‘Five Guys’ delights taste buds, sets new standard for fast-food burgers

By Megan Ake

The spicy smoky scent of Cajun seasoning tickles my nose and entices my taste buds.  Cooks flip hand-packed patties onto a smoking hot grill.  Soft, fresh-from-the-bakery buns slide across a stainless steel table awaiting lettuce, tomato, and pickles.  I haven’t eaten red meat in two years, but suddenly I’m craving a hamburger.

Luckily, I happen to be standing in Five Guys Burgers and Fries, which recently opened its doors to Livonia burger lovers at the intersection of Plymouth and Middlebelt roads.  The chain has served its signature patties and fries since 1986, but the Livonia store is the first in the immediate area.

To say that Five Guys has a reputation that precedes itself would be putting things lightly.  I’ve heard about the restaurant through several friends, all of whom raved about everything from the complimentary peanuts that patrons can snack on while waiting to the hand-cut, fresh from the farm French fries.  Additionally, the Five Guys name seems to be popping up everywhere; it took the No. 1 spot of “America’s Favorite Burger” according to a Zagat survey featured on an August episode of NBC’s Today show, and I’ve come across countless blog entries and news articles about the brand.

I didn’t need much provoking to take a trip to our local Five Guys just two weeks after their grand opening.  (For the record, my husband needed zero provoking.  He loves a great burger and doesn’t often get them in our white-meat only home.)

We arrived at Five Guys in the midst of a Monday night dinner rush, which in itself is surprising for a fast-casual restaurant in these economic times.  The dining room, filled with customers of all ages wolfing down double-stacked burgers, was ablaze with an abundance of red and white décor that would make Big Boy’s checkered overalls jealous.  An overhead stereo system played everything from Electric Light Orchestra to R.E.M. and back while two cheerful staff members called us over to order.

And order we did.  Since I’d been red meat-free for a while, I initially asked for a Five Guys’ grilled cheese and a regular serving of fries, but the smell of the burgers being cooked just behind the counter won me over, and I added a little plain hamburger on as well.  My husband went with the regular-sized (a.k.a, double) cheeseburger and Cajun fries. 

Then came the hard part for him: deciding on toppings.  Five Guys boasts 15 condiments to dress up the burger which makes for, according to their website, over 250,000 possible combinations.  Keeping it simple, my husband went for lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard, and grilled onions. 

We watched as a crew of seven prepared our meal; the staff worked extremely quick, and our sandwiches came down a very clean make line right in front our eyes.  An older, friendly gentleman at the end of the counter handed us two steaming white paper bags and reminded me to keep the bags open so that the steam wouldn’t soggy the fries.

We filled our soda cup from the fountain, stocked up on ketchup from a neatly stocked counter, and chose a table near the front door. 

As my husband unwrapped his burger from the foil packaging, we both admired the crisp, glistening edges of the meat and the vibrant colors of the produce that lay atop it.  I started with the grilled cheese, which offered a mountain of American cheese, snugly melted between two halves of a delicious, buttery bun.

We dove in – and fell in love.  The sandwiches never deviated from our initial impressions, the eating of them only to be interrupted by swigs of Diet Coke and mouthfuls of French fries.  And, oh, the fries.  They were salty, piping hot, and crunchy with a nice tender potato filling inside – a far cry from the dry potato sticks from some of the big name fast food joints.  We agreed that the Cajun fries were the best, as they possessed an extra level of flavor and intensity.

But the eating extravaganza wasn’t over yet.  I still had my plain hamburger to indulge in.  Timidly, I folded back the foil and eyed the burger with suspicion.  Sure, everything else had been delicious, but could I really do red meat again?

After just one bite, I was hooked.  Though I’d promised to split the extra hamburger with my husband, it wasn’t until I saw him giving me a glare over the top of the bun that I remembered to hand over his half.

For two hamburgers, two regular orders of fries, a grilled cheese, and one medium soda with free refills, we spent $20.19.  More expensive than the Golden Arches or perhaps a meal from The King? Sure.  But the quality, the service, and the taste were worth every penny.

As for me, though I won’t be eating a steak or a hamburger every day from here to eternity, I’ll probably indulge in red meat every once in a while.  And when I do, you can be sure I’ll be heading to Five Guys.