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Five Guys Burgers and Fries
***
Out of a possible five
$

Simplicity, perfection grilled up

The name will not fool you, that’s for sure.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Northcrest Shopping Plaza, one of the newest chains to hit Fort Wayne, is just that – a place that serves burgers and fries. You won’t find salads, wraps or grilled chicken sandwiches. OK, they do also have hot dogs – darn good ones, too – grilled cheese sandwiches made on a hamburger bun and veggie sandwiches, which are basically a loaded burger minus the burger. But that is it.

And there is something rather refreshing about the simplicity of this growing chain. With so many burger joints going outside their realm of expertise to produce items that seem silly – McDonald’s Snack Wrap, anyone? – it’s great to see a place still just concentrating on doing a few things, but doing those things to perfection.

Five Guys offers hamburgers, cheeseburgers, bacon burgers and bacon cheeseburgers, and “little” versions of each of those. The regular burgers consist of two quarter-pound patties, while the little ones have just one. Customers can have as many toppings as they want on each at no extra charge.

The toppings are mayo, relish, onions, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, ketchup, mustard, jalapeno peppers, green peppers, A-1 Steak Sauce, barbecue sauce and hot sauce.

The all-beef kosher hot dogs can also have all of those toppings, as well as bacon and cheese.

Unlike the western burgers or Philly burgers on the menu at other places, there are no set burger variations. It is up to you to make your own creation.

Also, there is only one kind of cheese – American. The founders of Five Guys considered American the only cheese a real cheeseburger should be topped with. I would have liked to have tried Swiss or maybe cheddar, but I do agree that American is the best.

The best thing about the toppings was that all of them were super fresh. The lettuce was crisp and cold, the tomatoes were soft and ripe, and the diced grilled onions tasted as if they were hot off the grill.

I tried several variations and enjoyed the one with bacon, grilled onions and mushrooms, green onions, jalapenos and barbecue sauce best.

Was it the best burger I have ever eaten? No.

Five Guys’ burgers are a step above some other chains that specialize in seared burgers. They are thick and extremely juicy, which made them sloppy but scrumptious. And the flavor of the beef came through nicely even with all of the toppings dripping off them.

They were much better than any other fast-food burger, but, that said, I would not rank them higher than some of the ones I have had from gourmet burger places or some steakhouses.

The hot dog actually may have been the best find. The all-beef, kosher dog was split and grilled beautifully to give the skin a nice snap, and the salty flavor of the dog was intense, sort of like smoked sausage. The way it was arranged was also nice, as the loads of toppings – grilled onions, jalapenos, relish and mustard – were placed on the bun first, allowing the dog to hold them in and not slop them all over my shirt. I still somehow managed to get a mustard stain, but it was worth it.

The biggest tip I can provide about Five Guys concerns the french fries. Do not choose a large order of these fresh-cut, skin-on-the-tip, crispy, tasty fries unless you plan on feeding your entire family, and, if you do, make sure you have at least five members in that family.

A small fry comes in a good-sized bag and is enough for three people with normal appetites. I also liked the Cajun version, which had a peppery spice blend with just the right kick of heat, better than the regular.

Five Guys really doesn’t have an atmosphere to speak of. It is a self-serve place where you order at the window, with plain, uniformly arranged tables. The setup is designed to get people in and out fast. The restaurant is terribly noisy, and I struggled to hear the people sitting across from me, let alone the employees calling my number from the counter. It didn’t help that they were pumping music in the place, either, at a volume too low to cut through the din; all it did was add a background hum to the loud conversations echoing off the high, exposed ceilings. I also hated the poorly organized drink area, which lacked trash cans nearby.

And although there isn’t much personal service, all of the employees were friendly and helpful, especially the cashiers who greeted me warmly, asked whether I had ever been to a Five Guys before and clearly explained the menu and ordering process.

Restaurant: Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Address: 801 Northcrest Shopping Center

Phone: 484-2003

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: None

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Cheeseburger ($4.99 regular; $3.89 small), bacon cheeseburger ($5.69 regular; $4.69 small), hot dog ($2.89; $3.39 cheese; $2.89 bacon cheese), fries ($2.49 small; $4.19 large)

Rating breakdown: Food: ** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 0 (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. E-mail him at rduvall@jg.net, call at 461-8130, or go to the “Dining Out” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net. DuVall’s past reviews can also be found at the website, and you can hear Ryan from 5 to 6 p.m. every Thursday on 92.3 FM, The Fort.

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