You Get Fries With That

March 31st, 2011

I watched her cut up the potatoes, check the heat on the peanut oil and make sure the salt was handy. I’d never been there before and wasn’t sure how things worked, but I damn sure wanted a large order of those fries.

She took a big cup, more like a small bucket, and filled it with those long, brown fries – just cooked, just salted, just so – and put the cup in a brown bag. And that’s when I fell in love with her, not just because of all that but also because of what she did next.

She poured another whole load of loose fries into the bag to keep that big bad boy cup company.

When you do things like that, people love you for it.

As published in The Daily News, April 1, 2011, and in The Memphis News, April 2-8, 2011




The deal on Electrolux was handmade, and comes with whatever you want on it and a couple thousand jobs. Mitsubishi is going to fire up transformers bigger than doublewides, heavier than river barges, and they come with $200 million and an extra large order of fries. While we wait for our aerotropolis order with a third highway river bridge on the side, we can crack salted-in-the-shell peanuts and throw the shells on the floor. To get there, to where we want to go as a city, and to get back to the pride and faith we once had in ourselves, we’ll have fresh new river trails, greenlines, bike lanes, all wrapped by a brand spanking new interstate.

Memphis is getting hot again, and you can smell something good cooking up in here.

So it felt just right when I read that Five Guys Famous Burgers & Fries was coming to town. I first heard about Five Guys a few years ago from a friend drooling about them allover a very expensive tie. Then I wandered into one in Atlanta last year. That same day, with a little ketchup still on the corner of my mouth, I was allover their website and leaving salt and peanut oil allover the keyboard. Question one: Yes, they franchise. Question two: No, Memphis wasn’t available. It was snapped up when they decided to expand from their D.C. beginnings, and all U.S. franchises are now sold out.

There’s not a freezer in the place and that’s very cool.

When these guys cook a hamburger, it’s fresh and takes shape right there in front of you. Like the idea of self-service groceries, or consistently dependable roadside motels, or overnight package delivery, or do-it-yourself auto maintenance. You know – like what we cooked up in our own kitchen growing up.

When they cook fries, they hand-cut them from fresh potatoes, serve them red-hot right there, and the authentic, original flavor makes anything else a limp imitation. Like what authentic, original music does. You know – like what happens when somebody sings or plays something like you’ve never heard, reaching you in places and in ways you’ve never known. Like what we could taste live on our corners and stages, in our pews and juke joints growing up.

When it’s all cooking, you can eat peanuts and drop the shells down while you tap the time on the table above. You know – like you did in that basement joint below the feed store on Front, like you did by the Riverside Park bandstand or at the Shell when Elvis was up there.

Five Guys isn’t original to Memphis but they remind me of things that are because they make things the way we used to around here. From scratch. Fresh. Simple and honest. You put what you want on it, get what you want out of it, and the country can’t get enough of it.

I'm a Memphian, and that’s the way I like my burgers and fries.


paula barnes: 5 Guys is dangerous but divine!!

Carole Rodgers Hanna: I've heard from people who have been to Five Guys in other cities that you should go prepared to share the fries w/2 or 3 other people. I can hardly wait for them to open - sounds like my kinda place! And this was a great rant :-)

Brad Tomlinson: Dan, I have been to the original Five Guys in Arlington, and now they have one in Manassas. Actually, they have quite a few locations in the DC area. I do not go to their restaurants very often because I worry about how healthy all that good food is. Your column makes me want to go there anyway despite my concerns. There are some things in life that are meant to be experienced as long as it is done not to excess, but in moderation.

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