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Cheap Eats: Shake Pit

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The Shake Pit

The Shake Pit / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Bradenton's Shake Pit is the kind of place that makes you nostalgic for times you never actually experienced. The little A-frame hut immediately brings to mind the classic burger 'n' shake joints made famous in movies like American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused, old movies themselves made about earlier times and drenched in feel-good it-was-all-so-simple-then memories.

Sitting down at one of the restaurant's plain white tables, it's easy to imagine Biff and Chet swinging by in bulging letterman's jackets to grab some grub before gassing up the jalopy and cruising out to the ol' beach for a little bikini-watching. I can picture the Hardy Boys meeting up here to celebrate after solving a big case: "Boy, that haunted cove sure was creepy. Now pass the fries, Joe!" Or maybe a little later in my American timeline, this would be a stoner spot, a place for hemp-necklaced dropouts to trade conspiracy theories about Area 51 and that pyramid with the eye on the dollar bill. I mean, what's that all about, man?

The menu only confirms the associations, running through classics like double cheeseburgers ($6.50), tuna melts ($5.35), chicken tenders ($6.15), crinkle fries ($2.20-$3.40) and, of course, the titular shakes ($3.12-$5.20). The Shake Pit for the most part hits it out of the park.

Shake Pit (2) (low-res)

The Shake Pit's double cheeseburger / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Start with that burger. No, they don't bother asking how we want it prepared because, like most fast-food burgers, it comes well-done — just two thin discs of meat topped with cheap cheese and the traditional fixings like lettuce, onion and tomato, squeezed between a couple buns. If you've been to the Hob Nob or Five Guys, you know what to expect, although the Shake Pit's version is noticeably lighter on grease than some of its competitors. Innovative? No. Interesting? Not really. Achingly delicious? Yes.

Same goes for the chicken BLT, a wafer of golden fried chicken topped with cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo. It tastes exactly like you know it does. The fish sandwich, on the other hand, is a bit of a disappointment. The battered white flesh tastes more like a frozen fishstick than anything actually caught somewhere.

But when dessert comes, any critical grumblings wash away. The place is called Shake Pit, right? So we had to get shakes. The peanut butter and caramel version is marvelous. It's so dense your face turns blue trying to suck it up through a straw, so follow our lead and just dig in with a spoon instead. The ice cream tastes rich and creamy, and the restaurant is generous with the flavorings. In fact, you can combine any flavors you want, so go crazy. Craving a Coke, bubblegum and mocha milkshake? They'll make you one. My friend, Justin, says his choco shake is the best he's ever had. I don't know if I'd go that far, but boy does mine make me smile.

I think I ate too much. On the way home, my stomach's warning me not too eat so much fried stuff in one sitting again. Unlike the Shake Pit's target audience, I can't stuff away three cheeseburgers then score the winning touchdown in the big game later that same night. I'm not a young man anymore. But tummy issues aside, I'd still be happy to rip a few brewskies and zip on out to the moon tower in my suped-up Trans Am. I hear old man Polaski's out of town, and his kid's gotten his hands on a couple kegs. Sounds bitchin'.

The Shake Pit's chicken BLT / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

The Shake Pit's chicken BLT / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

Shake Pit
3801 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton
748-4016

This is the umpteenth entry in a weekly column dedicated to eats that are cheap. If you have an idea for a place to feature on Cheap Eats, comment below, email me at cheapeatssrq@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter: @LeveyBaker.

Last modified: September 13, 2013
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