Sometimes, life sucks. And when it does, you need to make it better. And today, life sucked. And one way to make it better, is to go for comfort food. Mel and I were both in need of comfort food, and, good thing was, lunch time had arrived. I asked her what she would like and she said she could use a good burger.
Now, I know that Mel is not keen on fast food chains such as Burger King or Wendy’s. She doesn’t mind Harvey’s or A&W but will reject McDonald’s 99% of the time. This wasn’t what she needed anyway. I thought of The Works, I thought of Hintonburger… But something else popped up in my mind: Five Guys - Burgers and Fries. Ever since their arrival in Ottawa was pointed out to me by reader Bruce, I meant to try it. This was a perfect opportunity.
Five Guys was founded in 1986 in Arlington, Virginia by Jerry Murrell and his family. Jerry and his sons, the “Five Guys”, opened a few more locations in Virginia before the restaurant’s popularity convinced the Murrells to franchise the stores. In 25 years, Five Guys has grown to over 900 locations in 46 American states and 6 Canadian provinces. The company has plans to open another 1500 units! Ambitious. Maybe you’ve never heard of it, which wouldn’t be a surprise considering the chain doesn’t advertise, issue coupons or any other promotions. But they do have an online store.
But one of the main reasons for my failure to sample one of their burgers is the location of their outlets. The little burger chain is growing in the nation’s capital: they first opened on Hazeldean Road in Kanata, followed by one on Greenbank Road in Barrhaven. The third one opened this fall at the Train Yards Centre and and a fourth is due to open in Orleans on Innes Road. So not central, I’d say. There is talk about Five Guys opening two more locations, one in downtown Ottawa, and one in the Hunt Club area
For some reason, we picked the Greenbank Road location. If was a beautiful day, there was no traffic and we soon pulled into the Village Square Mall parking lot. The bright red letters on the brand new building were like a lighthouse in a sea of parked cars.
First thing that hits you when you walk into Five Guys: there are 50 lbs bags of Idaho Famous Potatoes and boxes of peanuts forming a cordon to handle traffic. Free peanuts on the shell while you wait!
Talking of peanuts, Five Guys is clearly allergic to any concerns about peanut allergies – along with the large supply of fresh peanuts, they also fry their potatoes in peanut oil. The rest of the decor is all red and white, with framed newspaper reviews from all over the place hanging all around the restaurant.
Once you get to the menu, you notice how simple it is: Hamburger. Cheeseburger. Bacon Burger. Bacon Cheeseburger. And “Mini” versions of them. (A regular burger has two patties, a mini only one.) They also have Hot Dogs. A few veggie options: Veggie Sandwich, Cheese Veggie Sandwich and Grilled Cheese (Note that their veggie sandwich is not a veggie burger, it is a burger bun filled with as many toppings as you would like. And since one grilling station is reserved for vegetables, those grilled onions and mushrooms are meat-free.) Two types of fries, regular or cajun-style, in two sizes. Coca-Cola products. That’s it. No milkshake, no chili, no chicken tenders-fingers-nuggets-burgers. When you don’t use freezers, you have to keep your menu simple, and that is what Five Guys has done.
There is a long list of toppings, all free of charge, as many as you want! You can garnish your burgers with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, ketchup, mustard, relish, raw onions, jalapeno peppers, green peppers, A1 steak sauce, Bar-B-Q sauce, and hot sauce. Nice.
So we lined up to order. The place was busy, but not packed. But you had to wait in line a few minutes before ordering, which gave us the time to wonder which of the 250,000 possible topping combinations we would select. Mel ordered a Mini Bacon Cheeseburger ($5.49) with lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, ketchup, mustard and jalapenos. I went with a Cheeseburger ($7.49) with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, ketchup, mustard, and A1 steak sauce. After thinking about it, we decided to share a large order of fries ($4.59) rather than getting a regular one each. Soft drinks are self-serve once you purchase the cup, and you get free unlimited refills, so there is no point in getting a big one if you are planning to dine-in.
The kitchen is open-concept so you can watch your order being made. Two hot plaques were the fresh, never frozen hand-made patties are being grilled. Deep-fryers were the potatoes, hand-cut every morning, become fries in peanut oil. And of course the assembly station, where you can monitor how your burgers are being made. It is handy if a topping is forgotten, you see it right away – which was the case for a couple in front of me who reminded the teenage staffer that bacon was part of their burger order. It is not as interactive as Harvey’s, where you direct the assembly yourself, but it is nevertheless a cool concept.
Once our burgers were ready, they wrapped them up in classic aluminum wrap paper and put them in a bag. They then filled up our regular size fries container, put it in the bag and added a big scoop of fries on top of it, directly in the bag!
All meals come the same way — in a brown paper bag. There are no plastic trays, which I think is a downside. It is probably cheaper and employees don’t have to collect and clean trays, but it doesn’t make it easy for the customers. Especially for someone who orders for his family – and also once you are done and you are trying to clean up your table.
The fries were very good. They are thick, fresh, nicely golden and crispy. And they are served almost immediately after being fried, so they are pipping hot! You do get the home-made feel they are trying to achieve. Skin is on, but it doesn’t dry out the fries. Much better than regular fast food fries, by a mile.
I left my burgers wrapped a little bit as I noticed that the processed cheese was not placed on the patties while they were cooking. I knew that a few minutes in the foil would melt that cheese nicely. Once I opened my package, the burger appeared in all its glory:
Five guys cooks all of their burgers well done. This is of course easier to do and to achieve consistency, and it means a guarantee to meet health code standards for ground beef. But really, they also firmly believe that their burgers taste best cooked juicy and well done. And I’ve got to admit that these hand-formed patties were quite juicy. Not surprising, considering that they are cooked in their own grease, diner-style. I didn’t have bacon on my burger, but Mel did, and though she wouldn’t share it, she assured me that it was excellent. The sesame buns were slightly toasted, could use a little more toasting, but the bread was fresh and held well together under the weight of the toppings. The veggies were also quite fresh. The grilled mushrooms were tasty but the texture was a bit rubbery, meaning that there is too much moisture when they cook them, preventing caramelization. Too bad. The cheese being processed, it is what it is, and while it rested in the foil, it melted nicely oozing out and making this burger a gooey, juicy, tasty 1000+ calorie treat.
Although the burgers are a bit pricey (food and drinks ended up costing $21.55 before tax and tip), I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Five Guys and will definately go back.
1 combination down, 249 999 to go.
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