Friday, August 20, 2010

Rochester: Five Guy's Burgers and Fries

When I walked into Rochester ’s Five Guys Burgers and Fries, I must admit it was the first time I had ever been in a Five Guys before. Adding to the interest (which, there was already some interest before) was the owner claiming that its burger wars with Newt’s was going to be starting, that they had taken their staff to Newt’s for a taste test, and that there was no way that Newt’s would remain the champion. Granted, this is undoubtedly an effort to draw more attention to their new restaurant, one that I’m sure will be successful, at least to draw people into the door that first time.

Now, a national chain restaurant such as Five Guys saying that it’s going to take down a local independent bar and grill in the fight for best burger, it’s bound to raise a few eyebrows. Whether or not you agree with the theory that Newt’s is the best burger in town—something that has been raised several times from a variety of sources—isn’t the issue here. I’d consider this to be the same as if Wendy’s or Culver’s said that they were going to take down Newt’s as the best burger, and give it just as likely a chance of succeeding. So, is Five Guys claim just a bunch of hot air? Are they better off setting their sites at trying to be better than other fast food chains? Or even better than local burger place, Snappy Stop? Sure, a burger war of that magnitude wouldn’t be exciting or worth writing about, so of course you’re going to set your sites on the supposed leader of the genre.

Of course, you can visit to see some of the kudos they’ve earned, such as best burger in Baltimore , Delaware , Raleigh , and Charlotte , and being ZAGAT-rated 2001-2010. Five Guys has built up a cult following, starting on the East Coast, where the chain started and slowly making its way through much of the rest of the country.

Does Five Guys deserve the hype that it has generated by its comments? The short answer is probably not. Sure, Five Guys has a good burger, the quality was there despite the fact that they were busy, since I was there on opening night, and the line was almost all the way to the door the whole time we sat there and ate.

But, let's talk about the experience a little bit more. I'm not sure I like the decorating scheme of Five Guys to have their bags of potatoes and peanut oil sitting out in the lobby, but I digress. When ordering, there was some sort of problem with one of the registers, which I'm not sure what it was, which prevented us from ordering when we walked up to the counter, but it gave the new cashier an opportunity to go through the pitch of what Five Guys was all about, their single versus double burgers, the toppings, the fries, the "how did you hear about us?" question--which in a city the size of Rochester, it's not hard to hear about a new fast food restaurant opening up, and especially in our quadrant in the city. My wife picked and chose what toppings she wanted whereas I ordered "all the way, minus the mushrooms," and then added jalapenos and hot sauce. We got a regular size fries, which we were told was 12 ounces, plus another scoop on top of that, and that it could easily serve three people. Then my wife ordered just a glass of water to drink, and was given the choice between a regular or large cup for it. I then also ordered a water, and was told by the same cashier that they only had bottles of water, so I passed. I couldn't understand why she would let one of us order a glass of water but not the other. We weren't charged anything extra for the cup, which I would understand if she had mis-heard my wife's drink request, and there was a water spigot on the drink machine. Just one of those funny things that I'll chalk up to the fact that it was opening night, and the cashier was probably nervous, and this may have been her first job, or at least first fast food job.

The wait time for the burger was comparable to Culver's wait times, though you don't get a number and have your order brought out to you, they will call your number from the counter. They do offer peanuts to eat while you wait, but they are located by the exit door, and there is a sign on the door as you leave saying you should only eat the peanuts within Five Guys to discourage people from grabbing a bunch of peanuts as they leave. Because we had never been to Five Guys before, we didn't know where the peanuts were until we left. You also get your order in a bag whether you are eating in or out, and the burgers are marked with numbers, with the receipt on the bag telling you what burger is what number. I unwrapped my burger, and it looked a bit messy, but that doesn't effect the taste at all. As I ate it, I found myself thinking that it was about the same quality as Culver's. The difference between Five Guys and Culver's is that at Five Guys, you have a greater choice of what goes on your burger, but in the end, the burger itself is very similar. So, better than Newt's? Not a chance, unless you think that Culver's is also better than Newt's. So, we come back to my original thesis that Five Guy's competition are the likes of Culver's, Wendy's, and Snappy Stop.

Now, what about the fries? Well, you definitely get a lot of them. One order of regular fries could fill the 12 ounce cup about three times. The fact that they are cooked in peanut oil seems to be the main selling point, but what about the people that are allergic to peanuts? I guess those types of people are better off avoiding this place. The fries do maintain some of their potato flavor unlike the vast majority of frozen fries, which makes them maybe slightly better than most fries. My issue is that they weren't really seasoned very good, so in that regard, maybe they could compete with Newt's for the most unseasoned fries.

Overall, I liked Five Guys despite some of my criticisms. And I always give the benefit of the doubt to the restaurant if I'm there within the first two weeks of a place opening up. I consider it a good complement/alternative to Culver's with similarly tasting food. I wouldn't go out of my way to find a Five Guys, but if I was hungry and we passed one, I'd stop in.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon

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