Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries, Brandon, Pinellas Park, Tampa

By Laura Reiley, Times Food Critic
Published September 20, 2007

Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries

The two we visited:

2702 E Fowler Ave., Tampa, (813) 977-4400

7054 U.S. 19 N, Pinellas Park, (727) 526-7800

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Details: V, MC, Amex; no reservations; beer

Prices: $2.49 to $5.19

(also at 13149 N Dale Mabry Highway and 3841 W Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa and at Westfield Brandon Mall) 

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A good burger is a good thing.

A good french fry reaches into your brain stem and gives you a little fizzy jolt of joy. I'm Irish, so I can't overstate this.

It's part of the reason people defy all logic - and cautionary tales like Super Size Me - and persist in lining up at McDonald's. Simply, fries.

The folks who started Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries in 1986 in Arlington, Va., know this. Janie and Jerry Murrell and their five sons were on to something: Do a few things well and the customers will come.

It didn't grow quickly at first; in 2002 there were still just five locations run by the family, but as of this year there are more than 150 FGFBF franchises dotting the country. Florida has 26 outposts open or poised to open. There's one in Brandon and Pinellas Park and three in Tampa. Clearwater, Largo and Trinity are coming soon.

The Washington Post calls Five Guys "the Willy Wonkas of burgercraft." I don't even know what that means exactly I'm picturing Oompa-Loompas forming patties, but it sure sounds like high praise.

These are quick-dining spots more than fast food - no drive-through; no late-night; order at the counter and listen for when your order is up. The interiors are clean, verging on antiseptic, with a cheery red-and-white checkerboard tile motif.

Here's what makes Five Guys Wonka-esque:

- Free in-the-shell peanuts in a big box at the entrance (people with peanut allergies beware; fries are also cooked in peanut oil).

- Spectacular fries, served in no-frills, no-logo, brown-paper bags that get tantalizingly besmirched with grease.

- A white board that tells you the provenance of the day's potatoes, plus big sacks of spuds are spread around the dining room as decor.

- They sell beer (a sweaty-cold Corona was $3.50).

- Burgers come accessorized like Liberace.

The ground beef is never frozen but cooked, alas, well done, no exceptions. The regular hamburger ($4.19; $4.69 cheeseburger or bacon burger; $5.19 bacon cheeseburger) has two patties, a respectable, glossy, sesame seed bun and, if you order "all the way," comes with this: ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles, fried onions and sauteed mushrooms.

If that's not enough gussying, you can add raw onion, relish, jalapeno, green pepper, A.1. barbecue sauce or hot sauce at no extra charge.

It's a big, challenging burger, satisfying despite the well-done meat. One-patty burgers ($2.99; $3.49 cheeseburger or bacon burger; $3.99 bacon cheeseburger) are called "little." Yeah, right.

Fries come regular ($2.29, enough for several people) and large ($3.99, a quantity that causes equal measures of consternation and irrational exuberance), and you can get them plain or Cajun-style. The former is perfect. Golden-crisp, fat but not flaccid, salted well, potato skin adding a gritty earnestness. The Cajun version provides a little rosy cayenne panache.

That's almost the end of the menu. Vegetarians, ignore the veggie sandwich ($2.49). It's a burger without the patty. Order instead the grilled cheese ($2.49) with added sauteed onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and maybe even green peppers if you're feeling jiggy.

The kosher hot dog ($2.69) is absolutely not to be sniffed at, the split dog bouncy and juicy on a soft roll. No dessert, no other sides, with a serve-yourself drink fountain ($1.69).

The takeaway here is clear. To misquote Willy Wonka:

"Who can take a rainbow

Wrap it in a sigh,

Soak it in the sun

and make a really good fry?"

Five Guys can.

Think she missed the boat? Tell Laura Reiley at her new blog: www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The St. Petersburg Times pays all expenses. A restaurant's advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment. She can be reached at (727) 892-2293 or lreiley@sptimes.com.