Our first match-up in the 2013 Denver Burger Bracket exemplifies one of the major themes of the bracket itself: Restaurant Burger vs. Upscale-But-Still-Fast-Casual Burger. It’s easier to like the fast-casual burger. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and there’s a good chance that a restaurant is close to where you are at any given moment. But does that translate into quality? Obviously they’re doing something right because new franchises are popping up each month.
But it’s the restaurant burger that almost scoffs at the fast-casual burger. There’s an underlying sense that the restaurants just know that their burger is better. “The fast-casual places can have their multiple storefronts, but people know that ours is better,” they think. They know that a more traditional dining experience, the 12-14 buck price tag, and the opportunity to have a beer with your burger exudes quality.
So which one’s better? Let’s go to the breakdown:
(3) Finley’s Pub
Finley’s Pub is your quintessential neighborhood pub. The bracket’s resident Wash Park establishment, Finley’s is the place to get a proper pint of Guinness when you’ve out-grown cheap Coors Lights next door at CandleLight.
Their “Finley Burger” is a braised short-rib patty, and dressed with ground chuck applewood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, raw white onion, and a bearnaise sauce. The bun was good, but not memorable. For $12 it comes with fries (which they were out of, so I went with tots).
The burger patty was HUGE, so it was difficult to get a full bite of everything all at once. I asked for it to be cooked medium, and I thought that it was fairly accurately cooked. The problem with such a big burger patty though, is that when you cook the burger to medium in the middle, some of the sides tend to be a little over-done. In this case, some parts of the large burger patty were a lot over-done. Big bonus points for the cheese being melted into the meat, and the bacon was awesome. It was kind of a little meatier bacon, almost like Irish bacon. The bearnaise sauce was rich, but worked well with the burger and was a little different taste that made the Finley Burger unique. Overall, it was definitely a good burger, but the bites that included a mostly overdone and too-meaty burger patty were what left the most lasting impression.
(6) Five Guys Burgers and Fries
By now I’m sure you’ve all had a burger from Five Guys. In 2011, Five Guys was the fastest growing business in America. Obviously they’re doing something right.
Five Guys uses fresh ground beef, and claim that there are no freezers at any location, so nothing is ever frozen. That freshness definitely comes through, as everything on the burger tastes fresh and delicious. I went with a bacon cheeseburger with grilled onions and jalapenos. Like the Finley Burger, the cheese was melted into the meat, and wasn’t just a slice laying on top. The grilled onions paired great with the taste, and the MOUNTAIN of fresh jalapenos (a different taste/sensation than pickled jalapenos) give the burger quite the kick. But what set this burger over the top was the bacon. Usually you get a couple of measly pieces of bacon, that are often too fatty or pre-made DAYS earlier. At Five Guys, you get a hefty amount of bacon, and it’s well-done and crispy, just how it should be. The burger patty itself was just the right sized and cooked perfectly.
Side Note: If you order fries at Five Guys, be prepared for TONS of them. They cook them in peanut oil, and they are extremely awesome. Just beware that one order can easily feed three people.
So is it fair that a fast-casual burger joint beats a single restaurant, or should places with multiple locations be scrutinized a bit harder because they have a better chance of replicating their product each and every time? In my opinion, taste is king. And if that king comes in cheaper than its counterpart, then it’s a slam dunk. The 6 seed, Five Guys Burgers and Fries takes the win.