People in and around mid-Atlantic states and Southeast. apparently know all about the Five Guys hamburger chain. But unlike the storied west coast In-n-Out restaurants that its fans fetishize, I've never picked up much buzz about Five Guys, though lord knows I've gone out of my way for an In-n-Out double-double. The chain just opened its second New York store, at 138 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights (there's apparently another in College Point, Queens -- who knew?); it won't stay a secret up here for long. It wouldn't be much of an exaggeration to call Five Guys the East Coast In-n-Out.
It tough to judge a restaurant's operation in its first week. When I checked it out earlier today, there about five times as many workers as were strictly necessary to serve customers. Because of all the training -- and some of the trainees looked like they'd never seen a kitchen before -- food was a little slow coming out. (At least, it had better have been slower than usual; tomorrow's July 4 and there'll be about a quarter million people walking past the place's front door.) But when the food arrived, it proved to be well worth the wait.
First, the fries. Freshly cut, skinny, skin-on, fried in peanut oil. There was about 1000 pound of fresh potatoes, packed in 50 pound bags, stacked in the dining room. The burger patties are thin, about four inches in diameter; the standard burger is a double stack. Also fresh; they claim to not use frozen meat, and it tastes it. There's no "secret sauce," the way there is at In-n-Out, but there's a full range of condiments as well as A-1 and hot sauce. No condiment bar; they prepare the burgers to spec.
There will probably be some traffic flow problems at this particular store. You order at the front (two registers) and pick up at the back, where the place narrows. That's where the drinks fountain is, too, so there will almost certainly be a lot of pushing as people wait for their food and then fill their soda cups, then have to push their way back to the front of the place. There are 16 seats at tables and about the same number at counters along the front window and east wall.
Five Guys is up nine steps from the street. It's worth the climb. The place is across the street from Grand Canyon, a neighborhood hamburger-based diner that's been there since 1983. I love Grand Canyon and all things being equal, I'd rather support neighborhood businesses. But Five Guys is awfully good stuff, and my days at Grand Canyon may be numbered.
If you're not in Brooklyn or Queens, take heart: the web site says they're coming to Levittown on Long Island soon, and are already in the Albany area in Niskayuna and Glenmont, with Rensselaer coming.