BiteClub winners chow at Five Guys | Crista Jeremiason, PD

Though the night was rainy and cold, five BiteClubbers braved the elements, the hoards and threats of impending indigestion to get the skinny on Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Santa Rosa’s first outpost of this east coast, Obama-favorite.

What we do, we do for you.

At the Five Guys table, a very pregnant Jennifer (to gauge the restaurant’s crave-worthiness); Chef Evan for the culinary worthiness; burger aficionado (and former Fair Food Scrambler) Jason; and Alissa, a woman who once ate burgers for 16 days in a row. Plus BiteClub and BiteClub Jr.

It takes a village to judge a burger, so we put our heads together to come up with a handy guide for all you Five Guys newbies (and oldies)

What’s the Deal with this Place?
The first of a possible five new Five Guys restaurants in Sonoma County, the chain is spreading like wildfire across the nation (200 are slated to open in 2011). Local owner and Ohio native Craig Gallagher and four other investors leapt at the chance to snap up Sonoma County, one of the last counties in America to have franchises available. Petaluma may have the next opening, along with plans for at least one other Santa Rosa location.

Making your burger | Crista Jeremiason, PD

What To Order
The DC-based company prides itself on its fresh-baked buns, single-sourced fries (you can see the farm they came from on the board) made fresh and personalized burgers, offering up 15 different toppings ranging from mayo and lettuce to jalapenos and grilled mushrooms. Burgers aren’t started until you order, and wait time is typically about 7-8 minutes — hence the peanuts to tide you over. Burgers run a$4.99 for a double and $3.69 for a single. Unlike In N Out, Five Guys offers up split, griddle cooked hot dogs starting at $3.59. Fries are thickly cut and generously served, skin-on ($2.59 small, $4.69 large). Cajun-spiced fries are a best bet and pickles absolutely make the burger.

So, are the burgers as great as fans claim them to be?
Big, messy and squishy describe these burgers. The homemade buns are Wonder bread soft but are prone to disintegration. Things get pretty messy the more toppings you add. Go “All the Way” (an order for all the toppings) and you’ll end up with most of it on your lap, napkins and the foil paper wrapper — though you can sop it up with the fries, like we did. Said Jason, “This is definitely a multiple napkin experience!” Overall, the group was thumbs up on the whole Five Guys vibe, loved  the ability to personalize the burgers and proclaimed the fries much better than In-N-Out.

Which speaks to the inevitable comparisons to our favorite Left Coast burger chain.

The Inevitable Comparison
1. No, there’s no secret menu or special sauce
2. Yes, the fries are way better
3. Yes, they have free peanuts and you can throw the shells on the ground
4. Nope, they don’t have milkshakes
5. Yes, their hot dogs totally rock
6. Yes, prices are a bit higher than In N Out. You’ll spend about $10 for a meal here.
7. No, there’s no drive through.
8. Yes, the staff is just as clean-cut and friendly.

The Feast!

BiteClubbers Final Say
Jennifer: “The smell really drew me in.” Her plusses: The grilled, split hot dog with cheese. The minus: “The sauce at In & Out is better.”  Crave worthiness: Moderate. Would she come back? “Yes.”

Evan: “The fries have sort of a cottage fry quality. They’re definitely bigger and better than In N Out’s soggy shoestrings.”  The group unanimously decided, however, to order the fries extra crispy next time. The plusses: The range of condiments is great and I like the ballpark style hot dogs. Culinary worthiness: “I like it, but I’m a soggy burger kind of guy.” Come back? Yes.

Jason: “The buns are just great.” The plusses: Love the fresh jalapenos and pickles. The minus: I like my onions sliced. Burger Brilliance: “The patties don’t have much seasoning. They’re really fresh, but just not seasoned enough.” Come back? Yes.

Alissa: “I would definitely come back for the dog,” which she ordered with cheese, ketchup, mustard, hot sauce and pickles. Return? Yes. Sixteen times? Possible.

Heather: I loved the “All the Way” cheeseburger with crisp bacon and lettuce, grilled onions, mushrooms and chilled mayo and pickles. The burger itself was, frankly, unremarkable, but the soft bun and top-notch toppers (especially the pickle!) made for a memorable eating experience. Minus: I hate well-done burgers, and all their burgers are cooked well-done. Return: BiteClub Jr. insists.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries: 2280 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, Open daily at 11am.

Thanks to all my BiteClub eaters, everyone who entered, PD Photog Crista Jeremiason for the amazing pictures (though I will note that the cool fish eye lens seems to have added a hump back to me…haha) and Five Guys Burgers and Fries!