September 5, 2013
“The $5 Shake” originated as a quip in Quentin Taratino’s Pulp Fiction, but now the Howard Diner seems to be taking the joke seriously. If you haven’t heard the latest “B.A. Buzz,” here’s the news: the Diner has dramatically pared down on its fans’ favorite menu items, such as the Black Russian, Tuscan Chicken and Panini alla Napoletana, which are now only available a la carte or on respective days of the week. But while everyone else wailed in agony over the fact that Black Russians are now only available on Tuesdays—why oh why, why, why, why—another concern occupied my mind: If the Diner is offering “$5 Shakes”—or, as the menu calls them, ‘HD Shakes”—are they worth it? If the Diner is increasing their prices, are they also upping their game?
To the initial dismay and eventual amusement of the too-good-for-words Diner employees, I ordered and tasted every new item on the Diner menu—with the help of Opus’s most charming employee. This way you know what’s worth your money, and what’s not.
House-made Pastrami Burger
($8 or 1 meal swipe + $3): 3/5
Made with a third-pound local beef burger, house-made pastrami, Swiss cheese, and caramelized onions—this sandwich takes itself very seriously. The Heidelberg sourdough bread is so tangy, buttery, crispy and wonderfully oversized that its edges barely fit on the paper plate. No offense to the Black Russian devotees, but I think this option is a nice break from the thick-cut white. The main problem is that the sourdough is too large for the burger, and the pastrami—albeit house-made—is too timidly layered on.
Green Chile Tortilla Burger
($7 or 1 meal swipe + $2): 5/5
Had I not already ordered three other sandwiches and six milkshakes, I would have eaten two of these. Like the Pastrami Burger, it’s made with a third-pound local beef patty, plus house-made green chile relish, and Monterey jack cheese. Thinking outside the bun, the cooks wrap the sandwich in a flour tortilla and grill it on the flattop. This makes the item take a bit longer in the assembly line, but I liked the extra care, and the extra crunch. The green chile relish is refreshingly not-classic-Americana-diner, and it offers a bit of the spice that I’m always craving when I douse everything from the dining halls in hot sauce. So, is it worth the extra $2? Absolutely.
The Whole Diner Burger
($8 or 1 meal swipe + $3): 4/5
Embarrassing to admit, but I really, really enjoyed this—and I would have even more had I been, ahem, drinking something other than milkshakes. (Read: This is your new ‘Diner B’ order.) Scaring away all Opus-followers in sight, this sandwich manages to feature meat from three different animals on one little bun, with a beef burger, two chicken tenders and crispy bacon. Oh, and French fries, too. Plus a generous zig-zag of honey mustard, because it really does make everything better. For an extra $2, you can add another burger, which I can see more than a few people doing in the wee hours of Sunday morning when the ‘drunchies’ roll around. I see this as the Diner’s most mischievous business strategy, and I think it’s going to work.
House-made Chicken Cutlet Sandwich
($7 or 1 meal swipe + $2): 3/5
It’s a chicken cutlet sandwich: no less, no more. While the other new sandwich items on The Diner menu are decidedly showing off for their price tags, this was the one that made me shrug my shoulders. The chicken breast is crispy. The garlic mayonnaise is garlicky. The cheese is melty. The bun is soft. The tomato and lettuce are fresh. If you’re really in the mood for a chicken cutlet sandwich: Go for it. You won’t be disappointed, but I’m not sure if you’ll be blown away.
Nutella Shake ($5): 5/5
I’m biased: I’ll admit it right now. Nutella Milkshakes were one of the greatest discoveries of my four-month abroad experience and, to be totally honest, if I could pick a ‘way to go,’ it would be drowning in one of those giant vats of Nutella. This milkshake does exactly what it’s supposed to: not skimp on the godly chocolate-hazelnut spread. It’s so Nutella-y that sometimes I felt like I was just drinking Nutella, and I loved it. The days when you could trade your dinner swipe for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s may be—rest in peace—gone, but this is a worthy replacement, even it costs you some cash.
Coffee Shake ($5): 4/5
Like the Nutella, this shake represents its flavor namesake very well—and I think it’s worth mentioning that my co-taste tester, Sean Henry-Smith ’15, gave his barista seal of approval. The coffee was pronounced, but not overwhelming, as was the sweetness. For those who don’t pray to the Nutella God, this is the shake to choose. And if you’re on the seven- or 14-meal plan, maybe spend your designated breakfast budget on this once or twice a week. It does have coffee, after all.
Chocolate Shake ($5): 3/5
A chocolate milkshake, at its most basic, is chocolate ice cream blended with milk. A black and white milkshake, on the other hand, is vanilla ice cream blended with chocolate syrup and milk. To me, this shake tasted like the latter—and it turned out, after a bit of sleuthing, that’s exactly what it is. I love black and white milkshakes and, for those who do, too, this is a choice example. But if you’re looking for chocolate, I’d recommend opting for an Opus cookie instead.
Blueberry Shake ($5): 1/5
Who would order this? I understand that people generally fall into fruity or not-fruity milkshake camps, and I—can you tell?—definitely lean toward the latter. But still, something about a “Blueberry Milkshake,” from the moment I saw it on the menu, made me furrow my eyebrows. At my first reluctant sip, I was excited to learn that the blueberry flavor was subtle to the point of barely being there—and then I processed that the blueberry flavor was subtle to the point of barely being there. And if you are one of those people who would actually order a blueberry milkshake in the first place, this probably isn’t what you want.
Strawberry Shake ($5): 3/5
If you’re a fruity milkshake person, this is your order. If you’re a strawberry ice cream fan, this is definitely your order. Just request that they make it extra thick, because, to me, this consistency was verging upon strawberry milk, even though the flavor was spot-on.
Vanilla Shake ($5): 4/5
Food pet peeve: When people get shamed for ordering vanilla milkshakes because they’re the “boring” choice. You know, as if liking vanilla ice cream makes you a “vanilla” personality. But seriously, to all the vanilla folks out there: Forget that. I don’t think you’re boring. I think you’re classic and comforting on a warm, sunny day. This shake is made with vanilla ice cream and vanilla extract, and the result is just the right balance between milky and creamy. While the vanilla flavor is present, it’s in no way artificial or overpowering.