When Nick Solares and I munched on the newly introduced Chick'n Shack sandwich at the downtown Brooklyn Shake Shack one year ago this week, we were not particularly impressed. Sure, the poultry patty was fried to a remarkable crispness, but the dill pickles, mayo, and (wilting) lettuce made it seem like someone had swiped the beef patty from a conventional burger and substituted chicken. We were near the end of an extreme fried chicken sandwich run, whereby we tested 10 examples of the then-faddish sandwich with the intention of finding out which was the best.
The Shake Shack entry — then called ChickenShack, but now styled Chick’n Shack — didn’t fare too well that day, coming in sixth out of 10, well behind the cheaper and simpler Chick-fil-A, which ranked second. Now Shake Shake has debuted another chicken sandwich, which is being offered in three Brooklyn branches on a tentative basis, alongside its predecessor sandwich at the same price ($6.29, plus tax). The new sandwich — rather verbosely called "salt & pepper honey chick’n" — tosses out all the previous toppings and replaces them with pepper (visible as flecks in the buttermilk crust) and salt, incorporated into the honey topping, according to the signage.
It’s a rather austere-appearing sandwich, with none of the loft that the combination of a thick patty, greenery, and pickles provided in the earlier version. Is it intended to mimic, or perhaps one-up the simplicity of the Chick-fil-A product? Certainly, when you gaze at it, the salt & pepper honey chick’n draws your attention right to the patty, which is fried very dark. The honey glistens at the edge of the patty, and removal of the top bun — which is toasted, a nice touch — reveals a thick schmear of honey soaking the bun.
It's a rather austere-appearing sandwich.
The sandwich seems like a good idea, partly because the four-inch chicken patty reads as generous, overhanging the three-inch bun by a full inch. We’re in David Chang territory here — he made the hallmark of his fried chicken sandwich a ridiculously big patty-to-bun ratio, so that you had to take a couple of bites of chicken before you even got to the bun. Danny Meyer’s new sandwich does this too, but in more restrained form. But how was the newcomer overall?
Ultimately, the honey flavor may be a tad too sweet. Rather than mixing with the overall mouth package, it hits a high and lingering note that continues even after you’ve forgotten about the poultry and its resounding crunch. Honey rules this sandwich, and indeed, there are some fried chicken lovers who dip their finished chicken in honey as they eat it. And remember honey mustard is one of the original dipping flavors of the chicken McNugget. For me the real payoff of the new sandwich is the cracked black pepper in the crust, which imparts some real heat, despite not looking as if it would when you examine the patty.
I tasted the old and new sandwiches side-by-side and found the new one slightly better. Still, it seems impoverished without some kind of vegetable on top or underneath. If I were Meyer, I’d merge the two sandwiches, calling the result honey-pepper chicken, piling it with pickles. But a few questions need to be answered. Since chicken is cheaper than beef, why are Shake Shack’s chicken sandwiches one dollar more expensive than the ShackBurger, which is really a cheeseburger? And why does the new sandwich weigh so much less than the old (5.8 vs. 6.9 ozs)? And will the new sandwich eventually supplant the original one? Only further research will yield answers to these questions.