Allen Pierleoni

Mooyah Burgers targets families

The crew at Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes works to serve a roomful of customers.
The crew at Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes works to serve a roomful of customers. apierleoni@sacbee.com

First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at taste@sacbee.com.

Hamburgers and french fries help fuel the restaurant-franchise world, a hungry planet populated by masses of people with no shortage of appetite but with a shortage of time. As was demonstrated last Saturday, as we stood in a long but fast-moving line at the newly opened Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes.

While the other chain restaurants in the Rocklin Commons shopping center “food court” were sparsely populated – Blast Pizza, Chipotle Grill, Noodles & Company, Subway – all the tables were taken at Mooyah and the outdoor deck was filling fast.

Inside, families with children, couples of all ages and a few strangers seated together created a good-natured nonstop din, interrupted by announcements echoing over the PA system to pick up food and milkshake orders. Credit the crowd largely to the “curiosity factor” over a new burger joint in town.

Appropriately, the long-running TV cartoon series “Scooby-Doo” was playing on the TV, and a few youngsters approached the Moodle Doodle chalk board to leave their marks.

Mooyah Burger is an 80-unit international franchise operation headquartered in Dallas. Its founder, Rich Hicks, opened the first one in the Dallas suburb of Plano in 2007. He also created the Texas-centric Tin Star Taco Bar chain.

The Rocklin franchise is owned by El Dorado Hills husband-wife Albert and Shadia Romo, who have an option to open six more Mooyahs over the next six years. Two other Mooyahs operate in California, in Walnut Creek and Morgan Hill, owned by other franchisees.

Menu: Mooyah shares the fast-casual concept with Smashburger and Five Guys Burgers and Fries, offering diners the chance to build their own burgers via myriad choices. Just hope you don’t get behind an indecisive party of five.

The drill goes like this: First, choose a house-baked bun (white or wheat, or iceberg lettuce for an Iceburger), then a patty (never-frozen ground beef from “Midwestern grain-fed” cattle), turkey or vegetarian black bean. Next, choose (and pay for) toppings (cheese, bacon, avocado) and then wade through the long list of free veggies (nine of them, including sautéed mushrooms and jalapeño coins; is “relish” really a vegetable?) and 12 sauces (Mooyah Sauce is a first cousin of Thousand Island dressing).

Our burgers were helped by heaps of toppings that added flavor and heft. Though the 5.3-ounce patty gets 310 of its 430 calories from fat, the well-done meat seemed a bit dry and definitely underseasoned. We should have added a Hebrew National-brand hot dog, or a salad with turkey, beef or chicken tenders. Uh, chicken tenders on salad?

The double-cooked fried-to-order french fries are a menu star, long batons of hand-cut Idaho russets prepared in a “six-step, 24-hour ordeal.” Portions are huge, and the fries are dark, crispy-creamy and well-seasoned.

Price point: We ordered three Mooyah burgers ($5.69 each) with cheese, a small and a medium order of fries ($2.69 and $3.69), a milkshake and a soda for a total of $37.09. It was a lot of food for the money.

Ambiance: There’s a good vibe in the restaurant, and everything was clean and tidy, despite the traffic. “Family-friendly” is the operative term, a significant contributor to the decibel level.

Drinks: Milkshakes come in 10 flavors. Our mint-chocolate chip was thick enough to make the straw ineffective, but melted quickly, and was more sweet than creamy-rich. The company points out that it uses “real ice cream” with 10 percent butterfat content, which is the minimum FDA standard. By comparison, super-premium ice cream has 14-16 percent butterfat, while premium brands such as Häagen-Dazs contain 12-14 percent butterfat. Just sayin’.

Service: The crew behind the counter was a blur of nonstop activity, handling perhaps 100 or so customized orders during our stay. Given such activity level, we could forgive errors on our orders, which – on social media, at least – seems to be a common complaint.

For instance, one of our burgers was covered in ballpark mustard, when it was ordered without. The milkshake was topped with messy whipped cream and a cherry, when it was requested plain. The vegetarian in our group later ate at Noodles & Company after being told, “Sorry, ma’am, but we’re out of black bean burgers.”

A major water spill at our table was quickly and efficiently cleaned up by two staffers in a no-fuss way, an impressive display of professionalism.

First impressions: The burgers were OK, but even if they weren’t it wouldn’t matter – is there a burger-and-fries chain that hasn’t been a hit? We’d go back for an order of fries if we were in the neighborhood. Mooyah gets points for its transparent nutritional and allergen data, its list of gluten-free items and its “dietitian-approved” menu.

Try it if: You love burgers ’n’ fries any time, anywhere, or you want to be among the first (of thousands) to try the new place. Or if you’re on a continuing quest to find outstanding french fries.

Forget it if: You prefer hand-formed, juicy burgers in a quieter setting that doesn’t produce food by assembly line.

Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.

MOOYAH BURGERS, FRIES & SHAKES

Where: 5194 Commons Drive, Rocklin

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays

Information: (916) 660-9591, www.mooyah.com

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