Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Five Guys - Regent: 4/5

Bacon Burger
Score: 4.0

Cheese Burger
Score: 4.0

After a long wait, Five Guys has come to Winnipeg! Burger Club came out of retirement to see how the new kid in town compared to the best burgers in Winnipeg.

The restaurant only opened a week ago so we knew it was going to be busy. As I pulled into the parking lot shortly before 11:30 am there was a steady stream of hungry people heading into Five Guys. I was also pleased to see there was a nice patio loaded with tables and big red umbrellas.

It’s well signed, well organized, and once through the doors, you immediately find yourself in line to order. There’s only one line so there’s no jostling for position and you’re corralled by a wall of potatoes. I like the idea of food managing the patrons. I’m just glad that Five Guys chose potatoes and not cows to keep us in line.

The menu’s pretty straightforward. They serve burgers and fries. They also have hot dogs, for the kind of people that eat hot dogs, and a couple of veggie items if you’re a vegetarian but all your cool friends are meat eaters. The standard Five Guys burger is a double. If you just want a single you have to order a “Little” burger which feels like you’re ordering off the kiddie menu. The burger foundations are the various combinations of bacon and cheese. The “free” toppings are the things you normally get for free anyways, but you have the pleasure of specifying exactly what you want. If you can’t decide, asking for your burger “All the Way” gets you a good selection of the standard toppings and condiments.

Some of us thought the burger a little pricey, but in retrospective a single Fat Boy at Five Guys is $4.99 which isn’t out of line with Winnipeg prices. The bacon double cheeseburger is $8.59.

Ordering went quickly and they give you a number and your cup if you ordered a drink. An interesting thing about the drinks is you can have a small or a large but they both come with free refills. So why would you pay for a large? Well, the small cup is a paper, but the large is a nice big plastic “Slurpee” cup and many people opted for the plastic so they could have it in their car afterwards. This was my first clue that Five Guys really knows their clientele - and their business. Oh yeah – and they have Fresca! A strange thing about the number is that I’ve been to Five Guys twice – once in Brandon and now in Winnipeg. Both times I was number 41.

It was mayhem so there was no way 19 of us, ranging from 2 weeks old to happily retired, were going to sit together. There were open tables scattered throughout the restaurant and we all managed to get seated though. The tables were comfortable, if a little cozy, and the restaurant was brightly lit with Five Guys slogans plastering the walls. One of the fun things about Five Guys are the big bins of free peanuts so you can crack peanut shells and suck back your bottomless drink while waiting for your burger to be cooked to your specifications.

Adding to the pandemonium was the very noisy open kitchen. It was packed with food prep people all focused on their tasks and yelling instructions back and forth. The front line staff looked you in the eye and seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves. Perhaps it was all the excitement of the opening. It didn’t seem an unreasonably long wait for the burgers, and they mostly came carefully assembled. I’ve been to more than one “burger chain” restaurant where my burger came in box with the top half of the bun hanging out and the tomato missing the burger completely (I’m looking at you Burger King). I doubt many of the restaurants we've been to could handle these kinds of volumes!

They don’t ask you if your burger is for “inside” or “to go”. All the burgers are handed to you wrapped in perforated tin foil and in a large paper sack. The fries are delicious and the serving huge. Don’t be fooled by the small looking cup for the “regular” sized fries. They place your burger and fries in the bottom of the bag then dump in a pile more fries - enough to bury your burger.

Two people in our group had a topping mix up. When they went back to the counter to get them fixed they were told they could keep the old burgers and fresh ones were made up right away. The usual modus operandi of closed kitchen restaurants we’ve been to is to take the erroneous burger back to the kitchen, remove the offending pickle and scrape off the mustard, and bring the same burger back out. Not at Five Guys.

The burger patties were hand formed and made from fresh beef. This was evident by the ragged edges, but also by the variation in patty size. The beef patty was quite tender and juicy and, well, beefy tasting. It was unseasoned – not even salted. Some thought it bland. At Fives Guys the flavour comes from the toppings. The bacon was crispy and the cheese plentiful, but processed. I liked the amount of saucy toppings on mine – there was enough to keep it moist and tasty, but not so much to make it an overly messy burger. That may have just been mine though. Russ took one bite out of his burger and his cheese layer shot out the other side and landed on his the paper bag covering the table. One of the topping options was fried onions and they were delicious. There was some variability in quantity and one hungry diner only got 2 stingy jalapeños on his burger. The grilled mushrooms are from a can. Grilling them improves the flavor, but unless you’re a canned mushroom fan, you might find only disappointment in the shrooms.

The buns were warmed, but depending where yours came from in the stack warming on the grill, they were either seared a bit, or essentially steamed. Some of the buns were a bit soggy and that was exacerbated by being wrapped in foil. The sesame seed bun did its job well; it was squishy and held together to the end, but most of our group though the bun the weak link in the burger assembly.

Overall, it was a tasty burger and most of our group quite enjoyed it. Brett commented “All in all very tasty with grilled onions & mushrooms.” Nelson wrote “Tasty and made to order.” Stan admitted “The burger was kind of sloppy but I'm starting to enjoy that.” If you’re comparing Five Guys to other burger chains, I think it ranks well. If you’re looking for a gourmet burger and some ambience this may not be the place for you. Burger Club rated Five Guys about middle of the pack in our “Counter Service” category.

The quote of the day came from Nelson who couldn’t finish his burger because he "only had Four Guys in me today." Oh MY!

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