We’ve heard much talk in some quarters over the local arrival of the Five Guys Burgers and Fries chain, which began in suburban Washington, DC. We’d tried it once in that neighborhood as we visited the family group we’ve dubbed our Washington bureau, and were curious to see if things had changed with the group’s rapid expansion.
Decor is clearly from the same school as White Castle, except the quintet has opted for a red and white scheme to go with high-wattage bulbs and stainless steel. The doors are clearly marked that this is a peanut zone-open boxes of free, salted-in-the-shell nuts greet visitors, right next to the welcome offered by 50-pound bags of potatoes. Help yourself to the nuts to nibble while you wait, but for potatoes you must go to the counter and order.
The menu is extremely basic. Burgers, hot dogs, grilled cheese and a vegetable sandwich that is merely a burger bun with no meat, but with almost every condiment and topping the restaurant offers. And fries, cooked in peanut oil.
The hamburger involves two patties of moderate thickness, cooked through; no rare burgers, says company policy. Still, they remain juicy, impressively so. (A little hamburger is a single patty, same size.) Bacon and cheese have an extra charge; other than that, the price is inclusive, which means Joe could have fresh jalapenos, grilled onions and sauteed mushrooms on his. A-1 Sauce? Green peppers? They’re yours. Hot dogs are split in half and quickly grilled, and they, too, remain juicy. Overall, they’re pleasant, but not deeply remarkable sandwiches, and the jalapenos were remarkably close to bland.
The fries come as a huge serving; the regular order will serve two adults or one teenager. Extra points to the Guys for having malt vinegar available. The fries are skin-on, and the field where today’s potatoes were born and grew up is posted and can be checked while you order. Vintage site, but not vintage year. Ours were from Diggs, Idaho, but the sacks at the entrance were from Rigby, the Idaho home town of the Football Cardinals’ great free safety and Hall of Famer, Larry Wilson.
They’re considerably better than most drive-through fries, to be sure, but the quality of fries in sit-down restaurants has gone up in recent years, so the bar has been raised for this sort of thing.
Orders arrive in brown paper bags, the burgers wrapped in foil, which for a nearly-$5 hamburger appears rather ill-mannered and certainly a new experience for St. Louisans.
Overall, unless you need a smoke-free or kid-free atmosphere, head across Manchester for the Better Burger at the Village Bar. And if you’re in the Five Guys original stomping ground of suburban DC, we give a thumbs-up to Foster's Grille, with a larger menu, better burgers and a little more atmosphere.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
1052 N. Ballas Rd., Des Peres (and other locations)
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good