Saturday, May 10, 2008

cheeseburgers in paradise

Here's a crazy idea...go to three different burger joints and compare their cheeseburgers in a taste test. That is just what Duane and I did over 2 and 1/2 hours. We hit up three places in Delaware County to do a taste comparison. I had a biased opinion heading into it because I had been to all three places before. Duane had never been to any of them, so he was going into the taste test without any preconceptions.

We decided to visit Zac's in Media, Charlie's in Folsom, and Five Guys in Clifton Heights, in that order.

zac's outside
We walked into Zac's with great anticipation, for several reasons. First, it was our first destination. Second, Duane was ridiculously excited for this, evidenced by the research he had done online about reviewing hamburgers, his notebook with tasting criteria and the huge smile on his face. I also was excited, but was able to contain said excitement a little better. No matter, because it turns out that other people were nearly as excited as we were to be doing this. Once they brought our burgers to us, a few people noticed that we were taking pictures of the food, writing notes and generally discussing what was in front of us. One person asked if we were food photographers. Another guy heard us mention that we were doing a burger comparison and looked as though he was ready to ditch his (young) children and join us. Duane made the astute observation that he didn't really have much of anything constructive to say, but it seemed he really wanted to stand near us as we were discussing the food.

Once the burgers came out, we got down to business. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with ketchup, tomatoes and pickles. Duane ordered a bacon cheeseburger with everything and then added mayo and lettuce for good measure. He likes his toppings. In fact, he was scoring each place on their toppings selection. I chose not to do that. The burger fit the toasted bun well. Zac's burgers are relatively not greasy. They're clean and simple to eat and go down way too easily. The beef is fresh and not frozen and they cook it up for you when you order. My burger and bun stayed together very well, but Duane and his overloaded burger had a little trouble. I suppose you can't complain when you've got 8 or so toppings crammed between a soft, toasted bun.
zac's burgerzac's cross section
duane digging in at zac'smore burgers...silliness
In our excitement, we decided to pick up some extra burgers since Zac's offers 10 burgers for $12 on Saturdays. Later on, we realized the folly of our ways and couldn't quite figure out why we thought this would be a good idea. Anyway, with extra burgers in hand, we headed onto our next stop, Charlie's.

charlie's outside
Charlie's in Folsom is a pretty simple place. They offer burgers and hot dogs. That's it. No fries. They don't have bacon. They've got a counter that looks at the flattop and a counter that looks out the windows. They tell you to stay in line after you order because it's easier for them to figure out who gets what.

The first thing Duane notices when we walk in is the plate full of thickly cut Velveeta cheese that is waiting to get placed on the burgers. It pretty much looks like what I imagine our arteries are going to look like after our third stop. But it gives the burger a little something extra. I ordered a cheeseburger with ketchup and pickles. Duane got one with everything, which was onions, ketchup, mustard and pickles. Like I's a simple place.
charlie's burgercharlie's cross section
The meat is already cooked and waiting for an order. The buns are pre-toasted. Everything gets heated up on the flattop when you order. These burgers are remarkably greasy. I suspect this is because of the Velveeta. You can feel the grease congealing on your hand as you eat it. Again, visions of clogged arteries dance through my head. Because there isn't much to the burger, it stays together nicely while you eat it. Overall, the burger isn't bad, but it's lagging behind Zac's from the start.

We finished up at Charlie's and moved onto Five Guys, our final destination.

Five Guys
five guys outside
Five Guys has a bit of advantage over the little guys. They've spread from their original locations in the Washington, D.C. area and they know what they're doing. That isn't to say that Zac's and Charlie's don't, but Five Guys is a bigger operation and their offering shows it. It's a different thing they've got going on. Their burgers are a bit more refined, though not necessarily better.

Once again, in striving for consistency for an easier comparison, I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with ketchup, tomato and pickles. Duane ordered a bacon cheeseburger "all the way" which is most of the toppings they offer, including mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, ketchup, lettuce, and mustard. He threw in jalapeƱos for kicks. I forgot that a regular Five Guys burger is a double. The single patty burgers are called "little." The quality of the meat at Five Guys is definitely the best of the three places, but just barely ahead of Zac's. The burgers are pretty much right in the middle of Zac's (less) and Charlie's (more) in terms of grease. They wrap their burgers in aluminum foil, which squishes the sesame seed bun quite a bit. It also keeps the moisture in, which makes them a little soggy, especially when they sit a while, like when you do take out and drive home before eating them. Once again, my burger held up to the stresses of being eaten and stayed relatively intact during consumption. Duane's burger, on the other hand, had quite a bit of trouble. For some reason, his meat was crumbling and with so many toppings he had trouble keeping the burgers from sliding around. He decided in the end that the mushrooms were the culprit.
five guys burgerfive guys cross section
duane realizes what he has in his handsduane digging in at five guys
As we slowly finished the last few bites of our Five Guys burgers, the day was settling in our stomachs. We finished up tallying the scores from all three places as we sat in Five Guys, letting our food digest a bit before got back in the car and drove home.

The final score
Duane scored the toppings in his reviews and I chose not to. In order to make an easier comparison, Duane's scores are totaled both without the toppings and with the toppings (in parentheses).

Reviewer/ RestaurantBun to Burger RatioMeat QualityBunCheeseSauceToppingsOther ToppingsStructural IntegrityGreaseOverall GoodnessTotal (with Toppings in parentheses)

Duane776557747738 (62)

Duane666754663532 (54)
Five Guys

Duane998679924840 (71)

Duane says it was a toss up between Five Guys and Zac's for him. His observation was that it is difficult to compare these two burgers because they are so different. He would return to either place depending on what type of burger he wanted. For me, it was Zac's all the way.

We had a great time doing this and we're already planning our next food comparison. Will it be cheesesteaks? Or pizza? Or hoagies? Stay tuned for more.

Five Guys
Complete set of my photos

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