For here, or to go? New spot beefs up Barracks Road

Anyone who has discovered the shocking truths behind America's fast food industry through books like Fast Food Nation or documentary films like Super Size Me might wonder why people are still flocking to places like McDonald's for more-more-more of such controversial cuisine.

I, for one, was glad to leave drive-thru lines behind me at Barracks Road Shopping Center this week, where a new burger and fries joint just opened in the space formerly occupied by Chesapeake Bagel Bakery.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries is a simple, fast, affordable place that also happens to be family-run and already famous for treating potatoes, beef, and buns with the respect they deserve.

Maybe that's why the Alexandria-based chain­ started in the early '90s by Jerry Murrell and his five sons, and now quickly spreading across the region– has received consistently high ratings from Zagat, Washingtonian magazine, and the Washington Post.

In this nostalgic, no-frills, Happy Days kind of place with loud rock 'n roll and refreshingly few choices, there's no freezer. Burgers are made with fresh beef. You can order what you want on the burger (free toppings include everything from fried onions and mushrooms to green and jalapeno peppers), but there's no need to specify how you want these babies cooked.

Hand-shaped patties come out cooked to a perfect medium and are so soft and juicy they remind you of what a burger is supposed to taste like. Same goes for the fries, made from whole potatoes (including traces of the vitamin-rich peel) and fried in 100 percent peanut oil, which is changed twice weekly.

If it sounds like I'm talking about a car, then I should mention that a local environmental group has already asked franchise owner Bill McKechnie if they can use his discarded peanut oil to fuel a new breed of automobile.

Not all potatoes are created equal, and for this reason Five Guys gets its spuds from different states depending on the growing season. A chalkboard in front actually lists the place of origin that day– be it Maine or Idaho. Fries, which come in regular or Cajun flavor, are scooped hot into cups and tossed along with the rest of your order into brown-paper bags.

When you pick up your order, you'll likely be told to keep the bag open– "the fries stay fresher that way." Ample ketchup and bottles of malt-vinegar are on-hand to spike the spuds, right next to a huge box of (free) shelled peanuts. Sesame seed buns are as classic as they get, and like everything else here, are fresh and preservative-free.

Owned and operated by Bill and Marti McKechnie, who recently moved to Charlottesville from Alexandria, Five Guys may bring new life to this formerly quiet niche at Barracks Road.

At the inaugural party on Sunday, September 26­ which was also a benefit for Charlottesville's Free Clinic­ music spilled out into the piazza, and the usually lonely fountain was surrounded by happy burger eaters. I can only imagine how the space will evolve when Panera opens later this season.


Buffet Blindspot

 You may never have noticed the pizzeria next to The Tavern on Emmet Street. Perhaps that's because Buffet-Style Pizza allegedly didn't sell single slices. Meadowbrook Shopping Center manager Bill Rice says the restaurant had a yearlong lease but was actually open for only a few months.

That's why he wants to be sure the new tenant would be a likely winner. Owned by Ned Sinnot, a UVA grad, SuperStars Pizza, specializing in gourmet pies and subs, is going strong with a student-friendly location near the University of Richmond.

In Rice's view, Wahoos will love it, too. More on this place as it comes into fuller view.

General Manager and cook Nevada Thompson surveys the grilled goods at Five Guys Burgers and Fries.