Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Cuisine: American

Prices: Inexpensive

Locations: West Ashley. 1662 Savannah Hwy.

(843) 556-5489; Mt. Pleasant. 1795 Hwy. 17 N. (843) 881-4550

Serving: Lunch and Dinner

The new Five Guys Burgers and Fries in West Ashley is stopping all traffic. Even without a single additional shop yet inhabiting the newly renovated shopping center on Savannah Highway, you have to park all the way in the overflow, across from the shopping center, to get a table during the busy lunch rush. When a hundred people stop at a chain lunch place on the Motor Mile, something’s going on — and if the greasy smell drifting across the road hasn’t already lured you in, then you’re missing out on what might be the best burger joint to hit the suburbs since This Is Your Place up and moved off the peninsula a couple of years ago.

The crazy part of it is that Five Guys has locations in almost 20 states of the union, yet serves mind-blowing cheap grub. They concentrate on the basics. The (partial) list: hamburger ($4.19), cheeseburger ($4.69), bacon cheeseburger ($5.09), bacon cheese dog ($3.59), large fry ($3.79). You want mayo, relish, onions, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, fried onions, sautéed mushrooms, ketchup, mustard, jalapeño peppers, or A-1 sauce on that? Free.

Now, there are plenty of places about town serving “fast food” burgers, and to be fair calling Five Guys “fast food” is a bit of a stretch; in the industry they call this a “fast casual” restaurant. But behind the counter a flurry of people toss out delicious grease-bombs faster than you can go to a drive-thru where they inevitably ask you to pull up and “wait just a minute since we are out of fries.” At Five Guys, we complained that they might have forgotten to give us the two orders of fries that we ordered. “No problem,” our guy responded — and shoved an entire bag of them, just out of the boiling grease into our hands. Now that’s customer service.

These guys supply a middle ground that’s missing from the scene these days. You either get no service with the cheapest soybean pseudo-meat and bio-engineered fries and chicken nuggets, or you pay $12 for a burger that was hand ground that morning from free-range grass-fed cows that are certified to have never sniffed a whiff of commercial fertilizer. Five Guys buys good meat, hand pats it, slaps it down on the griddle, and serves it up on a buttered and grilled bun. It all adds up to a fat lump of simple perfection, something dropped out of burger heaven.

The griddle is the secret. Like the old times at This Is Your Place, the steel flattop sizzles with at least a quarter inch of grease during a mad rush. The burgers bob and pop like sea buoys in the searing heat, and in the process they pick up that richness, an indescribable yummy goodness that all good burgers must obtain. I’d like to visit an older Five Guys, where a hundred thousand patties have blessed the steel, and like the one at Your Place, has blackened to a deep, dark patina. I’d bet they taste even better there, with more little charred ends and the flavor of a more-seasoned griddle fully imprinted. But I’d also bet that with the numbers flowing through the doors at Five Guys today, the new grills will surely follow the same path, which means that the burgers will only get better with time, and that my waistline may suffer a terrible fate.

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