The 75 Minute Burger

How long would you wait for a hamburger—especially if you heard that this burger was extraordinary? Would you wait 20 or 30 minutes, or even an hour? How about 75 minutes? That is how long I waited for my burger at The Shack, a California-style pub located on Folsom Blvd in East Sacramento. The restaurant has been in business under one name or another for about as long as Jim-Denny’s. It is known for its wide assortment of beers, but because I am a teetotaler, the vast array of gourmet brews does not appeal to me. Even before I first heard people praise The Shack’s food, I noticed that the place is always busy and attracts a younger crowd – but bear in mind, just about everybody is younger than me. The Shack hosts a weekly Trivia Night, as well as beer and wine tasting nights. While driving by, I heard a live band play on at least one occasion, but I do not know how often live music is featured.

While I sat at the bar, I was greeted by a server who skipped the introduction and told me, “If you are ordering food, the wait is about 45 minutes.” I heard other servers tell other customers the same thing. It turns out this was not a unique situation. My server told me that they do not have enough grills to handle the orders in a timely manner. As a result, all the people in the establishment and outside in the patio actually put up with the ridiculous wait time. I noticed that the check wheel was overloaded—tickets were actually layered.

Normally, I would have hit the door after hearing my lunch was going to take that long, but I was morbidly fascinated—was it really going to take that long or is that just a filter the servers use to clear some of the tables? Hosts in nicer restaurants will often over-estimate the seating time, or it least that has been my experience walking in off the street to nicer restaurants on a weekend night without a reservation. I told my server I had an errand to run and would be back before the estimated 45 minutes were up. When I returned, I sat back down at the bar and let my server know I had returned as promised.

When my food arrived, a half-hour longer than estimated, I examined the burger. The Shack Burger is a 1/3 lb patty topped with raw onion, shredded lettuce, tomato, pickle chips, and Thousand Island dressing on an excellent bun. I added cheddar cheese for a dollar more. Just looking at it made my mouth water: a great bun, romaine lettuce, and a thick, slightly charred patty all added up to what should have been a good burger. When I bit into the burger, all the elements worked as anticipated, except for where the money is. The patty was underdone. The charred exterior and the deep pink interior revealed that the burger was made in haste—even though I ordered it well done. The steak fries, which were room temperature, make me believe the over-worked kitchen just could not maintain quality control under these conditions. Who knows how long my fries had been sitting in some poorly-heating holding pattern.

By the way, The Shack Burger costs $7.95 with fries. Cheese, grilled onion, and jalapenos are a buck more each; bacon, pastrami, and avocado are $1.50 each. The Shack also offers the Cajun Bacon Blue Burger. Presumably it’s the same burger, but with grilled onion, blue cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, Cajun seasoning, and blue dressing for $9.50. I didn’t see this item on the menu, but I did see it on the online menu when I got home.

Clearly, the kitchen cannot accommodate the number of customers. Since most people seemed to be here for the beer, I would assume many people don’t care, but at least one person complained while I was there. The Shack needs to lose about ten chairs, expand the kitchen, and replace the poor, overtaxed check wheel — either that or drop the grilled items on the menu and just offer salads and nachos.

The thing is, I could tell this is a very good burger even though it was created in haste. I would like to come back and sample what this item is supposed to taste like. I would bet it is a very fine burger. The ingredients are there, but I find it annoying that this place bothers to offer food when the wait is unacceptable. Therefore, I will move on. I have other burger joints to try.

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