Philadelphia has been experiencing a burger boom over the last several years, particularly among chains.
They all have their followers and their particulars.
New York-bred Shake Shack, for instance, talks up its quality, locally sourced ingredients and sterling customer service espoused by its founder, Danny Meyer.
So, too, does D.C. burger specialist Good Stuff Eatery, which this week opened its first Philadelphia location at 18th and Chestnut Streets - two blocks from the city's first Shake Shack, which opened two years ago at 20th and Sansom.
How do Shake Shack and Good Stuff compare in their core business - the burger-fry-shake combo?
On Thursday, four Philly.com staffers - Katie Boline, Layla Jones, Tim Reardon and Nick Vadala - held a little tasting. To ensure that the food was uniformly fresh, two testers ordered takeout (single cheeseburger, single Shackburger, fries and vanilla shake) from Shake Shack at the same time that two other staffers placed the identical takeout order from Good Stuff (Farmhouse burger, Farmhouse cheeseburger, fries, vanilla shake).
All four met outside Oh Shea's, a bar at 19th and Sansom Streets, more or less the midway point, to eat and make notes.
Shake Shack's 4-ounce patty on the ShackBurger ($4.75) and the single cheeseburger ($4.25) was "well-seasoned," and the thin patty - cooked medium to well - created a "nostalgic" feel for one tester. This is "everything you want from a burger," a point made abundantly clear by the choice of grilled potato roll and the sleeve the burgers are served in. The burgers were topped with lettuce, tomato and the Thousand Island-like ShackSauce.
Good Stuff Eatery's 5- to 6-ounce burger ($6.50 - 25 cents extra for cheese) contained "great quality" beef and was built on a Pennsylvania Dutch potato-style bun, but both burgers tested were rare in the middle. This was offputting to two tasters, who (after making "mooing" sounds) decided to base their tasting notes on their initial more-well-done bites around the edges. Good Stuff's burgers are thicker than Shake Shack's, so perhaps the doneness issue is something management is addressing in its first week. (Burgers ordered on opening day were by default well-done.) But more to the point: No one at Good Stuff had asked how the customers wanted the burgers cooked. Testers also noted a "soggy bun" and "bland" seasoning that allowed "toppings to overwhelm." Burgers, which nonetheless seemed more "homemade" than Shake Shack's, are topped with tomatoes, thin-sliced onion, lettuce and pickles.
Advantage: Shake Shack
"Burger King does them better," one tester contended. Shake Shack's thin-cut Russets ($2.85) were "good enough," they said, but overall "lacked flavor" and were at best "nothing special." The paper serving carton won high marks.
Good Stuff Eatery's thicker-cut, deeper-fried red bliss spuds ($3.79) were "delicious," studded with sea salt and possessing an "almost meaty flavor." The dip bar gives you plenty of options, including a mango mayo that positively rocked.
Advantage: Good Stuff Eatery
Though both chains offer more exotic favors, we compared simple vanilla shakes to level the playing field.
Shake Shack's shake ($5) was "not bad," as it was "creamy and thick" and "traditional." "The vanilla flavor was a little dialed back, though, leaving it to taste like cream."
Good Stuff Eatery's shake ($4.95) was "creamy," "tasty" and "not overly sweet," and benefited from a "real vanilla" flavor - "almost a spiciness."
Advantage: Good Stuff Eatery