Update (11/12/13): This location of Gino's is now closed.
Editor's note: Please welcome Hawk Krall to A Hamburger Today! You may recognize Hawk from his regular Hot Dog of the Week column on Serious Eats (featuring his awesome art). Now he'll be bringing regular Philadelphia burger coverage as well. If you have suggestions, let him know!
Gino's Burgers and Chicken
611 West Dekalb Pike, King of Prussia PA 19406 (map); 610-265-5900, 2 more locations listed at ginosgiant.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Revived 1960s regional chain with some of the best fast-food style burgers in the Philadelphia area
Want Fries with That? Decent skin-on fries with a wild toppings bar
Price: Gino's Giant, $5.59; Bacon Cheeseburger, $6.39; toppings, free; fries, $2.49
Notes: Owned by Gino Marchetti, former Baltimore Colts defensive end
Gino's is a regional fast food chain that had a huge following in the '60s and '70s in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Named after Gino Marchetti, former defensive end of the Baltimore Colts, Gino's was one of the first burger chains to offer burgers made from fresh ground beef and hand cut fries, and their Gino's Giant burger competed with (and was introduced before) the similar Big Mac. The chain disappeared in 1982, until the brand was revived in 2010.
I passed this place a few times and didn't think much of it until my recent search for a half-decent fast food-style burger in Philadelphia. Sure, we have lots of grass-fed beef four-inch thick burgers drowned in truffle butter on brioche buns, but outside of Five Guys and the not-yet opened Philadelphia branch of Shake Shack, finding a delicious thin-patty fast food-style burger that doesn't start life in the freezer is almost impossible here. Gino's isn't even that close to the city, but the drive out to the suburbs is totally worth it.
The restaurant looks like your standard fast food set-up—counter, drink station, tables, and booths—although it's a nice touch that they bring your food out to you when it's ready (and even clean the tables when you leave). Gino's lays it on pretty thick with the '60s retro nostalgia, with old photos of the chain plastered everywhere and giant flat screen TVs blaring extra-crazy old Gino's commercials and jingles.
Burger options include the Gino's Giant—double patty with shredded lettuce, tomato, onion, and "special sauce"—or your choice of a single or double burger topped with anything from the long list of free stuff (grilled onions, mushrooms, jalepeños, chipotle mayonnaise).
The medium well dual burger patties—no temps taken here—were well seasoned and still juicy with a nice crust and flowing with molten American cheese. A lightly toasted Big Marty's soft sesame bun managed to hold everything together, and all of the toppings were well balanced and fresh. Really just a beautiful burger—think Five Guys minus the peanuts and smashed bun, with a lot more care put into your food.
Bacon is another good choice here. Go for it.
The skin-on fries are decent—not sure if they are really hand cut or "hand cut-style," but either way they're worth getting. They're not super crispy but not soggy or greasy either. What really makes the fries sing is the crazy french fry toppings bar where you can bury your fries under malt vinegar, chipotle basil salt, or Gino's own "crab seasoning" for some Crab Fries, aka Old Bay Fries, quite possibly the only culinary tradition that Philadelphia and Baltimore share.
My friend and burger eating assistant (and owner of the iPhone 4S that took these awesome pictures—I don't believe it either) actually compared Gino's to In-N-Out Burger. I don't know about all that, but it might be the closest thing within 20 miles of Philadelphia.
I'm not sure if the suburbs have fully embraced what some are calling "high prices"—I guess in comparison with McDonalds or Burger King. In the city you'll pay $10 or $12 for a mediocre pub burger; if they opened a Gino's in center city I bet people would line up to pay $6 for a Gino's Giant, and give the upcoming Shake Shack invasion some homegrown competition.
About the author: Hawk Krall is a Philadelphia-based illustrator who has a serious thing for hot dogs. Dig his dog drawings? Many of the illustrations he has created for Hot Dog of the Week are available for sale: hawkkrall.net/prints/. Or check out more Philadelphia food adventures at Drawing For Food.