November 29, 2020

The Great Burger Compassion – Four Beef Giants

Burgers from A+B and Five Guys. Photo courtesy of Zachary Daly.

By Zachary Daly ’18
Food Columnist

I sit in my college apartment: bloated, sauce on my fingers, eyes watering from fulfillment, and heart heavy with cholesterol. I’ve just compared a burger from A & B in Beverly to a burger from Five Guys in Peabody. How did I get here?

The story begins in my childhood. My parents would insist upon side-by-side taste test comparisons to settle debates ranging from the best pizza slice to the best brand of eggnog sold at Shoprite. The classic approach is as follows: you place two products next to each other and go back and forth to tease out the nuances and ultimately settle on the best option.  

Now, fast forward to 2015. I was working a Gordon College admissions event in Dallas, Texas, and in a desperate attempt to mingle, freshman me decided that hamburgers were a classy conversation starter. While I hoped to use the topic of wanting to try my first In-and-Out burger to segue into a conversation with some more depth, I instead hit an artery.

One man enthusiastically told me to go for it and have my first In-and-Out burger. Four others told me to not waste my time, but to instead look past the California hype, and get a good old-fashioned Texan What-A-Burger. Wow! Who was I to believe? Do absolutes even exist or is everything relative?

That night, Laurie Truschel, Gordon’s Director of Young Alumni and Student Engagement, graciously took me to both restaurants, allowing me to compare the pinnacle of American Cuisine side by side in the hotel lobby. Bite after bite, I was shook. In-and-Out looked and tasted better, but What-A-Burger kept drawing me in with its authentically Texan ways.  

Now, as a food columnist, I set out to settle another debate. A few weeks ago, I discovered that I live among haters, the ones that try to tear you down and teach you poor taste in burgers.

After bringing up A&B, the classic go-to upmarket burger in the area, I was shut down by one of the aforementioned haters. Arms flailing, He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named abruptly informed me that Five Guys was better than A&B.

After cutting this person out of my life—because sometimes you have to shed those who are toxic—I decided to compare the two burgers. At first, people said that it could not be done. “How can you compare apples and oranges?” they said.

I said, “Watch me.”

After evaluating the finances, a burger and small fry from Five Guys comes out to about $11 with tax. The A burger with salt fries from A&B comes out to $14 flat if you get take out, thus avoiding tip. With only a $3 difference, I felt a comparison was viable.

I began with the fries, since potatoes are America’s spirit animal. As for basic appearance, A&B put forward a classic thick and golden fry. Five Guys also put forward a thick fry, but one with a dark brown appearance (which I appreciate for uniqueness). With the side by side comparison, the Five Guys fry pulled ahead with an overall better flavor. Five Guys managed to put together a fry that hits many notes, as if playing a full musical scale. In contrast, the A&B fry hit one note really well, but who wants to hear a trombone hit a B flat for 5 minutes?

Shifting in my seat, I turned towards the main event. Four buns and three beef patties sat before me. From an aesthetic standpoint, the A&B was beautiful (reference picture above). The squat Five Guys burger instead gave that classic American sloppy burger image, complete with the poppy seeds on top.

Moving on past shallow characteristics, I enjoyed bite after bite, going between the two. It was a beautiful mess that melted away the stress of school, and for a moment it is just me and two burgers.

My verdict is that the meat from A&B burger is incomparable to the meat from Five Guys. At almost the same price point, I was shocked at how poorly the Five Guys burger meat held up. The Five Guys burger was very good, but had a flavor that was too consistent throughout. Every bite was the same. In contrast, the A&B burger had nuance and hit multiple notes throughout the burger.

I chalk this difference up to the ethos of each company. One is a casual fast food chain intent on building franchises across the country, while another is a local business offering catering to a crowd that is not looking for convenience, but the enjoyment of a quality meal.


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