Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Obama likes it, but how does Five Guys really stack up?

With over 250,000 possible ways to order a burger, it should be fair to assume that there's something for everyone at Five Guys Burgers & Fries.  Though I am not typically a fanatic of franchised burger joints, I have been known to frequent a few exceptions (namely In-N-Out, although Shake Shack is rapidly spreading to far too many locations to keep count).  So when my friend, Christine, suggested that we try out the Zagat-rated burger joint that recently opened in the Rego Center Mall in Queens (which conveniently houses a new Century 21 and Costco) I decided to hop in the passenger seat for a ride.  After all, shouldn't every American at least sample the D.C.-based cheeseburger endorsed by our President?

The restaurant is impressively clean, each table wiped free of debris within moments of a customer leaving.  You sort have to chuckle, however, at the arrogance of the decor.  The walls are lined with quotes, newspaper reviews, and magazine clippings all shouting their raving endorsements of the franchise.  It all seems a bit of a waste, since logic should stand to reason that if a customer has already entered the dining room, they probably don't need propaganda to convince them to order a burger.

Nonetheless, kudos on immaculate eating surfaces and direct views of the grill and stainless steel food prep areas, separated only by a plexi-glass divider.  You can literally watch them top your personal burger just before handing it to you.  But don't expect it to be pretty at the table, though, because they tightly wrap it in foil (although it does keep in the heat).

Though their beef is neither cage-free nor organic, their website claims humane treatment of the cattle and only fresh, non-frozen ground beef that meets all USDA regulations.  In a nod to those diners that want to feel like they've ordered something straight from the farm, a sign by the register announces the source du jour for the potatoes (we noticed the sacks of potatoes stacked by the kitchen were actually from a different farm... maybe it was the delivery for tomorrow's taters?)

While you wait for them to call your number, a giant trash bag of serve-yourself-peanuts sits at each customer's disposal.  I declined to indulge, as no one around me seemed to be throwing the shells on the floor.  What's the sense of peanuts if you can't make a mess with the remains?  Aw, shucks...

But back to the 250,000 ways to order a burger.  Take a quick scroll back to the top picture in this post.  Notice anything peculiar? There's no patty!  Yup, that first image is actually the Veggie Sandwich with cheese!  There are so many topping options that a vegetarian can load up a substantial sandwich with no beef at all.  The best part is that all of the toppings are free on any sandwich, so no matter what combination you choose, the price stays the same ($3.79 for the veggie and cheese sandwich).

Don't be fooled by the sandwich titles.  A cheeseburger ($6.39) is actually TWO patties sandwiched between a toasted sesame bun.  Because I wanted to load up on the toppings, I opted for the "Little Cheeseburger" ($4.99) which is not a slider, as the name suggests, but exactly the same size as the pricier double version, only with one beef patty instead of two.  After loading it with toppings, I can't imagine how anyone could fit the two-patty sandwich in the average mouth.  When you order your burger "All-the-way" it comes stacked with American cheese, mustard, ketchup, mayo, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, grilled onions, and sauteed mushrooms.  Just because I really enjoy an ol' fashioned steakburger, I also threw on A1 sauce for good measure.  Since they prepare all burgers to well done for consistency and health codes, why not load it up?  Other possible toppings include relish, raw onion, jalapeno peppers, green peppers, barbecue sauce,  and hot sauce.

The patty itself is thin and juicy, well-seasoned, with crispy bits on the edges from squishing the beef into the grill with a spatula.  I actually prefer my patties thin, and thought it was a particularly tasty burger.  I love that the toppings are straightforward, no gimmicky house sauces or gourmet toppings, so you can make it as classic or loaded as you like.

This may sound strange, but I think my favorite sandwich was actually the bacon cheese dog.  The soft white hot dog bun is toasted, and the frank itself is halved lengthwise, and then grilled.  Paired with crispy bacon and melted American cheese, I think it's the best hot dog I have ever had, quite frankly (couldn't resist the pun).

The french fries are thick, and freshly cut with the skin still on, then fried in peanut oil and lightly salted.  Crispy on the outside, and tender inside, they were pretty fantastic fries ($2.89), and also available with cajun seasonings.

And I loved that there were bottles of malt vinegar available, my preferred tactic for eating fries.  Also pretty rare in NYC these days is the self-service soda fountain with complimentary refills ($1.99).

All in all, was it the best burger I've ever tasted?  Well, I love to support the local small businesses, and quite honestly, the burgers in Astoria would be nearly impossible to beat.  I am not sure I will ever hop on the subway just to grab a burger (maybe that hot dog, though), but the next time I need to head to the mall or costco, it's pretty likely I will swing by.

Five Guys Burgers & Fries on Urbanspoon

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