This is another of what I hope will be frequent departures from my usual review of barbecue joints throughout New England and New York. My first love was and always will be the burger, in all its forms.
Located at the edge of a residential neighborhood and looking a little like a converted residence itself, Burgers, Shakes & Fries is a stone's throw from I-95's exit 2. It's an over the counter joint with just a few high top stools for adults and a few low chairs for the kids, both with counters for enjoying hot dogs and onion rings in addition to its namesake food groups. The view into the open kitchen is unfortunately aimed at the dishwashing area; perhaps it's no coincidence that the griddle is nestled behind a wall that keeps it out of sight. Unlike most counter service operations, you pay for your meal at the end rather than right after you order—maybe it's because they know the burgers are so good you might want to order another—and the drinks (at least the shakes) are served in real glasses. In BSF's second location in Dareien, beer and wine are also available.
I've had Burgers Shakes and Fries on my radar for at least four years. Even though its close-to-NYC location should be considered a plus for most, for me it worked the other way around if I went there before hitting the city I'd get stuck in traffic; if I waited 'til the ride home (greater Boston), I'd be too full. So on a day when I was returning and not full at all, I made my move. As I waited for my order to be prepared I skimmed all the framed reviews on the wall. Most of them included a photo of owner Kory Wollins—a graduate of Cornell University (one of the finest schools for the hospitality industry) and, more importantly, the man who took my order. When the owner is hands-on even on a weekday lunch and even with another location, that's Very comforting.
The over-the-counter method is a pick-one-from-column-A style, where you select your size (1/3 or 2/3 pound), cheese and other toppings, all priced a la carte. All burgers are cooked to medium rare unless requested othwerwise—again, very comforting.
Burgers aren't served on buns here. Instead, the patties come between two thick slices of what the menu describes as "buttered, toasted bread," but to me they tasted griddled. This treatment gives the burger a distinct grilled cheese flavor.
My third-pound patty was just the right size, cooked precisely to the specified medium rare. The exterior had ample seasoning and a gentle crusting; the interior was gentle period, suggesting a loosely packed patty to start. Although it didn't strike me as an upscale blend, the flavor of the house ground chuck was as pleasant on its own as it was within the context of the sandwich.
Cheddar was my cheese selection, and it came as more of a light sweat than a full-on melt (i.e., you could probably peel it off the burger carefully). While not necessarily a strength, it was hardly a weakness. The sauteed onions, on the other hand, were a huge strength. These were cooked down substantially to bring out their natural sweetness, and perhaps mixed with a little wine to enhance that sweetness—if so, no complaints here. Even with all that caramelization they still had most of their size and "integrity" left, plus plenty of juiciness that worked in conjunction with the patty yield great mouthfeel on top of great flavor. Surprisingly, I didn't add bacon to make my standard bacon-cheddar-onions order, but it's available.
When you head into a place called Burgers, Shakes & Fries, you can't not get all three, so I went with a straightforward chocolate shake. This was both strong and balanced, with a nice thickness that thankfully wasn't artificial tasting or the stuff that a straw can get seized in. Neither a fast food shake nor a nouvelle gourmet shake, this was something from the past, with a strong sense of chocolate but still plenty of milk flavor along with it.
The Fries (and such)
Fries are the weak link among the namesake trio. Long and seemingly hand cut, thicker than a shoestring but thinner than steak fries, these had good outer crispness but a somewhat dry interior and not much flavor. Onion rings picked up the slack with a smooth, dark batter that similarly took the middle ground between thin and thick. These had superior outer crunch with inner juiciness, and a nice savory flavor in the batter.
The Bottom Line
Interesting bread choice, quality unexotic beef selection, very good preparation, excellent overall burger with a grilled cheesy feel, excellent shake, very good onion rings, okay fries, good atmosphere, nice people. There's not much more to say other than "I'll be back."
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