Friday, November 2, 2018

Quick Bite: Garlic Shack

Chimichurri fries at Garlic Shack
[Insert vampire joke here]
The restaurant business is tough—and arguably the toughest part to nail is consistency. To maintain a fully stocked inventory, professional customer service and top-notch food quality is an incredible feat of logistics, one that most diners seldom stop to think about.

That's because when a restaurant is run well, they shouldn't have to. Unfortunately Garlic Shack, unfortunately, broke that cardinal rule on the two occasions I tried it.

I walk though the door of the Shack for the first time. It has a funky, grungy aesthetic that matches its name: Wooden picnic-table style seating, corrugated metal sheeting as an accent wall. The words "GARLIC SHACK" are stenciled everywhere. I can kinda dig it.

When I go to order the spicy belly banh mi (#sorrynotsorry), the friendly teen behind the counter informs me they just ran out—like, the minute before I came in. Oops. I reluctantly scan the menu and order the chimichurri steak fries.

They're delicious. The fries themselves are crunchy, greasy and wonderful, topped with a great chimichurri packed full of herbs and vinegar tang. The cheese has that satisfyingly gooey, stretchy consistency. Oh, and of course, there are eleven metric tons of garlic—almost enough to counteract the negative health effects I'm sustaining by consuming a pile of cheese, meat and fried potato. The steak is well-seasoned—even the thyme comes through—but it's cooked nearly well done rather than medium as I asked for. Still, I depart from the Shack contented, with garlic on my breath and optimism in my heart.

I return the next week for another banh mi attempt. Incredibly, it's the same story: They're still out of the pork belly. I ask if there's a specific time this item is available, but the chef apologetically explains through the ticket window that no, this is "just the way it goes," because "everything is made to order." Since this is true of any decent restaurant, I find this rationale... confusing. And anyway, shouldn't you be sure to have enough of any ingredient that's key to three of your menu items?

Korean beef noodle bowl at Garlic Shack
It's not as good as it looks. Curse my photography skills.
Halfheartedly, I ask for Korean beef noodle bowl. It's... well, it's not great. The tiny spoon I'm given is comically insufficient for the enormous bowl of soup. The noodles are clumped together. The broth is okay, meaty and spicy but quite salty. The bowl feels like it's missing something, and looking back over the menu I realize why: The enoki mushrooms, bamboo shoots and garlic chips are all mysteriously absent.

I don't bother asking about them. I know what the answer will be.

Believe or not, I wouldn't be surprised if I had a good time at Garlic Shack if I ever returned—it's just that the experience is just too hit and miss to know for sure. Their problem isn't that they're incapable of making good food. It's that they haven't learned how to be a restaurant.

Score: 4 out of 10 (Mediocre)

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