The standard typical fare on a fast food hamburger or cheeseburger is ketchup, mustard, pickles, and onions. Lettuce and tomato are invited into some clubhouses but the KMPO combo is prevalent throughout the land.
What if you had a fast food burger on a potato bun with chopped cherry peppers and fried shallots that had been marinated in an ale that will never be featured in a commercial during the Super Bowl?
If the KMPO option is PG-13, then the peppers and shallots version would definitely be R or maybe NC-17.
Shake Shack had been on my bucket list for some time. Not the bucket list where you are eating spaghetti cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) late at night in a trattoria in Rome, but a bucket list that would involve a cheap flight to New York City or Washington.
The chain is known for its great burgers, crinkle-cut fries, and custard, but you can also order beer and wine with your fast food. Adults indeed.
No happy meal at Shake Shack; no kids allowed.
The idea of a R-rated burger had not occurred to me when I first got in line on the second day of the first location in Chicago. During the 30-minute wait, when I finally could see the whole menu, the Smoke Shack burger stood out.
The Smoke Shack burger with cheese, applewood smoked bacon, and chopped cherry peppers. I had noticed cherry peppers at the farmers market, and knew they had a good sized kick to them.
My Internet research had revealed the fried shallots, and I had designs on the shallots to have in some form during the evening.
The Smoke Shack had a price point where cheese was more expensive than you would normally find. So ordering a hamburger with bacon ($1.50 extra), cherry peppers (free) and fried shallots (50¢) still came out cheaper than the Smoke Shack. Fried shallots instead of cheese and I pay less money? Nice.
In trying a new burger, I usually get a KMP version to test a burger, usually because the options would be few. But when I had the chance to go from child to adult in my burger, traditional condiments wouldn't cut it.
The concern in ordering the cherry peppers is that you would get more burn than taste and drown out the burger. Since cherry peppers were part of the repertoire, the gamble wasn't that big.
In a normal fast food burger, the peppers would be welcome for actual flavor. In the Shake Shack burger, the beef and peppers felt like a good heavyweight battle that lasted 15 rounds. The shallots were a bit too subtle but pleasantly noticeable and well worth the 50¢.
The burgers are supposed to be medium though mine ended up a little pink: rare (pun intended) when a burger is cooked less than the standard. The potato buns hold everything together with warmth, softness, and taste.
I did not order beer or wine with my burger, but a glass would have felt comfortable side by side with this burger. I could have made the burger more R-rated by going topless (the burger, not me) but the potato bun was truly necessary to hold the burger together.
More well-known burger chains have tried their hands at more adult burgers. McDonald's Jalapeño Double recently added a Jalapeño Double with pickled jalapeños and jalapeño crisps. The spice in those burgers is offset by buttermilk ranch sauce and pasteurized process white cheddar cheese. You could order the burger minus the cheese and sauce to get maximum hotness, well, by McDonald's standards.
Depending on how many jalapeños you would get on the sandwich (consistency and fast food don't go together, you would get more taste than usual in a McD's double hamburger.
A&W has been touting for some time in Canada that its beef has no added hormones or steroids. In a moment of intense hunger in Ottawa, I tried the Spicy Guacamole Teen Burger.
The burger had lettuce, tomato, bacon, Santa Fe processed cheese, Southwest Ranch sauce, pickled jalapeño, guacamole, and sliced onion. The cheese and sauce is there to balance the heat level and with only one source of heat (pickled jalapeño), the sandwich, as is, could potentially underwhelm.
The location had run out of pickled jalapeños for the day in the middle of the afternoon, and had to settle for pickles.
I ordered the burger minus the sauce and cheese. The guacamole had no spice or flavor: was I just eating avocado?
The cherry peppers in the Shake Shack burger weren't muted by "ranch sauce" or poorly made cheese. The flavor and heat of the cherry peppers would have overwhelmed pickled jalapeños. The fried shallots added a bit of crunch, similar to the jalapeño crisps, but I wouldn't put much faith that you get much flavor or hear from the jalapeño crisps at McD's.
In the McDonald's and A&W versions, you get some adult element but muted as quickly as you order the sandwich, this assuming that they actually have the heat in the first place.
When making a burger at home, the KMPO only happens unless a wave of nostalgia has crashed into the kitchen. Even then, the burger doesn't really hold up as well. The burgers I make at home come from well-grown meat and cooked to medium-rare perfection. Adult toppings range from buffalo sauce to horseradish to really aged blue cheese and, lately, intense caramelized onions. Not kid tested, not kid approved.
Having grown up in a household where bland food reigned supreme, discovering my sophisticated palate opened doors to the possibilities for adult condiments on my burgers. Having that option in the outside world gave me a reaction that a kid would have, yet the result was made for an adult.
photo credit: me