Guys Burgers and Fries
Commons, 418 Balltown Road, Niskayuna, 346-5728. Serving 11-10
daily. AE, D, MC, V
burgers and fries
price range: $2.49 (grilled cheese) to $6 (bacon cheeseburger)
widely-held belief maintains that confessing your sins is
the first step on the road to forgiveness. I’m not sure that
it even counts as a venial offense, but here goes: I enjoy
dining at Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Here’s something even
more surprising: so does my wife, Susan. She professes to
despise all things fast-food related and claims she’d rather
starve than ingest fodder from McDonald’s, but she’s astonishingly
eager to lap up a Five Guys meal.
I’m also violating a self-imposed interdiction against writing
about chain restaurants, but I’ll justify it by suggesting
that there are things to be learned from such places—a topic
I’ll return to. This is also inspired by the fact that Five
Guys topped the recent Readers’ Picks poll, thankfully nosing
out the overhyped, overpriced Red Robin. So I’m guessing you’d
like a closer look at this place.
Once you start confessing things, subsequent revelations come
more easily. Here’s my next one: I don’t think the Five Guys
burgers are all they’re cracked up to be, and for one reason
only: They insist on cooking the things to well-doneness.
I know the argument, and I can’t fault them for it. Thanks
to an insufficiently regulated meatpacking industry, ground
beef may contain pathogens that lurk in the rare parts, so
this cook-the-red-away policy has become ever-more-common
in the chain-restaurant world.
Five Guys makes no apology about this and cleverly compensates
by building its basic burger with two patties ($4.79), cheese
($5.39), bacon ($5.39), or with bacon and cheese ($6). A smaller,
one-patty burger is also available in similar configurations
($3.39 to $4.59).
The only meat-based alternative is a hot dog, complete with
those same bacon and cheese options ($3.19 to $4.39). A grilled
cheese sandwich or veggie sandwich will run you $2.49.
A long list of free flavor enhancers gives you artistic control
over your palate. The dressings include ketchup, mayo, mustard,
A1, barbecue and hot sauce; chewable choices are lettuce,
tomato, onions (raw or grilled, and they’re excellent grilled),
pickles, relish, grilled mushrooms, green peppers and jalapenos.
Being a large, self-conscious omnivore, I reckon my toppings
long before I get into line so I won’t be that fat guy in
front of you who can’t make up his mind. But only the burger
part is complicated. What’s easy is ordering the fries.
Five Guys makes a public virtue of the fact that they cut
the fries every morning by stacking bags of whole potatoes
at one end of the restaurant. Manager Bob Brown took me into
the kitchen, where I was astonished to see that all of those
fries are sent, potato by potato, through a single, table-mounted
look here,” he said, swinging open the door of the walk-in
box. One shelf was stacked with transparent plastic bins of
burger patties, also made daily in the store. Across the aisle
were similar bins of newly sliced tomatoes, slices of cheese,
and the many other vegetables that need preparation.
can see how busy we are right now,” he said, “and look at
the kitchen.” It was spotless. “I’ve worked in other high-volume
places,” he added, “and I can assure you their kitchens didn’t
look like this.”
A similar cleanliness characterizes the cooking line, which
is in full view at one end of the place. That’s where burgers
are grilled and assembled, and where the daily cornucopia
of fries is fried (in peanut oil). Two sizes are available
($2.49 and $4), and I can assure you that the large is generous
enough for two, especially considering that the cup in which
they’re served is so overfilled that a thick layer of additional
fries will line the bottom of your bag.
Like the old Arthur Treacher’s chain, Five Guys has malt vinegar
available, but you’ll, no doubt, default to the Heinz ketchup—best
of the commercial brands. But try the fries first in their
virgin state. They’re cooked to a pleasantly brown doneness,
with none of the processing and flavor enhancers that the
big burger chains sneak in there. I can laud them as among
Soda is also sold in two sizes, but the free-refills policy
suggests that the smaller one is more economical. Kudos to
the place for offering caffeine-free diet cola, my health-destroying
beverage of choice.
After you’ve ordered, you’re given soda cups and a pickup
number, but you won’t starve while waiting. Five Guys offers
peanuts, roasted in the shells, with which you can happily
So that’s it: A pile of peanuts. A big, well-dressed burger.
An overflowing cup of fries. This is what burger joints were
supposed to be about once-upon-a-time. And this is what we
can learn from the Five Guys formula. It’s so simple that
it’s easy to execute. They rely (as should always be the case)
on fresh ingredients for the business’ success. It’s a formula
that has worked well enough to give rise to well more than
400 units around the country, since its 1986 debut in Arlington,
When the Niskayuna branch opened in 2005, it was the 51st
location. Now there are Five Guys units in Rensselaer, Glenmont,
Clifton Park and Saratoga Springs. When the Queensbury store
opens later this year, it will be the 415th. Red meat took
another hit in recent news stories, but you and I have been
around long enough to have seen that subject go back and forth
a dozen times. Besides, none of the studies zeroes in on what
we intuit to be true: Any possible ill effects of red meat
are offset by a good side order of fries.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
Dessert Spectacular to benefit the Independent
Living Center of the Hudson Valley will take
place from 5:30 to 8:30 PM on April 21, featuring
desserts from some of the finest area restaurants
and bakeries, hors d’oeuvres by Franklin Plaza,
a cash bar, a silent auction and music by jazz
pianist Neal Brown. The event takes place at Franklin
Plaza Ballroom, 4 Fourth St., Troy, and costs
$35 in advance and $50 at the door. Reservations:
272-0701. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to