Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

This is serious.

When America decides on its fast food, it thinks deliberately and expresses itself vigorously.

I was moved, therefore, by TripAdvisor recently announcing its list of the nation's finest fast casual restaurants.

Chicago hot dog emporium Portillo's was named number 1.

But America runs on burgers, so which did it decide were the best?

Oddly, there were only two burger chains in the top 5. At number 5 was famed California cult In-N-Out. 

Yet beating it out at number 3 was Shake Shack.

I used to live near the original Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. The lines were unbearable. The burgers, in those days, were certainly pleasant.

However, like Shaq himself, the Shake Shack has expanded. 

This weekend, for example, it arrives in the Bay Area for the first time

I thought, therefore, that I'd go and see why Americans believe it's better than In-N-Out.

A devoted In-N-Out cultist I'm not. There's one near my house and, perhaps twice a year -- Valentine's Day, for example -- I stand among the hordes and get a pleasant burger.

Currently, I'm in South Florida, so I ventured to Shake Shack to see whether America is right or has it a little twisted.

The Scene. A Big Scene.

On a Saturday night, this Shake Shack was thronged with young, the old and those who chose (ineffective) surgery to make themselves look less old.

Such is South Florida.

Those who dedicate themselves to fast food tell me that the two big differences between Shake Shack and In-N-Out are that the former's fries are much better. 

And that Shake Shack serves alcohol.

Should I, though, have the beer from the Brooklyn Brewery or the Sauvignon Blanc, purportedly from California?

I went for the latter, reasoning that any burger joint that served decent wine would be a joy deserving commitment.

I walked up to the counter and asked for a single ShackBurger, fries and a Sauvignon Blanc.

The Shake Shacker paused for several seconds before asking: "Is that a white?"

There's no reason fast food chain employees should be familiar with wine. It's a charming novelty it's there at all.

Soon, my little beeper went off to tell me my burger was ready. The wine was freshly poured from an airline-type bottle, straight from the fridge.

It was white. 

The Verdict. It's One of the Painful Kind.

Anyone ordering burgers knows that you always try the fries first.

You simply can't help yourself.

There's no question that these crinkle-cut charmers were better than In-N-Out's, which are often soggier than your average Bay Area resident's politics.

Shake Shack's are firm and crisp -- these were actually a little overdone.

This was a clear no-contest.

What next, though? The burger or the Sauvignon Blanc?

This wasn't a dilemma I'd often had before. I usually drink beer with a burger.

I went for the wine because, well, I wondered what a burger chain wine might taste like. 

I took one sip, then another. 

This was to Sauvignon Blanc what Birkenstocks are to evening wear. Or to human culture, for that matter.

It began with a hint of alcohol and ended with a hint of despair. 

Please, taste is subjective. This, however, filled my mouth with a peculiar wistful nothingness that was a touch troubling.

Sommeliers like to talk about wine-tasting notes. This was a single E-Flat.

Of course you'll tell me it's my fault for ordering wine at a burger joint, but alcohol is supposed to be one of Shake Shack's pluses. 

I never thought I'd prefer a fountain soda to a glass of wine. Then it happened.

As for the burger, my hopes remained high.

Shake Shack, after all, comes from the deft, upscale culinary mind of Danny Meyer.

This burger, however, seemed to come from a peculiar culinary wasteland where seasoning has been banned, the weather is permanently cloudy and the cows regret not being born in California.

Again, where I hoped for taste, I experienced something I vaguely remembered as school lunch.

In a blind taste test, I felt sure I'd never be able to pick this burger out from scores of others.

Wendy's, I could pick out. Burger King and In-N-Out, too.

This was simply the sort of ordinary that even an actuary could detect. It was, frankly, perplexing.

I didn't finish any part of my meal, even though I'd prepared my hunger well in advance.

I'd just spent $18.17 on a strange vacuum.

I trudged away and wondered what America was thinking.

Mind you, this isn't exactly a rare occurrence.

Published on: Dec 16, 2018