ny.eater.com – It’s hard not to think of Nighthawks when imagining an older New York, Edward Hopper’s timeless portrait of a diner on an empty Village street corner, with a counter worker tending to his patrons. That city of yore, of course, is long gone, and the contemporary tableau looks something like this: The umpteenth outpost of Shake Shack, a billion dollar burger chain, on the corner of Clarkson and Varick. Giant windows frame patrons as they punch in fast food orders on digital touch screens. Not quite oil on canvas material. At least not yet.
The Village is changing. Vacancies are plentiful. The local coffee shop on Carmine is one of 20 Bluestone Lanes. The local gelateria is one of 65 or so Groms around the world. The local salad spot is a Sweetgreen (duh). Joe’s Pizza down the block is still packed (thank god). But now, in the same space that once housed Thomas Keller’s innovative and critically-acclaimed Rakel in the 1980s, we have, somewhat appropriately, Shake Shack’s “Innovation Kitchen,” a hub for menu development at the global chain.
The location is currently testing out its first ever chicken nuggets.
My feelings about yet another chain restaurant in the city are complicated, especially when the tables are branded with “made from reclaimed bowling lanes” (lolz), but I’m obliged to report that the nugs, as we aficionados call them, are among the country’s best.
And yes, I have tried nearly all of them.
Culinary director Mark Rosati eschews the prevailing-style of fast food nuggets, those wonderfully spongy and squishy exhibitions of mechanically processed meat. Shake Shack goes for the Chik-fil-A style of mini-nuggeting, dicing up chicken breast into cubes, sous-viding them, and then finally deep-frying them in soybean oil.
The nuggets, however, are spectacular. The soft, juicy meat acts as a backdrop for the main event: a craggy, almost geological coating of golden breading. Sometimes the exterior collapses in the mouth with a welcome delicacy. Sometimes it delivers a serious crunch, especially after cooling for a bit (they’re served too warm). The batter, laced with lemon, garlic, and a heavy dose of black pepper, conveys an aromatic, lingering heat. Chik-fil-A fans might yearn for the subtle sweetness and peanut oil-fry of that chain’s nuggets, but make no mistake, the Shake Shake version is the closest a single bite can come to mimicking a larger slab of skillet-fried chicken.
I know there’s a lot of contrarians out there that like to say Shake Shack is overrated or even say it’s not good….fuck you people…Shake Shack is delicious, the only thing i’ll give you is that its a tad overpriced. With all that being said if their making nuggets i’m all the way here for it, hopefully they release them nationwide soon.