In the past year or two, several places have popped up around town featuring gourmet takes on that most American of delicacies, the hamburger. One of the most anticipated was Five Star Burgers, which opened in Clayton last fall. The latest project from Steve Gontram, former chef/owner of Harvest, Five Star attempts to marry high-end culinary creativity, quality ingredients and green practices, with delicious and affordable results.

Nothing goes with burgers like beer, and Five Star had plenty of local craft beers to choose from, like pints of Civil Life American Brown Ale ($5) and Perennial Southside Blonde ($5). We definitely recommend the Five Star Happy Hour from 4 to 6 p.m. daily, when these and the rest of the draft beer offerings are half-price. Although we were in the mood for hops during our visit, the beverage menu also had a surprising selection of classic cocktails to choose from that we intend to sample next time around.

The Roast Tomato Soup ($4) topped with crispy cheese curds, was a creamy, savory way to warm up on a cold winter's eve, and a good way to whet the appetite for the main attractions. The menu had plenty of salads and specialty sandwiches to choose from, but for our first time out, burgers were the order of the day. What better place to start than the eponymous 5 Star Burger ($8)? This burger was a straight-ahead classic, a patty of natural Angus beef from Creekstone Farms, rare and with beautifully crusted edges, garnished in old-school fashion with lettuce, tomato, onion and a pickle. We added a slice of American cheese for an additional buck for the ultimate classic burger interpretation. Add to that a side of Natural-Cut Idaho Russet Fries ($1) and it was as close to burger heaven as we've been in quite some time. From there, things got spicy with the Dad's Green Chile Cheeseburger ($9). Another juicy patty, this one was pumped up with chilies, pepper jack cheese and green chili mayonnaise. The result was a nice, slow burn that didn't overwhelm the meaty goodness, and it paired nicely with an order of tangy Fried Pickles ($2), replete with a garlicky tzatziki sauce.

Where so many burger places go wrong is in the post-grill phase. They take a perfectly cooked patty and then obliterate that fine beef with layers of unnecessary toppings that serve to just muddy the flavor waters. Not so at Five Star, and this is where Gontram's fine-dining background pays off nicely. The burgers are put together carefully, with an emphasis on flavors and textures working together to create a taste sensation that was more than the sum of its parts.

The menu had plenty of shakes, floats and cones to satisfy the pickiest sweet tooth. The Salted Caramel Shake ($6), made with local favorite Serendipity ice cream and topped with whipped cream and roasted marshmallows, was our dessert of choice, quite possibly the ultimate frozen dairy treat.

In addition to great food, Five Star Burgers also has a commitment to green practices, using only fully recyclable, recycled, biodegradable and/or compostable paper products, and the kitchen is filled with energy-efficient equipment, among other earth-friendly initiatives. Have a great burger, and feel good about it.

Five Star Burgers, 8125 Maryland Ave., 720-4350,

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