In order to justify a trip to the ubiquitous Potbelly's 5th ranked shake in the city, Nat and I had to hit Thats-A-Burger beforehand.
Simply an outstanding burger. Massive, great toppings, good value. Although this time around Nat and I did notice that TAB could do a little better on the bun. It's big enough for the patty, but sort of oddly crumbly. And more than anything it just pales in comparison to everything else that goes into one of those things.
On to Potbelly we went afterwards, for malts (not shakes), which at that point were completely excessive. When I first saw Potbelly on TOC's list, my first response was to call them out for laziness (you're telling me that Potbelly makes a better malt than say, Margie's Candies?) My second thought was to lambaste them for smugness, like the pretentious rock critic who strategically selects Soulja Boy's "Crank That" for 'song of the year' strictly to prove that he is in touch with the serfdom. I quickly curbed myself, however, for neither of those criticisms are applicable. I had been to Potbelly many times, and the fact is they make a damn good shake (malt).
Photos of malts. What do you want from me?
In ordering our malts (me: chocolate, Nat: oreo, as delineated by the presence of oreo cookies as garnish), I began to wonder, what type of person chooses a milkshake over a malt? Milkshakes always seemed to me the equivalent of ice cream that melted and is now liquidy. Malts, on the other hand, perfect the midpoint between beverage and solid ice cream. These two in particular were decent. Thick enough...good ice cream. But as much as I like the Potbelly malt as an easily accessible option, the best "chain" malt in the city I would have to say belongs to Baskin Robbins, which produces a seriously rich piece of work.
Some final words on Potbelly. The culinary black hole that is Hyde Park possesses multiple Subways, a Jimmy Johns, a Potbelly, and for a couple of years housed a Quizno's. I have eaten at all these establishments with rotating regularity over the past three years. Whereas my feelings about most of them have plateaued, Potbelly is the only one that I have increasingly disliked over the years. The first time I ate at a Potbelly was in Ann Arbor in 2003 on my way to Canada. I recall being filled with wonder, like I was cast into a magical world of perfect collegetown sandwichery. I was excited when they first came to HP, even though very early on I endured an in-house guitar player's rendition of "Knockin on Heaven's Door" from Potbelly's patented "singer-perch." Behind all the crap on the walls and faux-down-home decor, however, are subpar ingredients that get worse when passed through the oven. Potbelly's sandwiches just gross me out now, and somehow seem consistently wet. Maybe that's because I was getting mine with their extremely crappy giardeniera....either way, I am getting them no more. I will be back for the malts though. They're fine.