LITTLE ROCK Five Guys Burgers and Fries makes darn good burgers. They’re juicy, tasty and a decent value for the money. We’d definitely put them in the area’s top burger tier.
And it’s not fast food - your fresh, never frozen, patties go on the grill right after you order them, so it’ll take a few minutes until they’re “well done and juicy,” which is how Five Guys cooks ’em.
But they’re not ambrosia from Olympus, as you might think from the hype plastered all over the walls of the new North Little Rock franchise of the northern Virginia-based chain. Front to back are reproductions of Zagat ratings, magazine “best of” features and big red and white poster-board signs trumpeting, “Willy Wonkas of Burgercraft, washingtonpost.com, 2000,” and other rave review blurbs.
Five Guys is basically meat and potatoes - burgers, dogs and fries. No salads. No special sides. Buried deep in the menu are veggie and grilled cheese sandwiches, the only nods to noncarnivores.
White and red tile, mostly white, dominates the decor; at night, the overhead fluorescent and compact fluorescent lights bouncing off all that white tile makes the place almost painfully bright.
Five Guys’ chairs have a wood grain but they’re heavy cast aluminum. The tabletops are wood-grained quasi-Formica. The chairs are ample, the tables aren’t - theonly difference between the two-tops along the walls and the four-tops in the middle of the floor are the number of chairs.
You’ll see sacks of potatoes to the right of the front door, with boxes of salted-and-seasoned-in-the-shell peanuts to the left. Veer left to enter the waiting-to-order queue, separated from the dining area by a white and red tiled half-wall.
Open peanut boxes rest on several countertops with cardboard “boats” to convey them to your table. Take two boats - you’ll want a spare for the shells, because unlike, say, at Texas Roadhouse, you really shouldn’t throw them on the floor.
At the register you’ll see the menu board before you; a curious sign on your left identifies from where in Idaho today’s potatoes originated.
Five Guys’ burgers - hamburger, $4.49; cheeseburger, $5.09; bacon burger, $5.19; and bacon cheeseburger, $5.89 - are two patties high. If you only want one patty, you have to go “little”: little hamburger, $3.39; little cheeseburger, $3.89; little bacon burger, $3.99; little bacon cheeseburger, $4.39. The “kosher style” hot dog is $2.99, more if you want cheese or bacon or both (adding cheese or bacon or both to a “kosher style” dog means it isn’t kosher anything anymore).
You can supplement your burger, and maybe also your dog, with mayonnaise, relish, onions, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions and mushrooms, ketchup, mustard, jalapeno peppers, green peppers, A-1 Steak Sauce, barbecue sauce and/or hot sauce.
Fries, “cooked in pure, no cholesterol, tasty peanut oil,” come “Five Guys style” or “Cajun,” regular $2.59, large $4.19.
The young person at the register takes your order and calls out “Three patties” or “Two patties, one dog” to the grillers behind her, who run a sort of assembly line - bun grill, burger grill and at least eight baskets full of skin-on fries waiting to be dunked into a big pond of peanut oil.
Fill your drink cup (bottled water is an option) at the drink dispenser/condiment area at the back. There are also a couple of tables back there, too, so the traffic flow can get kind of congested.
It took about 15 minutes for our order to come out whether the place was weeknight busy with the grill area full of busy bees or Sunday-afternoon slow with only a handful of folks back there.
Our bacon cheeseburger was delicious, two fresh, juicy but not greasy beef patties, topped with a slice of cheese and a couple of fairly crisp bacon strips. Adding grilled mushrooms was a brilliant stroke on our part, if we do say so ourselves. We were equally pleased with our “little” cheeseburger, simply topped with ketchup, pickle and mustard. Our grilled kosher-style dog was also very tasty, though just a shade dry.
The fries were superb, crisp outside, soft inside; the Cajun fries were only marginally spicier than the Five Guys style. The volume of fries in the “regular” order was big enough to gag a goat. The only reason we can think of to order the large would be to feed a small army.
OK, now we’re going to start to pick.
The biggest flaw in both our burger orders was the big, fluffy, partly sesame-seeded bun (“made special for Five Guys at our specially selected bakeries,” according to the Web site). It took a while to plow through the top half of the bun to the beef. The buns are lightly toasted on the grill; longer toasting, as was the case with our hot-dog bun, would firm them up a bit.
And whether you’re taking out or eating in, you get your order in a brown paper bag. No trays. No plates, not even paper plates.
Yes, it’s kind of convenient - once you’re done, you can scrape everything back into the bag and just toss it. But it can be kind of messy at the tiny tables, which are barely big enough to accommodate one diner and his dinner; two diners are going to be cramped, and four at a four top becomes a train wreck.
The burgers and dogs come in aluminum foil; the fries overflow a polystyrene cup and the vestigial peanut oil soaks into the bag, causing visible grease stains.
Pick up plastic-ware at the condiment-drink station; there are plentiful stacks of napkins there and at strategic counter locations. By our second visit we were smart enough to grab a couple of those cardboard boats out of the peanut boxes (and lined them with napkins), into which to spill our fries.
Five Guys is sufficiently concerned about peanut allergies that the boxes bear warnings: “Due to possible allergic reactions, please do not remove peanuts from store.” A small sign on the inside of the door warns that taking peanuts outside poses a risk to neighborhood children. (Just how many children live in Lakewood Village, we’re not sure.)
But there’s very little warning before you enter: A very tiny, and very easily missed, sign on the door says, “We serve bulk peanuts in open containers,” and doesn’t mention peanut oil.
Considering that for an allergic person any contact with a peanut could cause possibly fatal anaphylactic shock, maybe the sign should be as big as the one that brags about being the “Willy Wonkas of Burgercraft.” Perhaps the franchisee will keep that in mind for the Five Guys already in the works for west Little Rock.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries Address: Lakewood Village, 2923 Lakewood Village Drive, North Little Rock Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily Credit cards: V, MC, AE, D Alcoholic beverages: No Reservations: No Wheelchair accessible: Yes Carryout: Yes (501) 246-5295 fiveguys.com
Weekend, Pages 33 on 11/19/2009
Print Headline: It’s in the bag at Five Guys Burgers