Theres nothing better than a big, juicy char-grilled hamburger served with a side of crisp, tasty french fries.
But thats not what youre going to get at the new Five Guys Burger and Fries just off Arsenal Street by the new Hilton Garden Inn. Our visit to this highly touted national burger chain left a lot to be desired.
Maybe its because its a new joint, or maybe its because Five Guys comes with enormous hype, but it started with the long line of customers backed up from the ordering point to the front door.
They were lined up like soldiers between a waist-high wall of 50 pound sacks of potatoes and a gigantic pile of huge boxes containing vats of peanut oil.
That made it a little difficult for the five of us to secure a seat. So we just barged our way past the generally young people in line and grabbed one of the undersized tables in the open dining area.
The menu is simplistic: burgers, fries, sandwiches (of sorts), dogs and drinks.
Thats it. No salads. No milkshakes. No desserts.
So rather than five of us taking up space in the already crowded line, I was elected to order for the table. The only complicated part was adding condiments and toppings, since there are 15 choices available to customize your order for no extra charge.
The actual ordering process didnt take long, thanks to a patient young gal working the touch-screen computer cash register. The order was sent electronically to the visible kitchen, a large stainless steel area where you could see a crowd of cooks cooking burgers on long flattop grills and workers assembling burgers with their various toppings.
The order taker then invited me to help myself to complimentary peanuts from a big bulk bin (the ones you shell yourself, you know, like the ones you feed the elephants at a circus). She handed me five plasticized cups for our help-yourself-drinks ($2.15 each) and I headed back to my anxiously awaiting friends.
This gave us a chance to look the place over.
It has the typical fastfood restaurant ambiance, for the most part.
Music from the sound system was too loud, causing the customers to be too loud. It had that high school cafeteria vibe.
The walls are red and white checkered tiles to suggest a retro burger joint, lined with signs containing rave reviews from respected publications like GQ magazine, New Jersey Monthly and New Hampshire Magazine.
Someone at Zagat, the well-known restaurant rating service, in a weak moment proclaimed Five Guys with the best burger distinction for the last two years.
Another sign announces the Potato of the Day, indicating that todays spuds came from Idaho. That sort of makes sense, but with all the current hoopla about supporting local farmers, youd think theyd be able to get their potatoes from somewhere in New York.
Then theres the sign indicating that they proudly serve their burgers juicy and well done.
And we got to check out the intimidating soft drink dispenser. Its a touch screen machine allowing you to dial up about 20 different carbonated drink flavors, all Coke products. It mixes the various syrups with carbonated water.
Theres a separate machine that dispenses four kinds of tea (black tea, sweet black tea, raspberry tea and green tea) with a small four-button touchpad system.
Pretty cool. However, the sweet tea wasnt nearly as sweet and flavorful as youd get in the South.
A big guy behind the counter shouted Number 24 over the din of the dining room, indicating it was time for us to pick up our bags of food. The call was preceded by what sounded like ten-hut!, the military lingo for come to attention.
For a second, I thought I was back in the mess hall at Fort Leonard Wood.
Burgers are available four ways: hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon burger or bacon cheeseburger. Little burgers are available in each category. With the little burger you get one beef patty (about 4 ounces, we estimated); with the regular burgers you get two patties.
Youd think theyd give you one big fat burger instead of two dinky patties, wouldnt you?
We got a hamburger with lettuce, tomato and jalapeno peppers ($5.25), and cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles ($5.75) and a bacon cheeseburger with mayo, lettuce, tomato and ketchup ($6.49).
They tout their burgers as always fresh, never frozen. Yeah, maybe. But they were juicy and cooked until well done. The only way that can happen is if theres an appreciable amount of fat (aka juice) in the meat.
The idea that you can get what you want on each burger is a good one, and the toppings were, for the most part, quite fresh. The fact that they have to assemble the burger to order probably helps with the freshness factor.
I was told that the french fries at Five Guys are a really big deal and a supersized portion. And to get the regular size fries ($2.99), not the large size ($4.49) or youd end up throwing most of them away.
They were right about the second part. A small order of their Five Guys Style (plain) and a small order of Cajun Style were more than enough.
We suspected those 50-pound bags of potatoes were regularly hauled to the kitchen, put through a mechanical cutter, deep-fried in peanut oil and served fresh.
But they were no big deal. The Cajun fries were just soggy regular fries dusted with Cajun spices. And by the time the bag made it from the counter to our table, telltale blotches of peanut oil (aka grease) appeared all over the brown paper bag.
But it could have been worse. Inside the bag, the majority of the fries were stuffed into a large plastic cup, otherwise the grease from them would have likely caused the bottom of the bag to give way.
We tried three additional menu items, a bacon cheese dog ($4.79), a veggie sandwich ($2.99) and a grilled cheese sandwich ($3.25).
The bacon cheese dog was tasty, a low-fat hot dogsplit down the middle and quickly grilled on the flattop. We customized it with grilled onions.
The veggie sandwich is merely a toasted burger bun with our choice of veggie toppings. We called mushrooms, jalapenos, lettuce, tomato and mayo. The sandwich was actually pretty good.
Grilled cheese was grilled cheese. In fact, a little tasteless on the outside. We would have liked it grilled in something more than peanut oil. Like butter, maybe?
But the American cheese was gooey good. We jazzed it up by adding tomato slices.
So there you have it. It cost $48.87 to feed five guys at Five Guys.
We all agreed, for what it was, it wasnt cheap. You could buy all the ingredients that hit our table for a lot less at the Price Chopper across the street and feed a family of five a home-cooked meal.
On the way out, one of our guys commented, Ive been to other Five Guys and this one doesnt quite measure up.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
1290 Arsenal St. (near Hilton Garden Inn)
This highly touted burger chain is now open in Watertown, serving burgers, fries and not a whole lot more.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week