Steak ‘n Shake: Guacamole SteakburgerBy Todd • Jan 3rd, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog
Steak ‘n Shake was the first place my parents ever took me for cheeseburgers. I was 5 or 6, living in Indianapolis. I remember the brightly-lit diner-style restaurant. I remember them being open late (which, for me, probably meant past 8pm), so we could all go out after Dad got off work. I remember the collectible toy truck I got after one visit. (If only I had known eBay was coming…) And I remember watching them make my food.
Legend holds that when founder Gus Belt rolled in a barrel of steaks (sirloin, round, and T-bones) and then ground the meat in front of his customers in 1934, he gave birth to their slogan, “In Sight, It Must Be Right.” To this day, there’s a neon sign in every one of their 500-ish locations in 21 states that proclaims, “Famous for Steakburgers.”
I don’t make it to Steak ‘n Shake much anymore. But when Christmas break rolled around for my first-grader, I thought it was time to introduce her and re-acquaint myself.
We grabbed stools at the counter so she could keep an eye on the line cook. She enjoyed watching him load up the griddle with hockey-puck discs of meat, 12 at once, then press them thin as they cook. (Funny how some newfangled gourmet chains are just now latching onto the “smashing” technique.)
Sydney got a trio of miniature Steakburger Shooters, 2 with ketchup and mustard, one with A-1. (They also offer Ketchup ‘n Onion, BBQ, Chipotle, Buffalo, and Frisco-style slyders.)
I, however, was faced with a dilemma. On the rare occasion I’ve been to a Steak ‘n Shake in recent years, I’ve opted for one of their melts. Go ahead, connoisseurs, roll your eyes. According to many, the patty melt is NOT a true cheeseburger and has no place in a serious cheeseburger conversation. But sliding a cooked beef patty and melted cheese between fried toast instead of a bun doesn’t bother me. In fact, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a few. But on this day, sitting at the bar, I spied one of those flip-card menu thingies with this staring back at me:
Interesting. Guacamole is a recently-acquired taste for me, so I ordered one up.
Looks nice sitting on the plate, huh? Red onion, lettuce, pepperjack cheese, and chipotle sauce, with oozy guac dripping down the edges, and a nice side of those cool matchstick fries. A mini-crock of baked beans and a milkshake rounded things out. But look again. Imagine picking that baby up and diving in teeth-first. Doesn’t that bun seem absurdly huge?
Sadly, it tasted that way, too. Eight months of writing for this site has produced a few surprises. One of them is this: I now believe that perhaps the most critically-important component of the cheeseburger is the bun. (Or toast. Or roll. Hell, or donut.) A so-so burger can be elevated by a kick-ass bun. But the wrong bun can absolutely ruin a perfectly good burger. And I felt like that’s what I had on my hands at Steak ‘n Shake: too much bun.
I love the nostalgia and retro-diner feel. I love the in-sight kitchen and the insistence on calling them “steakburgers.” I love that a lot of them are open 24/7. I love the matchstick fries and the little crocks of baked beans and the tall milkshakes. I love what my little girl said as we watched the line cook: “Wow, that would be the best job ever! If you messed up, you could just eat the burger.”
Good point, kiddo. But I’d put mine between a few slices of toast.