Thursday, July 20, 2017 This Week's Paper

Arts & Entertainment: Idealized retro meets modern burger joint at Shake Shake Shake

The biggest buzz in Stadium District these days is about Shake Shake Shake, the new 1950s style diner that opened this month at 124 N. Tacoma Ave.

This new dining hot spot was a long time coming. It's owned by Steve and Gordon Naccarato (of Pacific Grill fame) and Robert Stocker, who initially planned to open last fall but ran into delays as they remodeled their venerable space to bring it up to code. But now the joint is swarming with customers clamoring for hickory burgers, Tiger Shakes and Tacoma dogs.

Here at Tacoma Weekly, we wondered if Shake Shake Shake was worth the wait. A few staffers gathered there during a recent lunch rush, and here are some of our initial impressions:

Why, yes, I AM old enough to remember burger joints from the 1950s, and Shake Shake Shake is nothing like the ones I knew in Baltimore.

It’s better. Much much much better.

The building’s got the vintage, but the décor has the best of what we think we remember from back then, but don’t. It pulls together images and colors from retro ads and reruns of Happy Days and ties them up with a thread of irony. The package is a great improvement on the old reality.

The burgers play the same trick. If you grew up singing “Everybody Goes to Gino’s” in the back seat of a Rambler American, you developed a taste for 39-cent burgers that were 100 percent lettuce-free. You were happy with a dash of diced onions, and grateful to Gino Marchetti for going into the burger business after his run with the Baltimore Colts.

There’s nothing 39-centish about Shake Shake Shake’s burgers. On these new delights, hickory-smoked goodness engages in food porn with big lettuce and a burger as broad as the bun. The curry-ketchup flaunts itself at geography. And the salty shoestring fries, even the sweet potato variety, laugh at cardiology.

So, with all this faux-retro food, why go historically correct on the napkins? They’re the flimsy kind that fit the dispenser and go to pieces in your hands. They were all anybody who went to Gino’s needed. They’re no match for the marvelous modern messiness that is a Shake Shake Shake burger.

- Kathleen Merryman

The Real Hot Hotdog is a forearm-length creation of tubular meat goodness sliced and grilled to fit more of the pepper relish that is served on the side and tangy jalapeño mustard wiggled down its breadth with a smear of cream cheese. I opted out of the green chile onions, so don’t judge me. I expected a volcano of peppers, but got a starter campfire instead. It is a “real hot hotdog” after all, so maybe my thoughts were more literal than hyperbole. But all in all, it was a solid cylinder of peppered meat parts.

The PB&J (Peanut Butter and Jelly) shake delivered on its name. Each sip brought me back to visions of my after-school snacks when I would nosh on Jiffy and Smuckers and down a glass of 2 percent before watching “Star Blazers.” I just wish Shake X3 had wider straws to make way for the thickness without getting an aneurysm from the failed attempts at getting peanut chunks through a thin straw.

-Steve Dunkelberger 

With so many places to get a hamburger throughout the city, Shake Shake Shake is admittedly biting off a lot to chew by presenting Tacomans with a brand new option. However, Shake X3 has every right to say theirs is worth chomping into, and given the lunch hour crowds at the diner it seems a lot of people think so too. The well-named Classic Deluxe with cheese is just that – classic and deluxe – with all the trimmings (including a secret sauce), and on a freshly baked bun that beats the competitors’ by far. The Classic burger goes flawlessly with an order of Shake’s very tasty fries – the long, crunchy, skinny kind and not the limp, greasy, fast food variety. Add a handmade milkshake and you’ve got heaven on a tray. The coconut pudding shake is to die for, complete with shaved coconut topping and cherry on top. No complaints here – just a very full and happy tummy.

- Matt Nagle

An old-school burger n' shake joint isn't going to be the dining establishment of choice for strict vegans: even the fries at Shake Shake Shake are cooked in beef shortening. But there are options for vegetarians of the cheese and egg eating variety, as long as they're willing to fork over a little extra cash.

It cost a buck fifty more to get a Hickory Burger with a veggie patty instead of the usual beef. Shake Shake Shake uses Morningstar Farms patties, which are just the right taste and texture to make you feel like you're sinking your teeth into the real thing. But whatever version of this burger you order you'll wish it came with wet wipes; savory sauce gushes out with every bite, and I felt like a messy 5-year-old as crumpled napkins accumulated on my tray. It's messy but well worth it.

The BBQ sweet potato fries were crispy and delicious with a side of curry ketchup adding extra zing. And by now I've tried several of the diner's creamy namesakes. So far, my favorite is the Tiger Shake (not so secret ingredient: Almond Roca) with the decadent miso caramel variety a close second. Yep, gonna have to do a few more laps around the park to pay penance this week.

-Ernest Jasmin

Don’t get me wrong – I’m no vegetarian. But on Fridays during Lent I turn into one, so during the office outing to check out Shake Shake Shake, I was forced into a veggie burger. I was less than thrilled, but after taking the first bite I could not have been more wrong. The classic cheeseburger with a veggie patty was juicy and flavorful, and I eventually forgot I even went meatless. These simple burgers are delicious, and paired with sweet potato fries, I left the restaurant full and happy. The jalapeno mustard dipping sauce definitely cleared the sinuses, and I’m already planning a sauce bender next time I head over thanks to all the other options available.

-Kate Burrows