Five Guys wants you to know that it's been making "Handcrafted Burgers & Fries since 1986." The chain (about 1,400 restaurants and annual sales approaching a billion bucks) brags that its "passion for food is shared with our fans, which is why we never compromise. Fresh ingredients, hand prepared that bring your craving to life." The restaurants' walls are covered with rave reviews.
I'm a carnivore. I love burgers. I love fine fries with burgers. It was logical to assume that I'd be a happy Five Guys customer and I eagerly anticipated the chain's opening a branch near me about seven years ago.
I was initially satisfied and I went a few times. The burgers were nothing special—better than fast food from Mickey Dee's or BK, but not as good as at Uno or Charlie Brown or my own kitchen or outdoor grill.
When you wait for your food you can pre-stuff yourself with peanuts in-the-shell.
The fries were spectacular. Even the "little" size is big. They're served overflowing in a cup inside a bag. Apparently customers are supposed to think that the cook is infatuated with them and provides extra. It's a scam, but an effective scam.
The "system" and pricing are weird. A "regular-size" burger consists of two "little" patties stacked unsteadily on the same roll. A friggin' slice of cheese costs 70 cents! A "kosher-style" hot dog is not kosher, and becomes even more non-kosher if ordered with cheese or bacon.
Fifteen free toppings are available—but you can't get sauerkraut on your hot dog! I realize that dogs are not the specialty, but when the menu is so limited it's not unreasonable to expect proper condiments. Even the low-brow snack bars at Sam's Club and Costco have kraut!
The lack of kraut is annoying, but not a deal breaker. The grilled onions were an acceptable substitute.
Here's what's not acceptable:
- Those unlimited free peanuts are very salty. I don't know how the company gets salt into the shell, but it should STOP! When I was a kid my parents complained that I used too much salt. Then I went to college and saw classmates using much more salt than I did. At one restaurant I even saw a customer salting spare ribs. Yuck. My wife uses no salt and there are several restaurants she refuses to patronize because she finds the food too salty. I'm not an anti-salt crusader, but the Five Guys nuts are not tasty and certainly not healthy.
- When my local Five Guys branch opened I could get a medium-rare burger, which is what I prefer. After a while the company restricted my choice of done-ness to either well-done or no burger at all. I'm not a weirdo who expects beef to still be breathing, but I do think that meat should have some juice. Initially the store staff lied about it being illegal to serve burgers that were not well-done. I naively believed them and switched to 5G hot dogs. I later discovered that other restaurants—both chains and independents—did offer pink meat. Craving fries and hopeful of a revised policy I went to the Guys yesterday. The cashier told me that the restaurant "can't" make burgers that are not well-done. "Can't" implies a physical disability. It doesn't take a special talent or tool to not incinerate meat.
- The legendary fries looked spectacular and the portion was huge. Sadly, they were over-salted. As with the nuts, the fries are not tasty and certainly not healthy.
- The hot dog bun quickly fell apart. Fast-casual food does not have to be sloppy. The dog was too salty—of course! Salt should be an option, dammit.
- My tab for a dog, fries and a "regular" soda was close to eleven bucks. That's absolutely ridiculous! I might expect a rip-off price like that in a sports stadium, but not in an ordinary suburban shopping center where the main attraction is Home Depot, not Nordstrom.
Mr. Obama may go back to Five Guys. I probably will not.