ALTAMONTE SPRINGS — Does anyone know the exact history of how, out of all the rich foods in the world, the hamburger came to be the meal of choice for fast food restaurants?
Why is it we don’t have fast food spaghetti? Or fast food Chef Salads? Or fast food steak and onions?
Maybe McDonald’s — the largest chain of worldwide hamburger fast food restaurants — got ball rolling back in 1940 when the brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald opened a restaurant in San Bernadino, Calif., and introduced the concept of the Speedee Service System. For whatever reason, burgers with fries just became the staple menu item.
In the years since, the hamburger or “burger,” depending on your preferred lingo, simply became the preferred dining option at every fast food chain that popped up following McDonald’s example. So with McDonald’s having demonstrated that the concept works, this sandwich consisting of a cooked patty of ground beef became all the rage at every chain, differing only by what the individual chains wanted as their signature design. Placed in a sliced bread roll? Covered with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles? Smeared with condiments that could include mustard, ketchup or mayonnaise? Similar in each instances, but with little differences here and there.
And have you ever noticed that no matter what time of day you hit the drive in — let’s say you want to avoid noon for the busy lunch crowd or 5-6 p.m. to bypass the lengthy dinner crowd — there’s always two or three cars ahead of you? We’re a nation of burger babies.
I sometimes wonder how challenging it is to stay competitive with a burger franchise where there’s so much competition out there. You can be cruising down Colonial Drive in West Orange County and find a McDonald’s and Burger King right next to one another, and a Wendy’s or Arby’s within view. Sometimes, though, I find this concept to be less mysterious than it initially appears whenever a friend invites me to join them at one of my favorite burger joints, Five Guys Burgers and Fries.
This chain has been around for a while, having started in Virginia in 1986. This deli-style restaurant just seems to make some of the best burgers around, and for some reason whenever I go there, I always get the feeling that it has a real 1950s ambiance about it. I wasn’t around in the 1950s, so I can’t say for sure, but it just seems to give off that genuine “American Graffiti”-type look.
The menu is simple, direct, and tempting. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, bacon either-one … or a kosher-style hot dog, cheese or bacon dog, or veggie or grilled cheese sandwich.
Then you’ve got those free toppings to pick from, which include the standard and predictable — relish, onions, tomatoes — to slightly more distinct (Jalapeno Peppers, grilled mushrooms, hot sauce.) You’ve also got those irresistable Five Guys curly fries on the side and a tall glass of Coke to wash it down with.
I love how greasy these burgers are, or the fresh-potato taste of the curly fries fried in peanut oil with the Cajun seasoning. I think one of the reasons why the burger has remained the top menu item at fast food chains is it personifies such a simple concept, but it always ends up being so delicious — at least at this chain, for sure. Five Guys has truly perfected the concept; their chefs always seems to do it so well, and I usually find I’m loving every juicy bite.
Now, if this sounds like the kind of menu that would prompt the shrill health watchers to become aghast, and send them rushing for the latest statistics on our nation’s obesity rate, well, send me an email at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com and I’ll get you a list of great vegan restaurants that I frequent. But let’s be honest here, nobody goes to fast food joints for calorie counting — they go because those juicy flame-broiled burgers always lure us back, sapping our willpower. Besides, the Five Guys web site (http://www.fiveguys.com/home.aspx) posts nutritional information so we grown ups can decide for ourselves what we’re hungry for.
Five Guys Burgers has a lot of locations in Greater Orlando, but one of my favorites is at Uptown Altamonte, at 229 E. Altamonte Drive in Altamonte Springs. I like the people who work there — friendly, easy going, able to take large orders and get them to my table in rapid time. They’re the perfect employees for a restaurant that managed to get the concept of the fast food chains down so extraordinarily well, that whenever my friends invite me to head back for more (while warning that I could get addicted to the place), I’m there.
To learn more about Five Guys Burgers at Uptown Altamonte, call 407-478-6900.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.