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Wise Guys know their burgers. Plus they make a familiar macaroni and cheese. Try both if you can handle it.
BY KURT RABIN
There's a new, independently owned, fast-casual burger joint in town. Well, in the town of Orange, to be exact, in a high-ceilinged historic building next to the train station. With its mid-level pricing and single-counter pickup and ordering, Wise Guys will remind you of another group of guys--Five Guys--only with a more extensive menu.
You don't have to like Martin Scorsese or gangster flicks to love Wise Guys. We're talking wise guys as in comedians. Adorning the walls are black-and-white stills from classic comedy movies--from "Ghostbusters" to "Annie Hall"--along with printed snippets of their dialogue.
The owners of Wise Guys will be laughing all the way to the bank if, as is their plan, they end up franchising. They might really be onto something with that zany concept of theirs. I mean, isn't there something kind of comical about burgers--starting with that character Wimpy in the old Popeye cartoons? ("I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.") Of course, growing up I had a hard time finding the humor in ground beef. Fact is, we'd have gladly paid our mom to simply forget about patty-making altogether. A true trailblazer, she "blackened" her burgers years before Cajun cuisine came into vogue.
That's not a problem at Wise Guys, where the juicy, delicious burgers ($4.25) are grilled to perfection. My wife paired hers with nicely done shoestring fries. Meanwhile, I couldn't resist the allure of a scrumptious steak-and-cheese sub, with provolone ($6.75).
I must have suffered a brain cramp, though, when I ordered a side of mac-and-cheese ($2.50). When the cashier said, "It's good; we use Kraft," I thought he meant they used Kraft cheddar or perhaps its poor relation, Velveeta. Either would have been fine. What he meant was they prepared it using actual Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner. Hey, I don't have to leave home to get that!
But then my wife took a bite and, nodding approvingly, said, "They must have put a lot of butter in it, this is exactly how my grandma used to make it!" But, wait! Had Grammy fiddled with the "golden ratio" listed right there on the box: ¼ cup milk to 4 tablespoons butter? In any case, Wise Guys' interpretation was definitely of the 4-tablespoons-plus variety, and--so there was no mistaking its provenance--came served in a plastic dinosaur belly that made me feel like I was 4 years old and soon prompted our shoestrings-for-mac-and-cheese swap.
For dessert we had a rich, chewy peanut butter-chocolate cookie ($1) and an "Unbelievable Turtle Brownie" ($2) that was, in fact--like almost everything at Wise Guys--unbelievably good for the price.
When I later inquired about the cut of meat in my steak sub (top sirloin), I let slip to the counterman that, with its soft roll, it had been a little messy to handle. "The best sandwiches," he countered, "are the ones you've got to eat with a fork." Amen to that!
Still, you might want to ask for utensils, and extra napkins, with that Wise Guys steak-and-cheese and--unless you happen to be a big fan of cheesasaurus rex--a gratin dish for the mac-and-cheese.
Kurt Rabin: 540/374-5000
Desserts: $1-$3The Scoop: Family-friendly, service with a smile, good food, great value, seating, on-street parking Payment: Major credit cards accepted