Return to Five Guys

cafe27.jpgAllow me to let you in on a little secret: I didn't let Five Guys go after this week's review was done. Couldn't let the place go, actually.There was just something about it that bugged me--the amount of praise the chain has gotten, the pure number of people who list this joint among their favorites.

So I went on-line, and did way more research than I normally would do for any burger joint. And I saw that one of the things people who loved the place seemed to all have in common was that they frequented locations that were very busy -- something that the Aurora strip-mall outlet I went to was not any time I visited. It wasn't empty, mind you -- there were always a few people waiting ahead of me. But it was never completely rockin', either.

So I started thinking about how one of the weaknesses of franchise operations is that they are always set up the same -- same size kitchen, same amount of equipment, same processes for cooking and serving, regardless of the actual amount of business being done.

I have long held that some kitchens fare better under high volume than they do when the dining room is like a graveyard, that only come into their own when the system is being put under stress. I wondered if Five Guys was one of those operations. The guy working the fryers, for example: He'd had enough pre-blanched fries waiting in his baskets to feed a descending army each time I visited -- easily ten or twelve orders, just waiting. And the burger guy? He wasn't pre-cooking, but when he wasn't in front of the grill he was off doing other things: greeting customers, re-stocking, what-have-you. So his focus was not consistently where it belonged -- which was on my burger, making sure not to fuck it up.

With all this in mind, I essentially stalked Five Guys -- sitting in the parking lot during lunch hour and waiting until I saw a decent back-up forming on the floor. Then I went in myself, put in an order (again following the lead of Five Guys fans and going for the standard burger, which is a double, topped with cheese and lubricated in at least three different ways -- in my case, with ketchup, mayo and barbecue sauce) and waited.

I watched the grillman load up his flattop and work his spatula, the fry cook blanch and hang no fewer than six baskets of fries. I counted the checks on the slide and waited to see if volume made any kind of difference at all.

And you know what? It did.The fries were still pretty bad (it's a potato thing and a quantity thing more than anything else -- the pure amount of less-than-ideal potato fries in the oil lowering the temperature and making all orders limp), but the burger improved noticeably.Though it was still well-done and fairly dry, it wasn't horribly burned. And this time, the bacon was actually edible.

The overall effect was still one of eating a mayo, ketchup and barbecue sauce sandwich on a hamburger bun with a patty buried in the middle, but my fourth time at Five Guys definitely was definitely the best.

But that's not good enough. Any restaurant -- and especially a chain operation -- ought to be able to turn out its best work under any circumstances. And showing up cold and unprepared at Five Guys (the way I assume most first-time customers would) netted me only a charred piece of cow topped with some charred strips of pig and fries that I wouldn't recommend to an enemy.

Hence the ass-kicking this week.

But for those of you who find yourselves, like me, starving for a burger and in sight of a Five Guys, I figured you might want to know how to get the best burger for your buck. You know, in case of emergency.

Though you should also bear in mind that there's a Ruby Tuesday location just a couple miles up the road from the Five Guys at Iliff and Parker, and I have never had a bad Triple Prime. -- Jason Sheehan

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