Maybe you could engineer a sandwich more capable of quelling a hangover than the Shack-Which, but why bother, when the Shack-Which already exists? The sheer size of the thing is overwhelming: two slices of lightly toasted rustic French bread, each by itself the size of a dinner plate (OK, a smallish dinner plate, but still), bracketing a meat of your choice — and your options are numerous: steak, chicken (grilled, blackened or fried), turkey, pastrami, pulled pork, pork belly, ham, or bacon and egg — oozing with melted provolone and topped with piquant coleslaw, tomato slices and a heap of crisp, thick-cut french fries.
Yes, you read that right: The fries are part of the sandwich.
But wait. There's more.
You can, if you like, add to your Shack-Which a fried egg, bacon, or double the portion of meat — or any combination thereof. In fact, the menu "triple-dog dares" you to add all three. Had I actually been equipped with a hangover when I ordered my Shack-Which, I might have taken the dare or at the very least finished the sandwich I ordered.
But I visited The Shack Pubgrub stone-cold sober. A regrettable lack of foresight, I admit: Arguably, a professional such as myself ought to have known that in order to properly evaluate an establishment located a scant walk-of-shame away from the Saint Louis University campus, one should stoke one's critical faculties with an ample dosing of liquid swagger the night before.
For the record, I went with pulled pork, which was tender and packed sufficient flavor — not the smokiness you usually associate with pulled pork, but a succulent and lightly sweet porkitude more akin to carnitas — to stand out among everything piled atop it. In my, shall we say, diminished capacity, I was unable to polish off so much sandwich, but I damn sure ate all the pork.
And let me make it perfectly clear that while the Shack's location and vibe — from its absurdly cheap specials ($1 burgers on Monday) to its frat-party music mix to what appear to be confiscated fake IDs pinned to the wall — scream student hangout, this two-month-old bar and grill offers a much broader appeal.
Slideshow: Go inside the Shack Pubgrub
That's explained in part by the fact that the Shack's ownership group also runs the acclaimed Tavern Kitchen & Bar in Valley Park, as well as both locations (i.e., Valley Park and Chesterfield) of the Corner Pub & Grill. For the Shack's menu they turned to the Tavern's chef, Justin Haifley, who attacked the task with a sense of humor paired with a keen eye toward detail. He then turned the day-to-day kitchen operations to Tim Kimell.
In other words, this is serious fun.
So enamored of french fries is the Shack that it has given them their own section on the menu. These are called "Boardwalk Fries," and only if they were served in a waxed-paper cup half-dissolved by hot grease, could they be more authentic. Hand-cut to a finger's thickness and cooked to a deep golden-brown — they're crisp outside, pillowy inside: perfect.
They're delicious by themselves, but you can order them topped with combinations including chili and cheese, "Green Eggs n Ham" — fried egg, diced ham, creamed spinach and scallions — and "Cali": cheddar cheese sauce, caramelized onions and "Shackalicious" sauce. "What," you ask, "is 'Shackalicious' sauce?" Think McDonald's "Special Sauce" — it pairs surprisingly well with the sweet onions and tangy cheese.
The Shack's burgers are called "Smash Burgers," which means A) they are smashed flat on the grill and cooked to medium-well temperature, and B) they risk a cease-and-desist letter from a certain national burger chain. At any rate, with the proviso that this isn't my favorite style, the Shack's smashed burger is a solid example of the form, not too thin and tasting of ground beef more than the grill. The toppings make this burger, from the basic "Shackburger" (also risking a cease-and-desist letter from a certain St. Louisan-turned-big-shot New York restaurateur) with lettuce, tomato, onion, American cheese and "Shackalicious" sauce to the "Smokehouse," with an excellent, tangy barbecue sauce, a smoky bacon "jam," vinegary Carolina-style slaw, cheddar cheese and, because why not, an onion ring.
Another section of the menu is devoted to tacos both conventional (fish tacos with lightly battered tilapia, guacamole and a tangy buttermilk dressing) and, um, not (chicken with that same buttermilk dressing and Cool Ranch Doritos). The pork-belly tacos were my favorite — neither too traditional to be noteworthy nor too silly: crisp, fatty lardons in a pineapple-jalapeño salsa with cabbage, queso fresco, cilantro and onions.
The only disappointments I encountered hailed from the appetizer menu. An order of onion rings had been left in the deep fryer too long — not burnt, but with bits caramelized to the point of being brittle. Likewise, an order of chicken wings spoiled a solid buffalo sauce (a bit richer, even creamier, than the usual tangy concoction) with overcooked, arid meat.
Though the menu focuses on relatively quick dishes, service tends to slow noticeably as the Shack gets busy. (And on each of my visits, it was very busy.) You can forgive this easily, of course: The Shack is, first and foremost, a hangout.
Then again, if you're nursing that hangover, every second between you and a Shack-Which seems like an eternity.
Slideshow: Go inside the Shack Pubgrub