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The Quest for the Best: Burger Edition

A summer long series dedicated to determining which burger stands above the rest.

Recent debate occurring over our daily Dump concerning the Ultimate Fast Food Bracket Challenge gave me a wonderful idea to help our community get through the sports void created by summer. I, a self-proclaimed burger aficionado, would take it upon myself to sample and critique some of those restaurants that made the challenge, and some that I felt should have. In other words, I just wanted an excuse to eat cheeseburgers every week and this was the opportunity I had been waiting for.

One of the benefits of living in a larger city like Las Vegas is the wide variety of fast food dining options. Our population is diverse with the majority of residents emigrating recently from other regions of the lower 48, bringing their favorite establishments along with them. Combine that with our tourism based economy and our variety is as diverse as you’re likely to find anywhere else.

Within easy reach of my research base station (work) are some of the better known franchises which I will visit, or re-visit for most of these, over the course of the summer. The list includes, but will not be limited to, Five Guys, In-n-Out, Smashburger, Fatburger, Fuddruckers, Steak n' Shake and Shake Shack. Pending the results of the cholesterol test my wife made me agree to before beginning this journey, I may also review Heart Attack Grill which has been on my To-Do List since it opened downtown a few years back.

White Castle also recently opened on the Strip, but it is doubtful I subject myself to that one as I am neither a fan of their sliders nor the heavy traffic of Las Vegas Boulevard.

My ratings will be on a 1-10 scale in the following categories.

Cheese - I have no interest in ever eating a hamburger. That would be like drinking a beer that doesn’t have alcohol. What’s the point? Burgers were designed by God himself to come accompanied with tasty melty cheese. And the more the better. I’m not overly particular to any specific selection although I typically prefer regular American cheese because it is the most traditional choice I am a patriot above all else. Whatever you choose, the cheese should melt completely wrapping itself around all edges and becoming one with the meat. Cheeses that are incapable of doing this have no place on my burger.

Meat – Do not, I repeat, DO NOT serve me a dry flavorless burger where fancy toppings hide inferior quality meat. A good burger joint understands that meat is the star, and treats it as such. All too often I see gourmet burger restaurants that try to wow their customers with fancy buns and exotic toppings, but that is not my bag, baby. Keep it simple, people. Build your burger with meat, cheese, bread. In that order. The rest is superfluous.

Start with quality beef (75/25 preferred) and add the minimalist version of seasonings; salt and pepper. Let the fat do the rest of the flavoring for you. Keep the patty thin, but not overly so, as a thicker burger is often dried out during the cooking process and actually decreases the overall flavor. Cook it on a hot griddle and keep it under pressure (grill press) so the texture of the outside is crispy while maintaining a moist, barely medium, inner core.

An establishment that understands these essentials wins my loyalty.

Bun – The bun should simply be the delivery vessel holding together the delicious conglomeration of meat and cheese. It should be complimentary to your burger yet simple enough to be overlooked. I don’t care if it is artisian, brioche, potato or loaded with sesame seeds as long as it is sturdy enough to stand up to the grease and cheese bi-products a good burger provides. Also, don’t serve a bun so monstrously large it hides the burger within. I don’t want to simulate the actions of a trash compactor simply to make the burger fit into my waiting food hole.

Toppings – Toppings will not officially be evaluated as they are more subjective than the other three criteria and I have no strong feelings towards what should or should not be used to enhance your burger experience. However, if I feel it appropriate, I will subtract points to those establishments I feel did something wrong here although I admit I’m not sure at this time what constitutes wrong. If it happens, I will explain it.

First up, Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

History:

My first visit to a Five Guys restaurant was due largely to this video, which I first saw a couple years back, and my initial reaction was somewhat similar although less songify’d.

According to their website, Five Guys opened their first location in 1986 after four brothers were offered the choice to "start a business or go to college." I have done both and the only return was crippling debt. Fortunately for them, the Murrell brothers’ entrepreneurial path fared much better than my own and today have over 1,000 locations in 47 states and 6 Canadian provinces. Not really sure when where or how the fifth guy entered the picture, but I’m sure there’s a story somewhere.

The Menu:

Five Guys is not strictly, yet mostly, a burger joint. Outside of their beef selections they offer hot dogs, grilled cheese, a BLT and something called a "Veggie Sandwich". Not sure why someone would willfully walk into a place known for its burgers and fries and order what I’m assuming is a salad on a bun, but it exists none-the-less. Thankfully they do not offer anything in the chicken, tofu or turkey families.

Your basic options as far as burgers go is with or without cheese, with or without bacon and with or without bacon and cheese. Each sandwich comes standard as a double patty, which I personally feel is the most endearing quality this restaurant provides its customers. They do offer "Little" one patty versions if for some reason you’re not feeling man enough to handle twice the cow.

They also offer 15 al a carte toppings free of charge, which is nice but mostly unnecessary.

The Order:

I used Five Guy’s online ordering system knowing once I pressed Submit, gathered my keys and drove the 3.4 miles to their location on the far southern end of Las Vegas Boulevard, my food would be freshly completed and still warm. I arrived and smugly walked past the line that was beginning to form in front of the Order Here sign walking with a sense of entitlement directly to the pickup window where I pointed to the plain brown bag sitting next to the fry station and uttered, "That’s mine". The guy behind the counter mouthed something in response that I was unable to hear over the ear splitting volume of today’s music blaring from what must have been 90 speakers bunched directly over my head.

We exchanged hand signals and after some freshly cooked fries were shoveled on top of the already cooling burger, surely intended to insulate the sandwich against the cruelty of natural cooling, I exited the building, ears bleeding, and began the silent journey back to my office.

Back in front of my office, I sat in my car for a moment longer to enjoy the silence along with the enticing aroma emanating from the plain paper bag sitting shotgun. Although Vegas warms early in the year, and the temperature was already approaching 90, I was not going to allow the smells to exit easily through open windows. And so I sat for five full minutes before the heat finally got the best of me.

My order was simple: Cheeseburger with onions, mayo, ketchup, mustard and pickles and a side of fries. If you have never ordered from Five Guys before, I must warn you they do not mess around when it comes to serving their fries. When I mentioned earlier they "shoveled" fries into my awaiting bag, it was not a large exaggeration. And, since Speedo season is just around the corner, I opted for the smallest of selections this time through. Still, the bulge the fries created in the bottom of the bag would shortly come to find a new home, joining many a potato brethren in my already bulging midsection.

Total calories for this meal came in at 1366. I will spare the health conscious among us the fat and sodium contents.

After readying my pen, sharpening my wits and staging my meal for an obligatory Instagram post, I was ready to begin.

The Review:

Cheese – I suspect Five Guys understands that someone who orders a cheeseburger enjoys cheese. Thus, they do not skimp on this item. And, in an interesting twist, they put both slices of cheese between the two patties versus the traditional method (one on top of each). This keeps the buns and condiments away from the gooey goodness. I would have been okay had they placed the onions in with the cheese, but overall a solid building practice.

They clearly know how to do cheese and keep it simple refraining from 10 different cheese options. You get the cheese they want to serve you, American, or you get none at all. And that cheese is thick, melty and involves itself in every bite you take. This is how it is done, people.

Cheese Score – 8/10

Meat – Much like their cheese and fries, these guys don’t skimp on meat. Both patties force a formidable open jaw angle to engage the burger successfully, but as I have discovered on every subsequent visit after the first, there was something lacking for me. There just isn’t a lot of flavor to it; just lots of beef and cheese.

Of the flavors my taste buds did detect, there was an over-sweetness to the meat I didn’t care for much at all. I’m not anti-sugar, but I prefer it to be in my desserts, not my main course. According to the Nutritional Information, my burger contained 9 grams of sugar. I’ll go ahead and guess those are not naturally occurring sugars.

Meat Score – 5/10

Bun – The bun is basic and plain. Perhaps this was the source of sugar (and considering the quantity of sugars changed little between a single and double patty, I’m guessing it is), but overall it did its job well enough never disintegrating under the weight of grease, cheese and condiments.

Bun Score – 5/10

Overall – I’ve come to the conclusion after multiple visits that I am just not that big of a fan of Five Guys Burgers and Fries. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just not my thing. If you’re a fan I can accept our differences and won’t argue with you over your opinion of its merits, but I probably won’t be going back again.

Unless I need to write another review.

Overall Score 18/30

Next week, Fuddruckers!