There is no end in sight to the onslaught of fast food chicken sandwiches. They seem to be multiplying exponentially, each trying to add a twist that’s a little different from the last. We here at The Takeout can’t help but try to eat our way out of the never ending poultry pile, taking bites out of each offering not because we want to but because we simply must, for survival. If we ignore one sandwich, five more will take its place, and at that rate we’ll never make it out alive.
But sometimes with a taste test comes a pleasant surprise, as was the case with Shake Shack’s new Buffalo menu. The burger chain announced the limited time menu, running January 28 through April 25, as “the perfect alternative to sticky, messy wings” during football playoff season.
“Don’t wing it,” a press release begs us, offering instead a Buffalo Chicken Sandwich and Buffalo Spiced Cheese Fries—the fries are also available with just the Buffalo spice and no cheese. The two items were available starting January 25 on the Shake Shack app, which I used to order both for a mid-week lunch. (Fun fact: I discovered that on the app you also can get a Bag O’ Bones for delivery, five ShackBurger dog biscuits made by NYC’s Bocce’s Bakery.)
The sandwich itself is a nice big helping of fried meat, thick, juicy, and well-seasoned with crisp and light breading—a smashed chicken patty replicating the chain’s burger-style, this is not. The actual Buffalo flavoring seems to be two-fold, coming through in not only the tangy sauce covering the fried chicken, but also the Buffalo powdered spice also used on the French fries.
The combination makes for a strong first bite, but as the sandwich goes on is comparable to a perfectly decent but not extraordinary Buffalo sauce. Where this sandwich may pull ahead others like it is in the all-important chicken to pickle ratio, taking on my personal philosophy of the more pickles, the better. And it was all topped with a light drizzle of ranch sauce to pull things together.
I can see why a Shake Shack regular might want to introduce this sandwich to their repertoire, but as a more occasional Shacker (Shaker?) I couldn’t help but feel a missed opportunity to enjoy a delicious Shack Burger instead. I could grab a comparable Buffalo chicken sandwich at various neighborhood spots—but a smashburger with that irresistible Shack Sauce, there’s only one place I can turn to satisfy that craving.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no merit to this LTO menu. The Buffalo Spiced Cheese Fries packed a scrumptious punch I didn’t see coming. They were delicious, the crinkle cut lending itself to staying crispy, even on the coldest day of the year. While the hot cheese didn’t fare as well, the congealed texture highlighted the Buffalo powder, making them taste, dare I say… better? The Buffalo topping itself encapsulates the spiciness of the sauce—it was almost reminiscent of a Nashville Hot Chicken rub, tempered by the cheese sauce.
I’m curious enough to find out how much better a fresh batch might taste that I may be making my next semi-annual pilgrimage to Shack Shake sooner than normal just to bite into some piping hot fries with cheese that’s actually melted. I even ordered a side of plain fries as a sort of palette cleanser to all the Buffalo, but those ended up an afterthought as I devoured the perfectly portioned specialty potatoes.
So what’s the greater lesson to be learned by Shake Shack’s surprise hit? Let’s forget about chicken sandwiches in 2022—I wanna see what you can do with your fries! More flavors! More toppings! More science looking into how to keep all to-go fries as fresh and crispy as possible! I can’t wait to see who follows in Shake Shack’s footsteps, because fries could use a makeover.