Quite honestly, I could probably live the rest of my life without having another hamburger. Some of that is because I just don't eat much red meat any more, but I suspect another reason is that I so miss the wonderful Maid-Rite sandwiches from Greenville, Ohio, near the farm where I grew up. Not sloppy joes but "loose meat," the recipe has remained a secret ever since the place started in 1926 (no, I was not a customer back then). Every single time my husband Jack and I go back "down home," though, I insist on grabbing a big bag of the treats from the brick building that's known as a hangout for the used chewing gum teenagers stick on the walls.
That said, every once in a while I do get a hankering for a good ol' burger, whether it be plain with mustard, lettuce and tomato or a fancy schmancy job topped with bacon and/or bleu cheese. Generally, I satisfy the urge at Gasoline Alley in Niles or Fudruckers in the Eastwood Mall. But when we spotted a Five Guys Burgers and Fries near the Walmart store on Elm Road in Cortland a while back, I started to salivate and said, "Let's give it a try."
Other shops are in Boardman and Austintown (we've been to the latter), and the closest Pennsylvania location I could find is in Meadville. For the record, the whole thing started in Arlington, Va., in 1986; today, there are more than 1,000 locations nationwide and another 1,500 or so under development, or so the website says. You can hook up with them on Facebook and Twitter, place orders online and enjoy a totally trans-fat free menu. They do, however, use peanut oil, so anyone with a peanut allergy should stay away.
The restaurants are relatively small, but quite colorful and fun. Food is packed in brown paper bags, you can grab a container of peanuts in the shells from a huge bin -- they're free) -- and huge bags of potatoes are stacked to form the entrance to the order-your-own counter. In addition to burgers, Five Guys is known for fries, which come in a big plastic cup reminiscent of Idora Park. The cups are so full that they spill out, making big grease spots on the brown paper bag.
Although this is a neat place for kids, it's not the least expensive burger joint on the block; our total bill at our first visit was $17.74 including tax, and that was for two "regular" hamburgers, one order of fries, one large soft drink and one bottle of water. But those regular burgers ($4.89 at the time of our first visit and $5.29 at our second) are double patties, and all the fixin's are free, including jalapenos, tomatoes, grilled mushrooms, pickles, relish and a variety of sauces. As it turns out, the "little" burger, which is a single patty, would have been less expensive and quite sufficient for me - and I'm sure would be enough to satisfy young children.
Comparatively, a regular bacon cheeseburger (now $6.69), a kosher style hot dog is $3.59 and a grilled cheese $3.59. The beef is always cooked well done and is fresh - there are no freezers in any of the restaurants, the website says. There's a veggie burger as well ($2.99) into which you can put any or all of the vegetables that are on the menu into a bun. I haven't tried that yet, but it sure sounds yummy.
The hamburgers are unusually flavorful, and in Austintown, I tried the kosher hot dog topped with onions, jalapenos and mustard. The dog is split in half lengthwise and grilled, exactly the way I do them at home. The jalapenos, I hasten to add, pack enough heat that they're not for the faint of heart.
Jack got a hamburger with his favorite grilled onions and mushrooms as he did at Cortland, noting - as he did then - that's is really nice to get all those toppings at no extra cost. In addition to finding a bit of a price hike, we ran into a newfangled push-button drink dispenser here; it's just different enough that it took a little extra time (and more than a couple of sloppy mistakes) to figure out how it works. Pretty cool, actually!
If you go:
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
Cortland: (330) 372-0232
Austintown: (330) 953-2880
Boardman: (330) 629-8038
Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.