a New York farmers’ market pickle maker, for a sweet-salty-sour-bitter concoction. The eponymous Rick also makes a seasonal corn relish to accompany the corn dog.
When Shake Shack made its first upgrade, from the cart to a kiosk, it added frozen custard—another Midwestern staple that was then a New York rarity—along with smashed flat-top-grilled hamburgers. Rosati says they hope to source the burgers from all Midwestern Angus cattle, and that the vanilla and chocolate custards use real sugar instead of corn syrup. “It’s as healthy as it can be for being indulgent,” he says.
Soon the chain started shacking up in other cities, expanding to more than 50 locations and spreading the gospel of the Chicago hot dog to the masses. And there are already plans for a second Chicago location to open in 2015 inside the new Chicago Athletic Association hotel, perched at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Madison Street.
Now if only someone could tell the rest of the world about Italian beef.