Esquire’s Favorite Cheeseburger

Nothing Shady About This Place
Shady Glen Dairy Stores, Manchester

August 25, 2007

fd2c.jpgAs CTMQ readers learned in my review of New Haven’s Louis’s Lunch (America’s hamburger birthplace), I don’t eat cows. For the sake of CTMQ’s unparalleled integrity, I broke my personal credo and ate a cheeseburger there. I did not feel sick or have any real issue with it, nor was it so delicious that I went home to bathe in carpaccio and steak tartare. It was just a bland and tired ol’ cheeseburger. But it was HISTORIC! Fast forward several weeks to another MegaQuest day, this time with Celebublogger EdHill, and a whirlwind trip through north central CT.

I had been told several months prior by CTMQ friend Liz that Shady Glen’s cheeseburger was somehow important. It had made it on some list in Esquire Magazine and one time a friend of hers from out-of-state insisted Liz take him there to have this important morsel. And since CTMQ is – when boiled down to its very essence – merely a nut with mild OCD completing various lists, I felt it important that we complete this task. But no need for me to partake, for I had EdHill along for the ride.

fd2b.jpg Also along was Liz, the very same friend who first made mention of this Esquire honor. (The irony here is that she’s actually a real vegetarian, as opposed to me.) Shady Glen is on the outskirts of Manchester on the Bolton side. I’m quite sure that just a few years ago this was pure cow country (hence the “Dairy Stores” part of the restaurant’s name). We arrived, stepped back in time, and were lucky to grab a booth immediately. The first thing one notices is the straight-up 1955 uniforms the poor kids who work there have to wear. Complete with those corny paper hats and bad forest green polyester.

Shady Glen was opened in 1938 and has been a mecca of “road food” and diner affecionados for fifty years. As is often the case, its reputation has probably carried it to success more than anything else. To be fair, their shakes and ice cream are assuredly delicious and their prices seem stuck a few decades behind, which is definitely a positive. And let’s not forget their fried cheese; yes folks, that is fried cheese there, served as a side, in the picture above. Mmmm-mm. Let’s get to the famous burger already…

We sat and were doled out water in 6 ounce Dixie cups. Hm, that’s pretty weird. We ordered sodas (I wonder if they serve malteds) which were issued upon old-school paper doilies. No menus, for apparently everyone knows what they want here: Cheeseburgers. Ed ordered his pre-ordained choice and I opted for, get this, egg salad. I figured if I was going to a place ostensibly for its cheeseburgers but wasn’t even eating the cheeseburger, I should at least take an insane risk. It would, I thought, perhaps at least give me a story of my own to tell. Liz stuck with her ice tea and made plans to eat at an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet with another friend. But Liz, you’re at SHADY GLEN!! Eh, I guess if you live here, it ain’t the same.

fd2a.jpgOur food arrived and we marveled at Ed’s platter. The gimmick here is they fry about 4 slices of Velveeta and sit the beef patty on top of that. (They also toast the buns, which is a touch I always enjoy.) And there it was: one of Esquire magazines Top 5 Cheeseburgers in the world. So Ed, how was it? “Not as good as advertised. I mean, it was good. As an American, I like fried foods and I like cheese. But it wasn’t the holy Nirvana that everyone tries to make it out to be. I was more intrigued with the sippy cups.” Hm. That’s two nationally famous Connecticut burgers CTMQ has eaten and two blasé reviews.

We passed on their “famous” ice cream, as Liz had her lunch date and Ed and I had to move it along up Route 44 to the Special Joys Dolls and Toys Museum. Yes, I’m serious. For the record, my egg salad was perfectly fine (though lacking in the “chunks off egg white” department, which is what I prefer to the smooshed variety) and I had no issues with it. And finally, if you think I’m full of it, a quick Google search yielded a ton of Shady Glen fandom:

The Esquire List (# 44)
Two big fans
Splendid Table says you must go
Foodie Michael Stern says it’s spectacular
The Hartord Courant makes fun of you for not going there
A Shady Glen cheeseburger deconstruction

Sign from the Old Manchester Museum

4 responses to “Esquire’s Favorite Cheeseburger”

  1. honeybunny says:

    were those crinkle fries (the ripply kind)?
    i love those kind.


  2. Catherine says:

    Hmmm-I wonder how many Tums and Pepcid AC are popped before entering this joint???

  3. Caitlin says:

    The burger is actually put on the grill first, then the slices of cheese are placed on top of the burger and are fried while cooking on the burger. There are menus, they’re just on the walls. Shady Glen does serve malts and because of the recent increase in the price of dairy products, the prices of the food have increased as well so this review just needs a few updates.

  4. tyra says:

    I grew up eating at Shady Glen. It was always a treat to get take out from there and an even bigger treat to eat there. The murals on the walls, the “real” sodas…the ones with the selzter and the syrup added at the soda fountain, the menus on the walls, sitting at the counter…I could go on. The ice cream was made there, the chocolate chip ice cream had chunks of Munsons chocolate, then the hill on the side that thousands of kids have rolled down after they ate their ice cream.There is also a Shady Glen at the Parkade (down by Broad St for those who don’t know)that was good but never the same as the original one.Anyway my point is this is a great family place. They have had some people that have worked there since I was a kid.(thats a good 30 years at least).If you want a gourmet burger go someplace else. But if you want a good greasy spoon burger, served with a side of great atmosphere and a little tradition then you will love it!I still do and so do my 4 kids.

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