City Paper is not for tourists
The doe-eyed cashier seems puzzled. “What’s that?” she replies.
Maybe she’s playing dumb. But, if Aberdeen burger joint Grab-N-Go is indeed trying to rip-off the West Coast’s heralded fast-food chain In-N-Out, as the latter company claims in a recent trademark-infringement lawsuit, then employees aren’t letting on.
This seems in keeping with the company line. “Livid” proprietor Gus Siperko told the OC Register that he’d never “even heard of In-N-Out” until he received a cease and desist letter in May. If anything, Siperko suggested, Grab-N-Go more closely resembles fellow burger chain Five Guys with its similar red and white interior.
Young & Hungry recently dropped by the much-in-the-news Maryland eatery, conveniently located along Rt. 22, just off I-95, to check out the disputed food and decor for himself.
Admittedly, it’s been a few years since I set foot inside an In-N-Out. So I texted my brother in Los Angeles for the quick skinny on what defines the chain’s signature off-menu “animal-style” burger. “Grilled onions and their ‘spread’ sauce (aka thousand island),” he replied. “I would quadruple triple-check that though.” (Turns out, he’s pretty spot on, though company’s “not-so-secret menu” posted online spells it out specifically as “extra spread” sauce. Oh, and there are pickles, too.) “Animal style is less some kind of sacred recipe as it is a fun gimmick that makes In-N-Out an experience,” my insightful sibling added. “Don’t know if that’s really rip-off-able. Secret menus are pretty common.”
Grab-N-Go’s gimmick isn’t such a secret, or even a pseudo-secret. Its alleged “animal-style” knock-off is posted in plain sight and big letters. It’s called the “wild style burger,” and it is, indeed, quite similar to In-N-Out’s not-so-secret formula.
Grilled onions? Check. Special sauce? Check. Similar to Thousand Island dressing? A quick bite confirms it; further verified through subsequent drippings.
The biggest difference: Grab-N-Go’s version features not a single but a pair of patties by design. Very Five Guys-esque.
At this point, I’m beginning to side with my Left Coast contemporary at OC Weekly, who wonders, “if it’s not so easy to tell whether a place is similar to Five Guys or In-N-Out, why isn’t In-N-Out going after Five Guys, arguably their biggest and most able competitor?”
Later, as I drive-off, armed with a soggy bag of leftover fries, my gaze is immediately drawn to a strangely familiar-looking Italian restaurant nearby, curiously named The Olive Tree.
Is Aberdeen the knock-off capital of Maryland, or what?
Photos by Chris Shott