Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Shake Shack

Place: Shake Shack
Lunch: Shack Stack (no lettuce, no tomato, add pickle, onion), cheese fries, chocolate malt

You can come to Vegas to gamble and/or be debaucherous, or you can come for the burgers.  Because a lot of regional burger (and hot dog) chains have outlets here, thousands of miles from the second closest outlet. The two newest entries are White Castle and Shake Shack, two opposite ends of the burger market.

Shake Shack is a New York-based chain that started ten years ago with a "shack" in a park and now has upscale looking stores in the East, the Middle East, the Far East, even Russia.  Las Vegas is their first US location west of Chicago, but to be fair, it is on the frontage of New York, New York and is part of the park-like walking plaza with shops thingy MGM Resorts is building in between New York, New York and the Monte Carlo.  So the New York park roots are there, even if this isn't a "shack".

I dropped in for the first time the other night, then again today for lunch.  The building sort of feels like an abandoned organic grocery.  Lots of wood tones, black, and cement. with green accents and a lot of white neon lighting.  A tall sloped ceiling and lots of glass.  Looks impressive from the Strip entrance.

The signature "ShackBurger" is essentially an In-N-Out knockoff.  VERY similar patty and sauce.  It comes with lettuce, tomato, and Shack Sauce, though you can request pickles, onions, and the usual condiments.  The pickles are a more premium dill variety with a nice crunch.  Almost a shame they don't put them on everything automatically.

Shake Shack offers a "vegetarian" burger known as the 'Shroom, and it's hilarious.  It's a breaded and deep fried glob of mushrooms and cheese.  Decidedly not vegan.  (HA HA HA HA!  Vegans.)  Bite into the hockey puck-shaped "patty" and cheese starts to ooze out.  The mushrooms taste perfect.  My burger for this meal is the Shack Stack, which has the 'Shroom puck AND a burger patty.  It's the best thing on the menu.  SO good.  SO unique.

There's also a "SmokeShack" burger with bacon and chopped cherry peppers. The peppers give this burger a really sweet relishy taste with a spicy kick.  Not my cup of tea.  The burger patty has almost no taste, as if they didn't season it.

(SIDE NOTE: "ShackBurger" and "SmokeShack" are single words on the menu, but "Shack Stack" isn't.  No idea why.)

The fries are Yukon Gold krinkle cuts.  You can get them topped in cheese sauce.  Pretty good cheese sauce.

The malt is custard-based, so it's basically what you'd expect from Culver's or Freddy's.  Nothing remarkable..  There's cones, shakes, and concretes.  Drink options include beer and wine.

There's a line of hot dogs, which unfortunately doesn't include a chili dog.  I believe they use Vienna Beef dogs.  They split them and cook them flat on the grill.  I had one with cheese sauce on my previous visit.  Nothing remarkable.

They have a "draught" root beer that is supposedly worth trying, but they couldn't bother to have it in stock when I tried to order it.

So is Shake Shack going to become a must-visit for me when in town?  Probably not, but I will occasionally drop in for a Shack Stack.  And maybe make another attempt to try that root beer.

It never rains in Vegas, unless I'm in town.  Then it ALWAYS rains, at least a little.  It even SNOWED yesterday.

The county should pay me to move here.

I'd solve all their water problems.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Bacon Magic

Place: White Castle
Lunch: Eight White Castles, Coke

White Castle has landed on the Las Vegas Strip.  It's the first ever White Castle west of the central time zone, and the first non-company owned "licensed" store in the chain's 90-plus year history.  It's located next to the worlds most profitable Denny's in Casino Royale.  On opening day, they were moving a thousand Sliders an hour, and broke the company's single-day sales record in the first twelve hours of business.  The lines were out the door and down the street.

No such problems on a Sunday morning.  I walked right up, ordered, and had my lunch (well...breakfast) in minutes.  They accidentally gave me two more burgers than I paid for, but hey...that's a happy accident.

The Vegas White Castle has a pared-down menu.  There's no breakfast, no fish, and no LTO's.  But you can get the classic sliders 24/7.

There IS something different about the taste of these.  Something's sweeter.  Maybe the pickle or the bread.  They seem to be a bit less oniony too.  Maybe.

Little Caesar's is getting a bunch of publicity lately with the debut of their Bacon Wrapped deep dish pizza.  Basically, they slap bacon onto the sides and bake it in.  Everyone thinks this sounds awesome on paper.  Everyone I know who's tried it says it's...not so awesome.

Oh well.

My preferred bacon is Farmland thick cut (though I still occasionally splurge on the greatest bacon in the history of bacon), and I buy the fattiest cut I can find.  There I am in the supermarket going through the entire stock, throwing aside the lean looking packages.  Shoppers who find themselves getting struck in the head by flying bacon packages don't seem to mind, because even being hit in the head by bacon is better because it's bacon.

I fry up the bacon on the lighter side so it's less crispy, plate it, then drizzle some of the excess bacon fat over the plated bacon.  For taste, not presentation.

Then I eat all the fatty parts and Chester Cat takes the crispy bits.

I've been known to make a whole meal out of this.  Fry up the entire package.

My grandmother was just the opposite in her bacon approach.  She cooked standard cut bacon to a perfect crispy brown, then let it set on a paper towel to drain the excess fat.  I made some bacon her way recently.  Took me right back to my childhood.

My other favorite way to have bacon at home is wrapped around scallops.  Whole Foods has a  package of bacon wrapped sea scallops shrink-wrapped on a wood plank.  Just unwrap it, put the plank on a baking sheet, and bake for 25 minutes.  They're awesome...better than Target's "Archer Farms" version or even Trader Joe's.  And there aren't toothpicks involved.  Use a fork or your fingers, lazy.

But the whole "put bacon on everything" restaurant fad wears thin with me.  Maple Bacon Doughnuts has become a popular pastry item, and I don't get it.  They just taste overly salty to me...salty and smoky.  We've seen chains introduce bacon milkshakes and bacon sundaes.  Sorry...bacon is many things, but it is not a dessert item.

I have a bottle of bacon soda in my office.  It's for entertainment purposes only.  It will never be opened.  People ask, but it's staying sealed.

Bacon does work on many levels in pasta.  Doing something with bacon and Alfredo sauce almost always works.  And one of my mother's regular dinner dishes was Bacon Spaghetti.  Fry up some bacon, saute some onion in the fat, add a can or two of tomato sauce and chopped tomatoes.  Mix it into cooked spaghetti.  She may have baked the whole thing too.  I can't remember.

A bacon cheeseburger can be a wonderful thing too, IF the bacon is not pre-cooked.  If it's fried to order for your burger, it's probably a winner.

I'm betting that Little Caesar's bacon comes to the restaurant pre-cooked.  I can't believe they'd even have the resources to fry bacon to order.  And the people who have tried it tell me it's really dry.

Even bacon has to be done right to be...bacon.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Radio Shack

Place: Taco John's
Lunch: Three tacos, small Super Ole (no tomato, no guac), Pepsi

Mumbling Wimpy Counter Guy: "Mumblemumblemumblemumble"

Me: "Three hard shells, small Super Ole no tomato no guac, and a medium drink."

Mumbling Wimpy Counter Guy: "Mumblemumblemumblemumble?"

Me: "For here."

Mumbling Wimpy Counter Guy: "$10.02."

Me: "It's Taco Tuesday."

Mumbling Wimpy Counter Guy: "Mumblemumblemumblemumble $8.43."


So it looks like the end has finally come for Radio Shack.  The NYSE suspending trading of its shares and are reportedly planning on delisting them.  Sprint is supposedly going to take about half their stores, then the rest will close if Radio Shack can't find a buyer (Amazon is said to be interested in some of those.  Yes, actual Amazon retail stores are probably coming.)

(UPDATE: The bankruptcy is official.  The brand WILL likely carry in an a far more limited capacity.  Under the initial plan, Sprint will operate most remaining stores as co-branded outlets.  Franchise stores will continue.)

No one is surprised, I'm sure.  Most products people would think to go to Radio Shack for are obsolete.  Who's buying resistors rooftop antennas, scanners, or CPU parts anymore.  We're streaming everything on tablets and handsets.  Tablets and handsets you cannot just build or repair yourself.

I probably haven't set foot in a Radio Shack in ten-fifteen years.  But before that, there was one literally a block from my house, and getting a replacement CPU fan or a new antenna simply involved walking up the street and picking it up.  That's what Radio Shack was at its best...the neighborhood electronic doohickey store.  And for some, the general electronics store.  Radios, stereos, largely their own brand ("Realistic").  To this day I have a police scanner and an atomic clock on my desk that came from that store up the street.

The weirdest Radio Shack thing I ever remember buying was a pair of outboard tweeters designed to enhance your traditional speakers.  My best friend in high school and I had them duct-taped to the rear shelves of our cars (his Monza and my Super Beetle).  Actually, our cars were also equipped with Realistic CB radios and Radio Shack antennas.  Chicks dug us.  NOT.

Today, I'd just research and order that stuff online, and that same Radio Shack, while still stocked with the gadgets, is more interested in selling mobile phone service.  From what I hear, they aren't very good at it.  Stock tends to be lean on the most desirable phone models.  And unlike the old days, they have direct competition next door.  In the case of my old store (yes, it's still there), there's a couple of dedicated cell phone stores within eye's reach of their front door, and those stores are far better at getting you the handset you want than Radio Shack is.  Even within the old neighborhood, there's competition now.

Radio Shack (or then parent company Tandy Corporation, a company specializing in leather goods who acquired the chain in 1962) tried to grow outside the traditional neighborhood store format a couple of times in the eighties and nineties.  They acquired Computer City, sort of a CompUSA-type big box computer chain, in 1991.  They sold the chain to CompUSA in 1998.  (CompUSA itself folded in 2012.)  They also acquired, and eventually folded, the Video Concepts chain, a mall slot television and computer store.

Then there was Incredible Universe.

There was never, and never again will be, anything quite like Incredible Universe.  This was a Tandy concept from the ground up.  It was their answer to big box retail competition.  The buildings were massive at 185,000 square-feet (though about half the space was used for warehousing inventory).  The entrance led to a central rotunda with a stage.  It was like a mall center court.  They had live DJ's, at least initially.  They even held events.  The departments surrounded it like mall shop slots and in fact were run like individual stores.  There was a camera store, a big music (CD/record) store, a software store, an electronics accessory store (essentially the doohickey section of a Radio Shack), and a central corridor that led to the big space where televisions, stereos, computers, and appliances were sold.  It was a destination, an attraction, a place you wanted to go and check stuff out.

It was big and bold and...ultimately...an incredible failure.  They lasted less than five years with seventeen locations, the last finishing liquidation in 1997.  A few of the buildings became Fry's Electronics.  They are operated as a shell of their former glory.

But I digress.  We're talking about Radio Shack in 2015.

While I didn't see Radio Shack lasting long-term, I still expected them to outlast Sears, K-Mart, and BlackBerry.  How those brands continue to exist baffles me.

So long, Radio Shack.

I'll think of you whenever I'm in immediate need of a fifty-cent amplifier fuse.