The battle for burger supremacy is on in East Lansing.
With Bagger Dave’s opening last week on Grand River
Avenue, the year-old Five Guys Burgers and Fries a few blocks west has
some competition in the deluxe-franchise-burger-joint market.
While Five Guys revels in simple, greasy, sloppy messes,
Bagger Dave’s mission is more refined with a broader, more nuanced menu
and even wine or beer pairings for your meal — pretentious, perhaps,
but it’s nice to not feel like you have to change clothes after eating.
Walk in through the backdoor at Five Guys, and you might
hit a slick patch of grease just outside the kitchen like I did.
Instead of residing in a store room, enormous jugs of peanut oil, sacks
of potatoes and boxes of peanuts share space with customers near the
At Five Guys, empty peanut shells litter the floor and
foot traffic streams by along the bustling Grand River corridor.
Self-promotion, in the form of press clippings and a garish red and
white checker design, is relentlessly repeated inside. Add in shouting
cooks and it felt a little like walking into a carnival.
The hype is heavy, and so are the burgers. Don’t expect
specialties, though, unless you build it yourself; a bacon cheeseburger
is as fancy as it gets.
A cheeseburger runs $5.49, but it’s really a double
cheeseburger with two hand-pressed patties that were nearly as thick as
my hand — enough meat for two people.
A burger “all the way” comes dressed
with grilled onions and mushrooms, mayo, lettuce, pickles, tomato,
ketchup and mustard. It’s a big burger, but it can be bigger with four
more items and three additional sauces.
The beef is fine, cooked a little on the well-done side.
With so many toppings, though, nearly all flavors get lost. All I
really tasted was the tang of yellow mustard and ketchup. And the
flimsy white bread buns don’t do much to contain the mess such a burger
Regular fries run $2.69. A cook scooped enough
pinky-thick and starchy fries into a cup to satisfy a healthy human
being; he then proceeded to pile a few more loose handfuls atop the cup
of fries and aluminum foil-wrapped burger at the bottom of a brown
paper bag. (The seasoned-salt-dusted Cajun fries are tasty but have absolutely no heat.)
If you want spicy, go with jalapeños. I tried the
thick-sliced hot peppers with sweet relish and raw onion on a kosher
style hot dog ($3.39) split down the middle. Unlike the overloaded
burger, I could taste, feel and enjoy distinctive flavors.
Service ends at the pick-up counter at Five Guys. Diners
tote their grease-stained bags, which double as plates, to tables where
the demolition begins.
Bagger Dave’s is a different experience, likely a
preferable experience for those who no longer root around under dorm
room couch cushions looking for loose change. Five Guys provides more
bang for the buck in terms of quantity (you get more than you should
eat), but outside of a frat house, who wants cold, day-old french fries
The menu is much more extensive at
Bagger Dave’s, with a half-dozen specialty burgers, sandwiches,
appetizers, beer, wine, desserts and (gasp!) even salads.
I went with the Blues Burger ($5.69). Two patties, also
hand-pressed but thinner than at Five Guys, come in a toasted (and
substantial) sesame seed bun with bleu cheese, lettuce, tomato and a
Cajun seasoning that I could not taste.
The Bagger Dave’s offering was gourmet
compared to the hot mess of Five Guys, but it’s still a rung below the
best I’ve had in this area from Old Town’s Trailer Park’d.
The sweet potato chips at Bagger Dave’s
are worth a try. Light and airy, sweet and salty, I preferred the chips
to the overcooked fries that came with the Mix n’ Match appetizer
The Michigan Meltdown ($5.09) — grilled cheese with bacon
— comes on buttery Texas toast with Swiss, mozzarella, cheddar,
tomatoes and onions. It’s the fresh basil leaves, though, that add a
worthwhile dimension to what would otherwise be a pretty boring
Inside, Bagger Dave’s is more relaxed than the kinetic
feel of Five Guys. A model train circles along tracks bolted to the
walls near the ceiling, and while there’s some hype on the menu
(self-proclaimed legendary burgers and sauces), the wood paneling and
earth tones contrast strongly with the shrill design down the street.
If you want a county fair atmosphere and food you’ll
(hopefully) forget in a half-hour, Five Guys is your kind of place. If
you’re looking for a burger joint you might go to more than once a
year, head to Bagger Dave’s.
1351 E. Grand River Ave., East Lansing
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
TO, OM, $
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
623 E. Grand River Ave., East Lansing
11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
TO, OM, $