For months, I've been passing by the construction site on my way to work, looking forward to the day the new Five Guys Burgers and Fries would be opening their doors for business. Their reputation as a no-frills burger joint offering a good, solid burger at a fair price is firmly established, and they have a good location in town: On a main road (CT 220) yet not shoulder-to-shoulder with the other fast food places in town (Wendy's, McDonald's, Burger King, and Arby's are all crowded together at the foot of Exit 48 off Interstate 91.) Is there room in town for yet another fast food place? If there isn't, it will probably be the perpetually-empty Arby's that bites the dust.
We visited Five Guys on opening day at about 5:00 pm, which is usually the front end for the supper rush at fast food places in town. The parking lot was pretty full and the line inside was long, but seemed to be moving pretty quickly.
I'm new to Five Guys, so it surprised me to see eight hundred pounds of potatoes stacked up across from the registers. In Five-Guys specific packaging, no less. A chalkboard near the register lets you know from which town in Idaho your fries are from.
Ordering is quick an easy. A standard burger at Five Guys has two hand-formed patties, so if you have a smaller appetite, remember to order the "little" burger. After specifying what kind of burger you want (hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon burger, or bacon burger with cheese) you order your choice of toppings at no extra charge. Toppings include lettuce, tomatoes, onions, ketchup, mayo, mustard, relish, sliced jalapenos, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, and green peppers. We each ordered bacon cheeseburgers with various toppings, and some standard fries and Cajun fries, to go, and stepped aside to watch the amazing assembly line-style grill area where the burgers are prepared.
The crew works quickly and efficiently. One group tends the griddle, where the grilled toppings are cooked and the burgers fried. All of the burgers at Five Guys are hand-formed from fresh ground beef (never frozen) and are cooked medium-well yet juicy. (I'll talk more about this a little later.) As the burgers are taken off the griddle, they are handed forward to the assemblers, who put the burgers together to order, working in rows with each burger on a little square of aluminum foil: buns, meat, add-ons and topping, wrap it up, bag it, and off it goes. Even with the huge line for service, we were in and out within ten minutes; the service was that quick.
I'm really glad we ordered our meals to go. There are a lot of hard surfaces in Five Guys (tile, glass, stainless steel, etc.) and nothing to absorb the noise from either the crowds of diners or the hectic-yet-organized kitchen, where every one of the crew calls out orders, instructions, and progress to their fellow workers. To customers, this may seem bafflingly confusing, but if you've ever worked in a kitchen spend a few minutes listening to the seemingly-chaotic exchanges - you'll be able to follow any given service from the cash register to handing off the bag to the customer. It's a great system and it works.well.
The fries are excellent, large diner-style fries cooked in peanut oil. Standard fries are delicious, but the Cajun fries are outstanding with a nice medium-hot fire dusted onto them.
Now how about those burgers?
Awesome. Being somewhat of a burger minimalist, I stuck with my basic favorite, a bacon cheeseburger with ketchup and mustard. The burgers are put together on oversized sesame-seed buns to give plenty of room for the patties. Notice that the burger appears to be a single massive burger, but in fact it's two patties cemented together by a layer of cheese. The burgers are juicy and delicious and just slightly pink (medium well.).
I love red, bloody hamburgers cooked rare, and that's the way I make them for myself when I'm cooking with the ground beef that I buy from Caronna's, my local neighborhood market where they still grind their own. Unfortunately there are virtually no restaurant or commercial dining establishements which I can truly trust to deliver safe and wholesome ground beef to the table, regardless of their good intentions. I'm not placing any faith at all in industrially-processed mass chubs of ground beef from some anonymous slaughter mill in the midwest. So I'm content to have the barely-pink, yet still juicy and wonderful burgers at Five Guys.
Are there other, perhaps better, burger places out there? Of course: David's Place on CT 85 in Montville, Connecticut not only serves awesome burgers but you can get some amazing whole-bellied fried clams there too. And let us not forget Harry's Place in Colchester, CT. But for fast food burgers, Five Guys has replaced Burger King as my favorite.