Steak 'n Shake: Chili, Beans and Great Hamburgers On The Road

Pete Wells became widely recognized for his all-question review of Guy Fieri's restaurant, published in The New York Times. I was more impressed that Wells took on the everything-is-better-in-New-York mentality with a more enthusiastic review of the hamburger from Indianapolis-based Steak 'n Shake than the one he gave to a burger from New York's local favorite, Shake Shack.

A Steak 'n Shake Steakburger is as good as Wells declared, and it's one of the best you'll get from a national chain. The french fries are also exceptional. When it comes to local hamburgers, though, the burgers-are-better-in-Houston mentality does indeed apply, so my family reserves visits to Steak 'n Shake for road trips. This holiday season we stopped at the franchise outside Covington, Louisiana.

I saw the $4 Menu, which was new to me, and went instinctively to the oddest item on the list -- The Jamaican Jerk Double, with pepperjack cheese, onions and authentic Jamaican jerk sauce. Jamaican jerk is usually associated with chicken and pork. It can work on some beef dishes, but I've never seen it on a hamburger.

We placed our order with the server, and prepared to wait. If you think of Steak 'n Shake as a fast-food joint, well...don't. In some locations your food will arrive quickly, but in other places the wait will be extensive. Fortunately, our meal arrived in a reasonable amount of time.

My burger was well-cooked in the smashed-beef-patty method, and the Jamaican jerk sauce was indeed authentic-tasting. However, jerk sauce is like barbecue sauce -- it's delicious on a variety of meats, but hamburger isn't one of them. The Jamaican Jerk Double was one of those meals I enjoyed once, but won't order again.

Beans and Chili Mac

My dining companion ordered her Steak 'n Shake favorite, Chili Mac, which is chili beef and onions on spaghetti. However, this time it arrived with beans in it. With the new menu, we mistakenly assumed that Chili Mac now came with beans, or that it was a local variation inspired by Louisiana's red beans and rice. I later asked the manager about it, and he pointed to "the new guy" who must've made the mistake of putting regular chili on the mac, and refunded the price of the dish. We learned that while Texans may possibly be right that a bowl of chili shouldn't have beans, it's definitely true that chili mac should never have them.

The other lesson I learned from the Jamaican Jerk Double is that Steak 'n Shake double burgers have a better meat-to-bun ratio than the single Steakburgers I've been eating for years. On our return trip back to Houston, we stopped in the Steak 'n Shake in Mobile, Alabama. The Chili Mac came without beans, and all was right again with my dining companion. I ordered a double Steakburger Texas-style (not on the menu), with tomato, onions, lettuce, pickles, mustard and no ketchup. It was awesome.

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