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:: Monday, February 25, 2008 ::

:: Double Double vs. Five Guys ::
You guys know how much I revere the Double Doubles from In-N-Out Burger. It's not just that it's something I grew up with, or that it's best damn fast-food burger ever, or that it's comfort food in a way that nothing my mother ever made could match (that last sentence would probably kill her, if not for the fact that she was already dead. And by "dead" I mean, "dead to me").

(The last two sentences were jokes, just so we're clear.)

I've lamented the fact that there's nothing like that anywhere out here in South Florida. It's not that you can't find a good burger, you just have to have a waiter or a bartender ask you about what cheese you'd like and what temperature you’d like your burger. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But sometimes I want to walk up to a counter, order my burger and fries and grab my own refills at a fountain and do it at a place not named McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, or Checkers. They finally opened a Fatburger here and while good, it's not the same.

That may have changed.

There's a baseball scout/writer for ESPN named Keith Law who also maintains a separate blog about food and entertainment. He travels a lot and writes up his scouting reports for ESPN's website. On his other blog, he writes reviews of various restaurants he visited when he's traveling. He's been to L.A a few times and has written glowing reviews of the place and proclaimed the In-N-Out the Gold Standard for fast food burgers, which is why he's also one of my favorite writers.

That was tested somewhat when he wrote about a place called "Five Guys" burgers. It's also a regional burger chain that's scattered up and down the East Coast. He ate there during a trip to Palm Beach during spring training and this is what he wrote:

"...it’s off the charts, and I'd rate it above In-N-Out in the fast food burger category. The fries are the key – hand-cut, like In-N-Out’s, but thicker, and a regular order comes with more fries than I could eat in a sitting. The burgers are thicker than In-N-Out's, of roughly equivalent quality, but because they only cook burgers well done, the patties start to dry out, which one can compensate for somewhat with extra ketchup, but it's not the same thing."

Off the charts? Perhaps but above In-N-Out? No way. No fricken' way. Impossible. Not happening. Especially not if you need ketchup to compensate for overcooked beef. And it's not my West Coast Bias talking. There are plenty of fast food places that try to copy In-N-Out but they can’t match the overall quality of flavor that a Double Double has. Fatburger is the perfect example. I dismissed it as reckless hyperbole.

Then I found out they opened a new location just off 36th and Biscayne, near the Design District where a new plaza opened up a little over a year ago. There's a Target there and I need to stop by anyway so this was perfect. I find out they also pride themselves on fresh produce, never-frozen beef, and the aforementioned hand-cut fries. Again, other places do this but with inferior results.

I walk in and I'm greeted to a nice, clean restaurant that would be almost sterile if not for the fact that there's a row of potato sacks that divide the lines from the dining area. Okay, it's different from the standard dividers but it also looks like they don't have enough storage space. On either wall is a haphazard array of posters and printouts with quotes from various publications (Washington Post, Zagat, etc.) extolling the excellence of Five Guys. I don't ever recall any In-N-Out Burger location (and I've been to plenty) ever having any posters like that because quite frankly, they don't need it. Strike two. However, the smell emanating from the kitchen is strikingly similar to that of In-N-Out.

I finally check out their menu and they do have a bit more in the way of variety. They have kid’s burgers, more toppings, and HOLY CRAP they have bacon! (If there's anything I might love more than a Double Double, it's bacon.) I'm tempted to order a bacon cheeseburger but I stick to the regular cheeseburger so I have more even comparison. I try to keep the toppings as similar as possible: lettuce, tomatoes, and fried onions. In-N-Out has their famous "spread" that's like Thousand Island but better, so I go for mayo and mustard (no ketchup). Other toppings range from sautéed mushrooms (nice), jalapeno and green peppers (very nice), A1 and BBQ sauce (ugh, really?), and relish (that's for hot dogs. I don't get the relish thing. Fatburger also does this and I just can't see it being that good on a burger. But what do I know. I'm unemployed.) I also get a regular order of fries. The Cajun style fries sound tasty but again, for comparison's sake, I stick with the normal fries.

I pay, get my order number and wait. I'm tempted to give them strike three for their prices (almost $11 for a cheeseburger, fries and a soda. For that, I could order TWO Double Doubles, fries and soda and have change left) but it's Miami and prices everywhere on everything have been going up. To be fair since I haven't been to In-N-Out in over two years so I have no idea what they charge now ($2.70 last time). The length of the wait is similar, which is fine since they cook oer order. I notice a large barrel of peanuts at the end of the line, which seems completely out of place, yet it makes sense to give people something to munch on while waiting for their meal. Of course I ate some.

They call my number, and I get my order. In a bag. Didn't I say it's for here? "Sorry man we don't have any trays." Really. "Yeah, you can just rip open the bag and use that." Okay then. I refill my soda, grab some ketchup and sit down. I open the bag and the first thing I notice is the smell, which again, is remarkably similar to In-N-Out. I pull out my burger and rip open the bag and lay it flat. I see the fries and Keith is right, there are a lot of fries here. They stuffed them into a cup about the size of a grande at Starbucks but there's so much left at the bottom of the bag that it could easily fill two. They also had a nice brownish tint instead of the pale yellow you most other places. I grab one and take a bite and... damn it's hot... and good. Disturbingly good. Eat a few more. Keith is right again... bastard. In-N-Out fries taste almost like you're biting into a baked potato, but with that deep-fried crispy goodness. These are similar but the thicker cut really brings out the potato flavor. I'm feel conflicted.

I unwrap the burger and I have to say, it was impressive. It's slightly bigger than a Double Double and there are sesame seeds on the bun. Crisp looking lettuce leaves, good-sized slice of tomato, and the onions look grilled to perfection. I take my first bite and... damn... this is awesome. I take a few more bites. Can this be happening? Something is actually going to sway my opinion? Did somebody actually one-up the benchmark fast food burger?

Well, no.

It was really damn close, however. The two beef patties were thicker, and being well done (they even have a sign behind the counter that states all burgers will be cooked as such) they were a little drier. It had that same pungent, beefy flavor you'll find in a Double Double but it wasn't any more so despite the thicker patties and the texture wasn't as good. The bun was fine but despite having sesame seeds, didn't provide any additional flavor and could have been something bought off the shelf at a Whole Foods. However, the lettuce, tomato, and onion were all fresh and the overall balance of all the ingredients was almost (and emphasize the "almost") perfect.

(By the way, if you're wondering how I could possibly do a fair comparison despite not having had a Double Double in over two years, it's because I've been there enough times over my lifetime that the taste will stay with me until I die. They probably made enough money on me alone that they could finally expanded as far east as Arizona. If I'd known I was moving to Miami in 2003, I would have doubled my efforts. Maybe even recruited some friends.)

The final verdict: well it's a toss-up. Five Guys does have better fries, thanks to the thicker cut and the fact that they use peanut oil instead of vegetable oil. (In-N-Out provides the option of Animal Style however, which is awesome.) As for the cheeseburger, it had that similar great beefy taste and overall balance of flavor, BUT the texture was off since the patties were well done. Don't get me wrong. We're not talking cardboard here. But I've never got anything less than juicy, flavorful burgers at In-N-Out.

So Five Guys has the better fries but In-N-Out has the better burger. And since we're talking burger joints here, the final verdict goes to... (drumroll)...


Shocker right? Honestly, I gave Five Guys a fair chance, and I wanted to like it, which I did and I'd recommend it to anyone. If by some miracle they opened up a place in the same city, you can't go wrong either way. (Or go to In-N-Out for the Double Double and Five Guys for the fries.) We're talking options 1A and 1B here. And I'm sure some people might disagree with my verdict (you dogmatic despots).

Last note: I'm glad that this place is located off the island and requires me to take two busses to get there because if they opened up on the Beach, I'd weigh 300 pounds in two months.

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:: Miscellaneous Ramblings by Dan-E at 3:43 PM [+] :: | 0 comments

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