The Smashburger Edition

March 10, 2016

The Vitals:
the burger: smashed double cheeseburger on an egg bun, american cheese, custom sauce, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickle, ketchup
the bucks: $7.99
the coordinates: tested in Austin, TX(locations nationwide)

For some, patience is a virtue. I think it’s kind of overrated. I didn’t always feel this way, certainly not in the days of my moderately spoiled youth where I would turn coming home with an “A” on a book report into a trip to KB Toy Store(that’s the 80s version of Toys R Us in case you’re a Millennial). Harnessing the power to persuade while gingerly finagling is all about patience and patience was so often the key in convincing my parents that a $60 Transformer was instrumental to my path of mastering the works of Ernest Hemingway. Today, in our food crazed world we certainly wait for food, in which case patience is paramount. The other day I waited 3.5 hours in a line for BBQ. This act not only demonstrated my own patience, but that of my wife’s for putting up with a man who single handedly altered her weekend with an act of lunch. Which brings me to Smashburger, a burger chain who I patiently waited to try, even though I longed for their style of smashed burgers when I lived in Los Angeles, a town surprisingly deficient in such style. The great burger of my youth was Steak ‘n Shake, and in the 20 years I lived in LA, I would dream – literally dream about finding a branch of the Midwest burger chain somewhere in the outer environs of Southern California. It took me just over a year to make my inaugural trip to Smashburger. And then it took another two years before I gave it the requisite second and third Bang for your Burger Buck trials. I suppose the reason for my lag in return visits was that I wasn’t initially blown away. And while $8 for a double cheeseburger, not cooked to temp, may not scream deal of the century, I have to say that my patience with Smashburger is indeed your reward because I ultimately did find a version that really exemplifies the smashed burger style. I suppose patience isn’t too overrated but I’m going to let this burger justify all that.IMG_8113Often when looking for Bang, for zeroing in on the absolute deal at a worthy temple of burger, one must toy and tinker with the menu. Smashburger, like many modern fast casual restaurants, likes to offer plenty o’ options, which can overcomplicate what should be simple acts of lunch. This could have been why my original plan of attack at Smashburger involved a truffled cheeseburger for $6. A compelling deal on paper but one more suited to a blog named Bang for your Truffle Buck. My final visit focused on simplicity, which delivers a powerful narrative of nostalgia in the world of burgers. Kids love ketchup and grow up to realize that the very taste of this omnipresent condiment can take them back to the days when they called it a day at 3pm. And an afternoon stop to the Golden Arches was the OG happy hour. Ketchup was key to finding Bang for your Burger Buck at Smashburger but it is one of two sauces at play here. The other is the Smash Sauce. The ingredients are a secret but research by obsessed Smashburger fans indicates that a combo of mayo, mustard, and chopped pickle and a splash of pickle brine are the likely suspects. An enthused employee(at store #1208 in ATX, who earned the props) described the sauce as “deviled eggs” and I wholeheartedly agree – a sharp zest tagging along for what would at first glance seem to be just another overtly creamy affair. The very same enthused employee implored me to order ketchup as well. She insisted that the sweetness of the ketchup was essential. Upon on further thought, one would wonder why not just combine ketchup into the smash sauce. I think the answer lies on this saucy smeared lettuce.IMG_4640Smashburger wants you to taste the ketchup separately. They want your burger bite to take you back to an age when aioli was called mayonnaise and thick burgers with red centers were the kinds Daddies and Mommies ordered. They don’t want a Thousand Island type experience, because they don’t want to be confused with In-N-Out. This is a signature condiment move, and is critical to why Smashburger is a worthy addition to what is fast becoming a crowded field of burger competitors. They aren’t just looking at the patty, they are looking at the burger as a whole. But hey, let’s talk about that patty though.IMG_4637Almost an 1/8th of the cost of this burger went into the second layer of cheese and it was worth the money. The play to be made at Smashburger is to make the most out of the contrast of textures through your topping selection, and this meant choosing a sea of gooey cheese to match the double patty serving of well seared beef. Even though I believe Gruyere to be the best cheese choice to grace a burger, I don’t think I will ever grow weary of watching American cheese melt onto a burger, it’s what a cheeseburger should look like. You expect going in that Smashburger will be all about the texture of the burger patty but it has to be complimented with the right toppings in order for the experience to deliver in full. I have no doubt that a meat-cheese-bun event at Smash is well worth trying but you gotta love stacking a burger in it’s classic form.IMG_8114Yes this double cheeseburger may cost $8 but it’s a man sized two fister. If you order fries you are doing so to be excessive, as I was on this day. There are actually two size options for the burgers here and these are the “regular”. They have a 1/2 pounder on the menu, sampled on an earlier visit, but I think that smaller patties make for a better smashed experience.  With the smaller patties, I find that the crispness of the burger’s exterior becomes a more dominant feature.  And folks, that’s why you come to Smashburger. When the texture of the smashing technique is shown off to the fullest, this burger is worth every penny, and that my friends is Bang for your Burger Buck.IMG_4644But I can’t say this version is my final go to. One issue I have at Smashburger is their use of red onion, far too spicy and bitter for the burger flavor profile I believe they should be aiming for. The sweetness of chopped white onion would be a better match, flavor wise. And I think I might 86 the pickles to see how much briny punch I could get from the Smash Sauce alone. Part of me also wants to try a single burger with a single slice of cheese which would drop the price down almost by $2. But I hesitate for fear that doing so would put too much emphasis on the serviceable but far from compelling egg bun. Like the name implies, Smashburger is for smashed burger fans, of which I certainly am a member of. It is not a place that screams deal nor are they blazing any new burger trails, but they are carrying on a fine burger tradition and spreading it nationwide. Upping the burger game and ensuring a quality burger experience while scaling is a good thing, it’s Bang for your Burger Buck in the big picture. And I’m glad that I stayed patient while giving this spot a chance. Maybe patience isn’t overrated, then again if Smashburger remained patient, it would have probably taken me even longer to get around to trying it.

See, patience kinda is overrated.

Locations nationwide

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3 responses to “The Smashburger Edition”

  1. Terri Miller says:

    It seems, from the picture, that they use leaf lettuce. This is actually an important feature of a good burger as well. The style of lettuce can make or break the burger for me so it would be good to make a note of it. I find that shredded lettuce detracts from the overall burger; too much sauce and cheese gets hung up in the lettuce and the shreds then tend to fall off taking some of your flavors along.

    • blackbookali says:

      I hear ya Terri. What is a deal breaker for me is a lot of Iceberg stem. I can accept shredded lettuce from a texture standpoint but it is basically saying “we don’t get great produce”.

  2. Brad Brown says:

    Ali, I just ran across your post here (I’m the franchise operator in the Austin market), and wanted to say thanks for the thorough review! I enjoyed reading your thoughts, and appreciate the insight from someone who has made quite a study of burgers all over the country.

    If you ever want to know more about us, or if you’d like to meet at the restaurant some time so I can set you up to sample a wider spread, I’m always available. Thanks again!

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