Unquestionably, burgers represent the quintessential American road bite, ideal for eating on the go. You can’t travel down a byway or highway without passing a burger joint. If you’re unlucky, you wind up stopping at a national chain with its predictable (often comfortingly so) national burger; it’s the regional chains that provide the perfect melding of franchise familiarity with local sensibilities. On a recent trip to Greensboro, NC, I stopped at a chain that hails from the midwest, venerable Steak ‘n Shake, famous, as they say, for steakburgers.
The double steakburger with cheese didn’t quite match the beauty shot from the menu, but there’s no ignoring the smashed ground beef patty with those great crisped edges. The meat was moist and flavorful, the vegetable toppings reasonably fresh as well. I’m not a burger connoisseur, but amongst fast food offerings, Steak ‘n Shake wins the prize, and at $4 for the burger and a side of thin (though somewhat wan) fries, well, I’m glad that there isn’t one within easy driving distance of home base, else I’d be eating there quite a bit.
I spent several youthful years in the midwest, and my childhood memories of Steak ‘n Shake revolve mostly around the chili five-way. That’s all I would eat when I went there as a kid, and the thought of having it again drove me to stop here.
Sampling it as an adult, I realize how much difference nostalgia makes. Steak ‘n Shake chili five way isn’t my beloved Cincinnati five-way — the meat here is coarser ground and on the bland side, without much spice or flavor. My dish didn’t have much in the way of onion or cheese, either. I wasn’t anticipating a Skyline abundance of cheese and ground beef, but for the price, I was hoping for a larger portion (and I thought there would be packets of oyster crackers and chili sauce in the Takhomasack). It was fine, tasty enough, but not up to the madeline of my expectations.
I’ll still stop at a Steak ‘n Shake over, well, any other regional or national burger chain, but I’ll stick with the justly famous steakburger. Certainly easier to eat on the road than the chili. Oh, and the shakes. Those are pretty damn good, too.