Tag Archives: ice cream

Shake Shack

Two Shake Shack hamburgers

A month ago, I had absolutely no interest in Shake Shack. I’d eaten (without issue) at the Madison Square Park location a few times in my less-careful, have-a-reaction-every-once-in-a-while days, but the burgers never really did much for me. Accordingly, the older, more-careful me never really cared enough to look into the question of whether Shake Shack might be an allergy-friendly chain.

That said, comprehensiveness is my fetish, and Shake Shack’s been getting harder and harder to avoid. Shacks are popping up everywhere, and I see the chain mentioned a whole lot in the NYC-specific food-allergy Facebook group I frequent, too. So after a fair amount of foot-dragging and dilly-dallying, I figured it was probably time I at least devote some effort to finding out whether Shake Shack might be a viable option, regardless of whether I had any personal interest in stopping by.

So. Is Shake Shack nut allergy–friendly? Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Yes, but…well, it’s complicated. Shake Shack was created by Danny Meyer, who happens to be the guy behind Blue Smoke, and who happens to seem to really know his shit, food allergy–wise. Pretty much every restaurant Meyer touches turns to food-allergy gold, and Shake Shack is no exception. There are two types of gold, though: we-don’t-have-any-of-your-allergens-on-site gold, and damn-right-we-have-your-allergens-here-but-we-know-how-not-to-let-them-near-your-food gold. And like Blue Smoke, Shake Shack falls into the latter category.

What I’m trying to say, I guess, is that the folks at Shake Shack are allergy-aware enough to make me feel comfortable with all the nuts they have lying around their kitchens. (Some Shake Shacks have very few nuts; others have plenty. It varies by location—but what doesn’t vary is the fact that all of the chain’s locations are, on the whole, pretty allergy-friendly.) They’ll encourage you to let them know if you have any food allergies—which they’ll always make note of on your ticket—and they’ll be happy to change their gloves and keep a special eye on your order, too. Very Danny Meyer indeed.

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Even more of a help is this chart of theirs, which accounts not only for dishes that explicitly contain nuts, but for those that contain ingredients processed in shared facilities, too. So if an item isn’t marked as a risk on that chart, it really is safe to eat—provided that the folks who prepare your food are competent and responsible, at least. (As the above-linked page notes, though: “Only standard Shack menu items are listed above, and menu options can vary by Shack.” So the chart doesn’t list the billion-and-a-half concrete mix-ins that might be offered, which are where a lot of the Shake Shack tree nuts come from. The same page actually advises those with food allergies to stay away from all Shake Shack concretes. Fair enough.)

Here is, for good measure, what I was told when I wrote to Shake Shack for some further information:

If an item is not flagged with any sort of symbol at https://www.shakeshack.com/allergy, then it means that the ingredients do not contain the allergen and the ingredients are not processed in a facility that contains the allergen. There can be tree nuts present at some of our Shacks as mix-ins with our concretes, so please check the menu at your preferred Shake Shack to see if cross contamination may be a concern at the Shack, and always let a team member know about any allergies when you are ordering.

I asked, too, for some further information about in-restaurant cross-contamination, and this was the response I received:

The issue of cross-contamination with our frozen custard items would be most prevalent when ordering concretes at Shacks which offer walnuts or other tree nuts as mix-ins. I would not recommend ordering concretes in these cases. Tree nuts are not offered as mix-ins with shakes, and every Shack has one shake mixer that is utilized solely for shakes that contain peanut butter, using other machines for all other shakes.

These two answers are about as good as I could’ve hoped for, really.

Two Shake Shack hamburgers with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion

Anyway. There’s a surprising amount of food I can’t eat at Shake Shack, but I guess that’s what happens when a restaurant’s diligent about flagging each and every menu item that contains something that was made in a shared facility. I can have a few of their burgers. I can have a few of their hot dogs. I can have their fries—but only plain, as the cheese sauce may contain nuts. I can’t have any of their chicken or sausage, and a lot of the desserts are a no-go, too. But surprisingly enough, I can have a few of their shakes, floats, and ice-cream cones, so long as the Shack in question doesn’t handle things in such a way as to make cross-contamination with the other ice-cream items likely.

(…Undoubtedly, Shake Shack’s menu is more of a minefield than I’m used to. Still, though: I’m plenty comfortable. But onto the food.)

Regardless of what Anthony Papaya King–Loving Bourdain says, I maintain that food-wise, Shake Shack is nothing extraordinary. But! The vast majority of burgers (and burger chains) are nothing extraordinary, and I’d be lying by omission if I failed to mention that Shake Shack beats pretty much all of my favorite burger spots—and by a landslide, too. It’s way better than your average diner. It’s way better than Five Guys. It’s way better than Big Daddy’s. It’s way better than The Burger Bistro. And it’s cheaper than all of the above, too. And now that I’ve said all that, I might as well just admit that…well, I actually really, really like Shake Shack. For what it is, at least: a fast-food burger joint that’s just plain better than its fast-food competitors (and a lot of its regular-restaurant competitors, too).

The burgers are what I have the most experience with, so I’ll start with those. Despite their wishy-washy (Martin’s) potato buns, they’re really very good—better without the elective pickles pictured above, actually—but for once, I’m finding myself on Team Cheeseburger. Shake Shack’s cheese isn’t as gross as the American you’ll find at most burger joints; in fact, it’s actually pretty good, and it adds some welcome flare (read: salt, grease) to an otherwise-uneventful-ish burger. ShackSauce—basically mustardy mayo—helps, too. And they’re generous with the onions, which is always a plus. The patties themselves are great, though; it’s not as if their flavor needs to be masked.

Though less fun, the hot dogs are also good. Again, I wish the buns weren’t so potato-y, but the dogs themselves are great, if not quite as tasty as the ones you’ll get at Crif Dogs. They’re split down the center, but they still manage to maintain their snap, and with a topping or two—I happen to like Shack Sauce and a pickle spear—they’re just about perfect. (For those with nut allergies, the Shack-cago Dog’s out—but only because its relish may contain trace amounts of nuts. It’s easy enough to ask them to hold the relish, though. And anyway, the onion, cucumber, pickle, tomato, sport pepper, celery salt, and mustard are all safe.)

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And the fries, too, are great, especially if you’re into crinkle-cut—though I do wish I could get in on the cheese sauce (which is made of actual cheese, and which is therefore a permissible topping, thank you very much). They’re crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, just as fries should be—and though they’re a little thicker than the sort of fries I’m usually into, I do have to say that these are some of my all-time favorites. (Hint: ShackSauce. Try it.)

As for desserts, I’ve only tried a few. I do stay away from the concretes, but the shakes seem safe enough (as per the email I shared above), and they’re plenty tasty, too. There isn’t much to say—they’re thick and creamy custard-based milkshakes, and I love them very much—other than this: As those with nut allergies know, it’s just really, really nice to be able to partake in dessert, especially when that dessert didn’t require any special planning or consideration on your part. Another point for Shake Shack.

So maybe 12-year-old me was a little too hard on Shake Shack. Maybe—just maybe—she didn’t quite know everything. But right now, a burger chain’s noteworthiness is about all she’s willing to concede. Try her again in another decade, will you?

Find Shake Shack just about everywhere.

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A La Mode Shoppe

Signage outside A La Mode Shoppe

Ice-cream shops don’t tend to be very allergy-friendly. Too many nutty flavors, too many nutty toppings, ice cream that’s likely cross-contaminated by the time it leaves its production facility, and virtually no practices in place to prevent further cross-contamination in-store—by now, you know the deal. Probably, you stick to store-bought pints. Or perhaps you’ve learned to make your own frozen treats. Whatever the particulars, you likely steer clear of ice cream shops. Fine.

But A La Mode Shoppe is not your average ice-cream shop. Not only is their facility completely nut-free (and egg-free and sesame-free, with a bunch of dairy- and gluten-free options, too)—it also doubles as a children’s boutique, crawling with clothes, toys, and (of course) children. Lots of children.

[Hyphen count, so far: 12. 12!]

A sign at

I’ll admit it: I find the whole boutique-toy-store thing repellent, but that’s just because I’m neither a 4-year-old child nor the parent of one. Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with the place. It’s warm and clean and charming, even—and the employees are truly some of the friendliest I’ve ever come across. But A La Mode just isn’t my scene. (I don’t particularly like screaming children, nor do I want to be anywhere near their ice cream–coated fingers. Plus, they always order the cotton candy–flavored shit. I know they’re young, but I blame them anyway.)

Regardless, pretty much anywhere that’s nut-free is, in some sense, very much my scene, so I find myself at A La Mode pretty often.

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Sure, 50% of the reason I stop by so often is because the whole place is decidedly nut-free, and I feel this nagging pressure to support it on principle alone. But the rest of the reason is that their ice cream is seriously delicious, and I really do crave it on a regular basis. Chocolate, Sea Salt Caramel, Wired (um, coffee), Strawberry, Pink Sprinkle (that’s vanilla, dyed pink), Blueberry Yogurt, Green Tea…they’re all wonderful, and I always have a hard time choosing what to order.

Sea Salt Caramel is one of the creamiest ice creams I’ve ever had, and Wired, though a little heavy on the coffee flavor, is truly addictive. Blueberry Yogurt, tangy as it is, makes me feel worlds better about no longer being able to eat at Pinkberry (they weren’t always such a nutty business, you know), and Green Tea is great, too, with a strong, bitter flavor that provides a nice relief from A La Mode’s other super-sweet offerings. Even the vanillas—Vanilla Bean and Pink Sprinkle (pictured immediately below)—are worthwhile. (Think Häagen-Dazs, but perhaps a bit softer.)

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My only complaint, really, is that the selection’s absurdly inconsistent. I get it—it’s small-batch, and variety’s the spice of life, etc., etc., etc. But the Wired and Sea Salt Caramel are only around, like, 50% of the time, and Blueberry Yogurt—my friend, Blueberry Yogurt—is a bona fide rarity, which sucks indeed. Going to A La Mode is always a crapshoot; fortunately, though, none of the flavors are half bad, so you’ll never really find yourself all that disappointed. (Actually, Partly Cloudy—that’s cotton candy with marshmallows in it, I think—is pretty bad. But if you, a reasoning/reasonable adult, freely choose to eat cotton candy–flavored ice cream…well, you deserve what’ll come to you.)

In all, though, I’d say this place is certainly worth the trip to godforsaken Midtown East. But beware: they close at 8pm, and they aren’t open on Mondays. (Also, they often close to host private events. If you’re planning on going out of your way for their ice cream, consider making sure they’ll be open to the public.)

Find A La Mode Shoppe at 360 East 55th Street, between 1st and 2nd. And if you’re looking for pints, you just might be able to find them at ShopRite or Morton Williams. (A La Mode is just now beginning to make its way into stores. Keep an eye out.)

[That’s 23 hyphens, by the way. Compounds have taken-me-hostage. Send help.]

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