Tuesday, August 18, 2009
A Rare Restaurant Endorsement
"Okay," my cousin demanded a few weeks ago, "'fess up. Who went to 'Wise Guys'?"
"It was me," I humbly admitted, raising my hand.
We were standing in my aunt's kitchen in western Pennsylvania. Earlier that day my parents and I had been driving to Aunt D.'s house from the Pittsburgh airport, and things had been a bit tense. We had left at crack of dawn from Stratford, Ontario, and had gone through customs at six a.m. without breakfast. Plus my dad had displayed his classic stubborn argumentative self at the Pittsburgh rent-a-car counter and I had come very close to braining him with my suitcase.
I won the "honors" of driving from the airport to my aunt's house and we were all starving. Dad had let it be known that he would be very happy to stop any old time for a bite. So when a certain red-and-white sign had caught my eye from the road, I shrieked "We've got to stop here!" and promptly pulled in.
The sign read: Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Had it not been for a chance conversation a few weeks before this would have meant nothing to me. In fact the conversation was so random that I still cannot remember who my conversational partner was (a patient? a drug rep? not sure). Nevertheless the name of the business stuck in my head, and since I was driving, the decision was easy. Into the parking lot we went.
This chain (it is a chain) is awesome and reinforces my adage that there is no restaurant recommendation like a personal recommendation. The unknown person who clued me into Five Guys swore up and down that it was the best burger they had ever had. All I can add is, YUM. First point: they have free roasted peanuts in the shell. The peanut presence totally escaped me but it did not escape Dad, who had a little cardboard box of the luscious legumes loaded up before I had finished ordering for the three of us. Second extremely important point: you have carte blanche to order your burger as you like it. Which is to say, you make your choice of multiple condiments, relish, onions, tomato, lettuce... etc. (Sorry, Australians, no beetroot available.) If you study the menu you'll see what I mean. My mother changed her toppings order three times and I felt sorry for the poor fellow at the register, but he handled the situation with aplomb.
Third point: portions are HUGE. I mean, a "regular" burger order is a double. A "small" has a single patty. French fry orders are fresh, delicious and HUGE. I ordered a large standard fries and a regular Cajun fries for three of us and there were way too many fries, probably enough for five or six people. I kept apologizing to my folks for over-ordering and trying to explain that all I really knew when we arrived was the name of the place. I don't think there are any Five Guys in California, at least not that I know of. And fourth and final point: everything, everything, is cooked to order. They also have hot dogs, which I bet are delicious, but we wanted nothing but the burgers. We agreed that the regular fries are better than the Cajun (way too salty).
Five Guys are also very fast. We hit the place in the middle of the lunch crowd, but I just had time to get sodas and paper cups of ketchup for the three of us before our order was called. After we finished I studied some of the rave reviews posted on the walls and deduced that "Five Guys" was started in the Virginia/Washington D.C. area about 1996 and has since then expanded up and down the Eastern seaboard. Given that there are three such restaurants within an hour or so of my aunt's place I have to believe that they are doing pretty well. For those of you who know western PA, there is one on Rte. 22, one on Rte. 30 and one in Johnstown.
My cousin confessed that she can never remember the name "Five Guys" and always calls it "Wise Guys." Whatever you call it it's a darn good burgers-and-fries place and I would highly recommend it.
Our collective mood improved greatly after our visit. As we piled back into the car on that humid afternoon my father announced, "You know, even King Tut didn't have air conditioning. Or a car."
"He didn't have Five Guys either," I retorted, backing out of the parking lot and back onto Rte. 30.