I’m convinced that if I keep up this quest to find the best burger experience in Birmingham I’m going to need serious medication or serious therapy, maybe both. After a recent trip to Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Hoover, Alabama, I’m going to let you be the judge … about the therapy part (I’m still doing the reviews around here).
You don’t mind if I lay down on this couch do you? I’m old fashioned that way.
“It all began when I was a child. Well, actually, it began several years ago, when this chain-burger-place movement started. And I started having these dreams … I would be running in a field of flowers, the wind blowing through my chain mail. And I would come to this castle. Wrapped in shimmering samite, a burger would rise over the castle, and I would hear these voices.
“‘Seek out a true burger. But beware … One burger to rule them all. One burger to find them. One burger to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.’”
I’ve been scared of the bind part ever since … I get mentally bound by Five Guys, and to an extent all the other chain casual-dining burger places. I’m drawn by the seductive food, because it is typically good. But like the one true ring, it serves another master. You may be able to harness the power of those places and have a delicious meal, but you do it at the expense of individuality (like Smeagol being turned to Gollem).
And no, I’m not saying that these places are evil. For consistency and efficiency, they have a decent common experience that is still somewhat contrived and plasticized.
So my mania on this topic is crystal clear: I do like Five Guys food. The burger is cooked well, so there is no confusion on what you’ll get, but they also don’t allow the burger to become dried out or overcooked. Also they tout that they only use fresh meat, not frozen or pre-made (that’s clear from the patty). They are so proud of the freshness that — according to their website — there aren’t freezers at Five Guys.
It’s is a succulent experience of grease in all its beauty. They also offer a long list of toppings that you can choose, all at no extra charge, including all the usual suspects and unusual (free) ones like mushrooms, grilled onions, jalapenos and A-1 Steaksauce.
I had my burger with “The Works” – which is pretty much the burger equivalent of “the normal stuff.” Also note, the only real difference between the small and large on the menu is the number of patties on your burger, two for the latter.
Lest I go on about the burger, let me cut to the fries. Five Guys is proud of their fries, that they are fresh, made in-house and cooked in peanut oil (if you have a loved one with peanut allergies, consider this place unclean). They truly are a work of art – greasy art. When you walk in, you see bags of potatoes. When they emerge in their fry form, they are crispy, lightly salted, pieces of peel and with that hint of salty/sweetness that cooking in peanut oil brings.
First timers should know that a large fries is enough to feed several people. Unless I miss my guess, they fill a 16 oz. cup to the brim and then, per corporate guidelines (I assume) dump some extra into your paper bag. It leaves a greasy stain that I suggest ignoring. Focus on inhaling them before you put extra thought into things such as calories, fat — the large fry weighs in at more than 1,400 calories.
Probably this approach is best all the way around. While the experience at Five Guys may not be unique, it is consistent and a worthy burger.
Points are 1-10 (ten being the best)
Meat – 8.5 … This is an example of a burger place that uses fresh meat, but lets the meat do the talking. Not a lot of seasoning and served seared (sealing in juices).
Bun and fixins’ — 7 … Have it your way … A sesame seed bun and then whatever you select to go on it. Nothing really exceptional about all this part of the experience. And as a side note, I prefer places that offer the burger a specific way. It lends itself to a better feel for what really works on it.
Sides – 9.5 … As close to fry nirvana as you are likely to get. I guess you could improve them by not making them so bad for you.
Service & Presentation – 6 … A sack … and order at the counter. I don’t know if I am at a sit down place or at Hardees.
Ambiance – 6 … Décor at Five Guys is boring. Plus, I really dislike all the clips of their accolades in other cities. It’s overkill. And while I believe that they have a great product, why not just let a good burger speak for itself.
Bonus X – Not this time.
Rating – A