I was watching TV one day and saw a show on burgers from around the country. It featured Shady Glen in Manchester, CT and their very unique burger. Just days later, James Beard named Shady Glen one of America’s Classics and I decided I had to give it a try. In case you aren’t familiar with America’s Classics, here is how they are described on the James Beard Foundation’s website:
“Each year since 1998 the James Beard Foundation Awards Committee has recognized our nation’s beloved regional restaurants. Distinguished by their timeless appeal, they serve quality food that reflects the character of their communities. We anoint these locally owned restaurants with a James Beard Foundation Award and designate them as America’s Classics.”
I walked in and sat down as the sign near the door instructed. The dining room was interesting with the grill in the middle and tables branching out from it connected by interior paths that separate the servers’ area from the patrons’ area. The menu is on the wall and I couldn’t see it from my booth without getting up and walking over to it. I am guessing that most people either just come for the burger or have been there enough times to memorize it so no one really needs it. Overall the dining room is dated but in a charming way that takes you back in time.
The cheeseburger is what Shady Glen is famous for. They use four slices of cheese but only put the corner of each slice on the patty. This means that ¾ of each slice is sitting directly on the grill where it crisps up and makes a burger with wings. Does this make a better burger? No, not at all. Frankly I don’t think it tastes that good and I didn’t think the meat they used in the patty was memorable. It is certainly unique and I am glad I tried it, but I don’t have any urge to return.
Along with the burger were fries and coleslaw. The fries were worse than the burger. They weren’t very crisp and were heavily under-salted. I don’t believe there is any amount of salt you can add to fries once they come to the table that will compete with straight-out-of-the-fryer salting. The coleslaw, on the other hand, was wonderful. If I go back, I will make sure to get some. It had a great balance of vinegar and mayo making it both tangy and creamy. Also good was the thick and creamy Oreo milkshake, but that is pretty hard to mess up.
Shady Glen is an experience worth having. I am sure if you grew up on it you would fall in love the place. For newcomers, it’s not much more than a strange burger and a good shake in a classic spot, but that’s not bad.
James Beard Foundation: America’s Classic 2012
840 Middle Turnpike East
Manchester, CT 06042