Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The best french fries I can find,
and the best well-done burgers

If you eat enough french fried potatoes, they'll probably kill you -- but you're gonna die anyway, so why not enjoy yourself before you slither down to hell?

There are lots of ways to make and eat fries.

Millions of people, particularly those first nourished on McDonald's Happy Meals, favor the chain's skinny fries. Wendy's and Burger King serve similar strips.

Waffle-cut and curly fries are recent innovations, and have loyal supporters.

Some people eat their fries naked. Most like salt and ketchup (although there is disagreement about whether the fries should be dipped into a cup of Heinz's finest red, or if the ketchup should be squirted onto the fries). Some weirdos put vinegar on fries. Brits call french fried potatoes chips. The French call them pommes frites (fried potatoes) or simply frites (fries). Former veep/doofus Dan Quayle thought potato needs an e on the end.

The best fries I ever had, were golden-and-glistening free-form hand-cut chunks available in a thousand Jewish delis in the Bronx in the 1950s; and maybe not available anywhere now. Steak fries are a poor immitation.

Second-best were the thick, crisp, crinkle-cut wedges and slices served at Jimmie's restaurant at Savin Rock in West Haven CT in the 1960s. Jimmie's is still there, but the fries don't taste as good as they used to. They are, however, probably healthier.

The worst fries I ever had were the pale, soggy, mealy, frozen things that my mother used to get in the supermarket, and would either under-cook or burn under the electric broiler.

The best fries I can get now, are the golden, crunchy, mis-shapen "boardwalk style" tater strips served at Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries. The fries come in a wide range of sizes that McDonalds would not approve of, with a rough texture that seems to help them grip the salt and ketchup. They taste amazingly good -- almost good enough to make me forget about the Bronx.

Five Guys restaurants are along the east coast from Florida to Connecticut, and as far west as Tennessee. CLICK to find one.

I had heard that Five Guys made incredibly good fries, so as an undeniable gourmand (halfway between a gourmet and a glutton), I requested a large order on my first visit (Orange CT). It was a mistake. What Five Guys label as large, could best be described as monstrous. Their regular order of fries is merely huge.

An overflowing scoop of fries is put into a Styrofoam coffee cup, then the cup goes into a brown paper bag, and then another scoop of fries is poured into the bag on top of the overflowing cup, and on top of your foil-wrapped burger or hotdog that's also in the bag.

On my first visit, I thought the fry bagger deduced that I was a special person and was worthy of an extra heap of fries. I later realized that all customers get the special treatment. Sure, they could simply invest in larger Styrofoam cups, but if everything fit and nothing overflowed, some of the fun would be lost.

It's messy. It's primitive. It's delicious. It makes people feel important. So who cares about mess?

Five Guys was founded in 1986 in Arlington, Virginia, by Janie and Jerry Murell and their sons, the "Five Guys." By 2002, the family had five restaurants in Northern Virginia. The company gained popularity among locals, and the Murells decided to franchise. There are about 100 locations now, and 1,000 more are expected. The chain has won lots of food awards.

The menu is limited. It's basically fries, burgers, and split-grilled hotdogs -- with a huge selection of free toppings. Soda gets free refills, and they even have caffeine-free Diet Coke, my current favorite "safe" beverage.

The hotdogs start out as Kosher, but since you can order them with cheese or bacon, they are sold without rabbinical endorsement. For health reasons, the burgers are cooked well-done only. If you like well-done, you'll love them. If you can tolerate well-done, you'll like them. If you hate well-done, order a hotdog. The standard burger consists of two patties on a bun. The little burger is one patty.

Nothing is frozen at Five Guys. Burger beef is ground fresh and the fries are cut fresh daily, and fried in peanut oil. The restaurant is "decorated" with bags of potatoes, and at a recent visit three of the biggest spuds I've ever seen were lying on the front counter. At first, I thought they were rocks, because I didn't know potatoes could grow that big.

You can help yourself to unlimited free peanuts to eat while you wait for your order. You'll need them for your "appetizer" course, because your burger or dog will be cooked to order. Even when they're not busy, it takes about 10 minutes, so enjoy the peanuts and start your soda. Soda refills are free.

You won't need a refill for the fries.


Anonymous said...


You've performed a valuable public service here. I note that there's a FIVE GUYS in my hometown, Pittsburgh, PA, within three blocks of the famous ORIGINAL HOT DOG, which is renowned for its hand-cut fries. I hope to do a comparison later this year.


Unknown said...

If you ever get out to the western US, look up In-n-Out Burger [http://www.in-n-out.com/]. No microwaves, no heat lamps, no freezers, all family owned [no franchise], just fresh meat, fresh buns, and potatoes sliced in front of your eyes cooked in vegetable oil. Be sure to order your fries 'well done'--not on the menu, and they are extra crispy.