Wednesday Food: Clash of the Burgers!

As Americans, we know burgers. And whoever has the best is honored and celebrated throughout the country. Recently in Portland, ME we have gained a brand new Five Guys burger joint. I walked by everyday on my way to and from work to see the reconstruction of an old poster gallery into this red and white tiled restaurant.  I had never seen nor heard of this franchise before, but my first thought was "holy crap they are ripping off the In-N-Out Burger!"

I have fond memories of our In-N-Out Burger in San Francisco, where we lived from Nov '03- Jan '06. I'm not from California and I did not grown up with the burger joint culture..... (yes, there is one), but Eric and I would take the bus to the Golden Gate Bridge, walk across to Marin County and back. Then hike our butts over to Fisherman's Wharf for a much deserved In-N-Out Burger treat. Rather than wait for a seat to open up we would walk our meal over to a nearby park and relax with these tasty burgers. What a day!

Like I said, I had never heard of Five Guys, but at first glance and a quick Wiki look up it seemed like they wanted to be the East Coast In-N-Out - although they are creeping into the West Coast and Canada as well. Limited menu, everything fresh, just like their Cali counterpart. But they don't have everything in common. Five Guys also does hotdogs and grilled cheese, they don't have hidden religious messages in their establishment and so far that I know they don't have a super secret code for their burgers.

So I knew I needed to check out this Five Guys and see what it was all about. Eric had been there with friends already. He asked me to predict what kind of classic rock music would be playing when we walked in. My first guess was AC/DC and my second was Bob Seger. As we walked in, sure enough, Brian Johnson's shrill voice slapped us in the face. And then right after that, Bob Seger was taking us away with his Night Moves. I swear I have classic rock ESP!!

We both got burgers and shared an order of large fries.

The fries were definitely something to write home about. After working in a seafood/steakhouse where we did our own fries, I can tell when they are done right. To make fries properly and to ensure that they are the BEST ever, they must be blanched first. In this particular situation they are blanched in hot fryer oil, or another term would be par-cooked (partially cooked). Then when an order comes up, you fry them the rest of the way till nice and brown. In-N-Out fries were good but they were more like shoestring fries. The Five Guys have a "meatier" fry.

The burgers were pretty equal to In-N-Out. Fresh off the grill and tasty.

Five Guys has a reputation for having the fattiest, unhealthiest meal in the "fresh" fast food world. Which to me, just means that you shouldn't eat there often. A treat.......kinda like In-N-Out was for us back in California.

When I was in the Bachelor's Program at the Culinary Institute of America we often studied In-N-Out burger. Sounds weird, huh? From a business perspective it doesn't! They have a great business model, they use very fresh ingredients (see wiki page!), and all employees start at $10 an hour. Which was more than I made when I first got out of that prestigious culinary school!  I also like the In-N-Out uniform better, hehehe. They were always a successful and prosperous business for us to study and look up to as future restauranteurs.

While both restaurants have their differences and similarities, obviously they have been very successful at what they do. Who am I to say one is better than the other?? Five Guys has tastier fries. In-N-Out has fresher ingredients. I will say I don't have as much contempt for Five Guys as I did when they first moved here. I no longer roll my eyes at the red and white tiles.  For me, that is a big deal.

I'll be back next week with more stories and recipes!


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