A couple of months ago, all my Philadelphia food writer friends were abuzz when the Shake Shack opened in the city. The lines, I heard, were really long, sometimes with an hour wait. As curious as I was, I wasn't waiting in line an hour for a burger, so I decided I’d wait until some of the hype had died down.


The hype in Philadelphia still seems to be going, but I paid an unexpected visit to the Theater District Shake Shack in New York City yesterday. We had family come in from Arizona for a wedding last weekend, and we took a couple of days this week to traipse around New York with them. They wanted to try the Shake Shack, so we made a stop there in between the Statue of Liberty and American Museum of Natural History.


The Shake Shack is a growing chain of burger, hot dog and milk shake restaurants that started as a hot dog stand about a decade ago in Madison Square Park in New York City. It has since grown to include restaurants in New York City, Philadelphia, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Florida and the Middle East.


The beef for the burgers comes from vegetarian-fed, humanely raised cattle that are never given hormones or antibiotics. Some of the other ingredients the Shake Shack uses come from artisanal producers.


Each chain has many sustainable practices in place, too. The electricity at each store is offset through wind power and renewable energy credits. The restaurants recycle heavily, including their cooking oil, and they compost food. Each store is built with recycled and sustainable materials, and LED lights are used in the stores.


The Shake Shack gets involved in the community, and 5 percent of the profits of each store goes back into the local community.


The sustainable measures taken by Shake Shack are impressive, but as with any restaurant, if the food isn’t good, sustainability isn’t going to be enough to keep customers. So how is the food? Very good. My cheeseburger tasted fresh and was cooked perfectly. I’d compare it to a Five Guys or an Elevation Burger — far above the average fast-food chain burger, but not quite the “best burger I have ever eaten” experience I had at New York City’s Spotted Pig or even the wonderful messy burger I had at Philadelphia’s Village Whiskey. Those are restaurants you go to when you want a burger to be part of a great meal that lasts a while. The Shake Shack is the place you go to when you want a really good burger fast.


The milk shakes are really good, too. They taste like ice cream with no artificial ingredients or chemical after taste. The fries I stole from my sons’ orders were good, but not great.


The Shake Shack chain is growing at a healthy pace and shows no signs of slowing down. The group is opening its latest restaurant in New Haven, Conn., this week.


Have you had the Shake Shack experience yet? What’s your opinion of their food? 


Related food story on MNN: Are food trucks easy on the environment?


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