It’s President’s Day, so let’s celebrate by talking about something a little less vital than presidential politics, but no less dear to my heart: Steak ‘n Shake.
If you grew up most anywhere in the Midwest or the South in the last sixty years or so, you probably know about Steak ‘n Shake. Growing up in St Louis, the Brentwood Blvd location — it seems to be gone now — was the high-school hangout spot. Good food, reasonable prices, and a staff with saintly patience enough to deal with wall-to-wall hungry, horny teenagers.
Steak ‘n’ Shake exists on a simple concept: a diner that makes “steakburgers” and milkshakes — and a pretty decent cup of chili. The kitchen is open for the world to see. The interior is all black and white tile and gleaming chrome. In fact, the concept is so simple it led to the two simplest (and maybe worst) slogans in restaurant history. “In sight, it must be right,” and “It’s a meal.”
I’m not sure you could possibly say less about a restaurant’s food than, “it’s a meal.” But, man, what a meal.
A triple steakburger with cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and mustard, with large fries, a cup of chili, and a chocolate shake was nothing less than a way of life for my first 20 years.
But in 1989, I moved to California. From there, to Colorado. It’s been almost a quarter century since I’ve had reliable access to Steak ‘n Shake. Whenever I’d drive back to St. Louis, I’d always stop in KC — even if the tank was full — to grab a steakburger. Visiting North Carolina a couple years ago, I had lunch, then dinner that same night, at one of the restaurants in Charlotte. My order was the same both meals: A triple steakburger with cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, and mustard, with large fries, a cup of chili, and a chocolate shake.
We have a Five Guys. We have an In’n'Out. Both are good. But neither really compare. I’m not fat only because I have an overeager thyroid and no local Steak ‘n Shakes.
Only… that just changed, and I don’t mean my thyroid.