Generally speaking, the concept of “hacking the menu” elicits perverse joy in fast-food fanatics. In some ways you feel like Sandra Bullock typing away at her portal to The Net, hacking into the mainframe and pulling a fast one on the suits who lord over the P&Ls when constructing their bill of fare. You’re part of a secret society, scoring the rarified eats that come with membership. Only you know about this.
But sometimes, maybe we should consider the flip side of the “secret” menu: Maybe these things aren’t on the menu because the people who wrote the menu decided they shouldn’t be. Maybe they’re not on the menu because they’re bad. I say this to you from the other side of my showdown with the elusive Peanut Butter-and-Bacon Quad Burger from Shake Shack.
First, the specs: this was a four-patty ShackBurger with bacon and a double dose of peanut butter sauce from Shake Shack’s milkshakes. It was the fever-dream creation of the editors at First We Feast (who I now understand are sadists) upon perusing a few Shake Shack menu hacks and musing what outcome of their combination would bring.
On paper, it makes sense—the fatty nuttiness of the sauce would pair with the saltiness of the bacon, with the beef adding heft and the bun balancing the flavor overload. But face to face, it’s more imposing than appetizing: four beef patties, four slices of American cheese, four rashers of bacon, two servings of tomatoes, two leaves of lettuce, double Shack Sauce, a full side order of peanut sauce, and a potato roll. All told, this monstrosity weighed in at 1,732 calories.
Maybe these things aren’t on the menu because the people who wrote the menu decided they shouldn’t be.
I sat down with the sandwich, a cup of water, and my already weak resolve. Years ago I used to order doubles at Shake Shack, but I’m a small guy (picture a hobbit with an enviable sneaker collection) and I never finished them. My wallet and distaste for wasting food won over my pride and I started ordering single-patty hamburgers, and was happier for it. They offered a more sophisticated balance between the beef and every other element on the sandwich. It was around this time that I also stopped ordering cheeseburgers. In most situations the thin slice of flavorless cheese was little more than a waste of 50 cents and a faint chemical vapor hidden under ketchup. The Quad Burger was the opposite of everything I had learned about loving food in the past few years. And here we were staring each other down.
I cut the sandwich into quarters and began. The first quarter took about three minutes. The second about 18. The time on the third is still counting because it never got done—I quit. This is important: I didn’t stop because I was full. I stopped because of the gagging. It started early and returned with every bite. I was basically just passing my tongue through a mass of cooked ground beef over and over and over. The flavor is salt and fat with the implication of beef, but what dominates the experience is texture.
The Quad Burger was the opposite of everything I had learned about loving food in the past few years.
Shake Shack’s greatness is all about balance. The bun and toppings counter the patty to create a beautiful burger. But beef is not the star. Next to burgers from places like Burger Joint, there’s a dearth of true beefy flavor. It tastes like a burger, and one of the best in the city, but that’s thanks to composition, not the “proprietary Shack blend.” The Quad Burger puts this weakness front and center, with the mass of protein devolving into an edible compost heap that calls to mind soggy kitty litter and savory coffee grounds. This is why Danny Meyer wants to cut us off at two patties: four is unholy.
The towering beeferno I had requested attracted a lot of attention, not least from the curious staff. A few times one of the kind employees came out to encourage me, peppering me with advice.
“Don’t let your creation tame you,” he said to me. “You gotta tame it. It’s like Frankenstein.”
I reminded him that in Shelley’s tale, the monster bests the doctor, as I felt this monster was doing to me.
“Rewrite the story bro,” he implored. “Rewrite it.”
We both laughed. Him at the joke. Me at the shadow that formed ahead.
It wasn’t so much the flavor or weight of the meat that got to me, but the realization that I couldn’t go back to what I once believed. I was no longer naïve enough to think that this was a good idea—or had ever been a good idea. Instead, I had been sold on the potential glory that would come with surviving an ordeal like this one without taking a moment to consider whether it was worth it. There was no way to win against this thing, and even if I did, the victory would be pyrrhic at best.
The Peanut Butter Bacon Quad Burger is an exercise in man’s hubris.
In the end, the devil won the day. In the time it took for me to admit my defeat, the remnants of beef had oxidized to a bright red, and what little bun still existed had shrived to a potato raisin. It looked like I felt. Totaled, the Peanut Butter Bacon Quad Burger is an exercise in man’s hubris. How frequently we chase off-the-menu items merely to say that we’ve been there, inducting ourselves into a secret club that literally anyone with a few bucks can join. We act like it’s some kind of accomplishment to Instagram the menu hack du jour as if the geotag weren’t the only necessary ticket in. We build them higher, wider, and saucier in the pursuit of fully aware reckless misadventure. Maybe these items aren’t waiting to be searched out, perhaps they are hiding from us after seeing their own hideous reflections.
In the words of Dr. Ian Malcolm, “Your foodies were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” We shouldn’t, lest we face our own imminent destruction, or at least the destruction of our good sense.
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