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|In Search of the Great American Burger|
|Written by Robyn Larson McCarthy|
|Sunday, 18 October 2009 09:59|
Five Guys Burgers and Fries has arrived in New Hampshire--and writer Robyn McCarthy and her family (dogs included!) couldn't be happier.
I thought I just hadn't looked hard enough, but when I saw that McDonald's had won a "Best of N.H." award from New Hampshire magazine (again!), I knew it was true: Real burger joints are nigh impossible to find in the Granite State. Sure, plenty of road-side spots have burgers on the menu (alongside lobster rolls and chicken and fried seafood and myriad other summer favorites) but as for an honest-to-goodness burger joint that does nothing but burgers and fries--and does them well enough to earn a devoted following--no luck.
Until now! A Five Guys Burgers and Fries has just opened on Route 101A/Amherst Street in Nashua, and it was a brisk 41 degrees Friday night when we joined the line of burger lovers cracking shells off free peanuts while waiting to order. Okay, before all the purists out there stop reading, I realize the restaurant pictured here looks arguably a little "corporate" to qualify as a "joint." But just consider the typical Five Guys experience.... WashingtonPost.com didn't dub the Arlington, Va.-based chain the "Willy Wonkas of Burgercraft" for nothing.
The menu is simple: hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and bacon cheeseburgers in regular or "little" size with your choice of 15 free toppings. (Hint for first-timers: A "little" Five Guys burger is pretty big. See photo nearby.)
Place your order, and the cashier calls over her shoulder to the cooks to let them know how many burgers she's just sold ("Four patties!" "Got it!"). Step along and watch the fresh-ground, never frozen, meat sizzle on the grill and the buns toast. After a few minutes, pick up the brown paper bag containing your foil-wrapped burgers and, clutching a Styrofoam cup of hot, delicious fries, find a table--perhaps next to one of the mountains of bags containing potatoes that serve as both part of the décor and as a testament to the freshness of a Five Guys fry. Unwrap and enjoy!
I first ate at a Five Guys in the Dupont Circle section of D.C. a few summers back. Not realizing it was one location of a now-450-restaurant chain, my friends and I took one look at the group of cops placing their orders and decided it must be the best supper spot around. We were not disappointed.
Like the In-N-Out Burger chain based in Southern California, the Five Guys philosophy is clearly one of simpler is better. Do one thing, and do it well--and let your often cult-like followers follow the process every step of the way. As at Five Guys, there is nary a freezer to be found at In-N-Out, and crew members cutting potatoes for frying and grilling and dressing burgers are as highly visible to hungry customers as the team members are at Five Guys. Those sitting in the drive-thru lanes at In-N-Out can actually watch the prep and cook stations through long picture windows. Would that our politicians believed in such transparency!
It's gone now, but a great little burger spot called Kippy's once stood on Park Street across from the University of Arizona's Main Gate in my hometown of Tucson. One year, when I was home studying Latin in summer school at the University, my professor father treated the two of us to Kippy's bacon avocado burgers every week or two before my class. Heaven!
If you frequent a beloved burger joint like Kippy's--especially if it's in Northern New England--I'd like to hear about it. In the meantime, you know where you'll find me when a burger craving strikes! And Brontë and Chaucer, who snuggled in the car Friday night patiently waiting for their share of leftover fries, are thrilled at the arrival of Five Guys, too. The numerous tables and chairs stacked outside the Nashua location promises many dog-friendly dining experiences come Spring. I'm sure one of them will post a rave review at ChaucerSeesAmerica.com.
And now that the rain here has turned into a heavy snow, and I am famished from writing about food, it's time to warm up a bowl of something you definitely won't find out West: authentic New England clam chowder.
Postscript: I should note that McDonald's "Best of N.H.--Reader's Pick" award was for its French fries, not its burgers. The "Editor's Picks" section of the article in the July 2009 issue of New Hampshire magazine doesn't even list a "Best Burger" winner--although the tavern at the Wolfeboro Inn won "Best Burger Challenge." (Eat the entire two pounds of Black Angus patty with lettuce, tomato, and cheese on a seven-inch bun, and you get a certificate for a free meal.) The magazine's subscribers themselves did pick several restaurants (T-BONES Great American Eatery, a family restaurant, and The Barley House Restaurant & Tavern) as having good burgers though.