There is nothing quite so American as a cheeseburger with French fries and a Coke. The burger joint is the quintessential symbol of our country’s food culture, and they can be found just about everywhere, each claiming to be bigger and better than the next.
Enter Smashburger, founded in Denver in 2007 by Tom Ryan, the man responsible Pizza Hut’s stuffed crust pizza and McDonald’s McGriddle and McFlurry. Since its inception, Smashburger has expanded all over the country, promising delicious hamburgers literally smashed to perfection on the grill.
I was invited to a media preview yesterday at the new Louisville Smashburger located on Shelbyville Road. Having never heard of Smashburger, I did some research and learned that the concept behind the chain is that their burgers, made with 100% Angus beef, are formed into balls and then smashed into a patty, thus locking in juices and flavor. I must admit to some skepticism when I read this; how else does one form a hamburger patty, I thought, than by smashing it into shape? I’ll come back to this.
Upon arrival, I was greeted by the store’s general manager who encouraged me to order whatever I wanted, as much as I wanted, and to feel free to ask any questions. I gladly obliged – it was lunch time, and I hadn’t eaten breakfast.
The menu is quite impressive. It offers a wide variety of hamburgers and chicken sandwiches, as well as sides, salads, and hot dogs. I decided to go basic and order the Classic Burger, which comes topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, pickles, and smash sauce. What, I inquired, is smash sauce? It is pretty basic: mustard, mayonnaise, and relish, with “just a squirt” of lemon juice. I also ordered the smashfries (which differ from normal French fries in that they are tossed with rosemary, olive oil, and garlic) and the highly recommended fried banana pepper rings.
After ordering, I was approached by Tom Ryan himself, who had come out for the occasion. The affable Mr. Ryan welcomed me to the restaurant, talked a bit about their menu, and offered me a behind-the-scenes look later at what exactly goes into creating a smashburger.
I grabbed a Coke and a seat and not five minutes later was presented with my food. The speed amazed me, especially since it came at no cost to the quality. The burger was incredible; never before have I eaten one quite so moist and tender. Juices ran down my fingers while eating; many napkins lost their lives that afternoon. It is not a burger for those who fear messy hands. The meat was complemented by the crisp, fresh vegetables which contrasted nicely with the soft and subtle egg bun. And the smash sauce? Divine. I would have liked it to have more of a presence, but now I know to order extra sauce next time.
The shoestring fries were hot and crispy. I couldn’t really taste the rosemary or garlic, but they were quite tasty nonetheless. I cannot give a high enough recommendation for the fried banana peppers. Served with a buttermilk ranch dressing for dipping, the golden rings were tender but still crisp, and the spicy-sweet heat had been retained beautifully.
While eating, I perused the paper menu I had been given. Apparently, many Smashburger restaurants will have a specialty sandwich specific to each state, and here they offer the Bluegrass Burger: “Wild Turkey bourbon BBQ sauce, applewood smoked bacon, melted cheddar bar cheese, and fried banana pepper rings on an egg bun.” Other burgers on the menu include the All-American, the Mushroom Swiss, and the Spicy Baja. There is also a create-your-own-burger option if none of these are appealing. For any vegetarians who stop in, a black bean burger is offered.
For those who want to eat a bit lighter, there is a just as extensive selection of chicken sandwiches. Along with a basic sandwich dressed with onion, pickle, lettuce, and tomato, there is a Buffalo chicken sandwich, Bourbon BBQ Ranch, Avocado Club, and Spicy Baja (same as the burger).
Hot dogs are also available: made with 100% Angus beef, they are served standard with ketchup and mustard, Chicago-style with tomatoes, onions, peppers, and pickles, or with chili, cheese, and onions.
The most important option, in my opinion, resided in the bottom right corner of the menu: milkshakes made with Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Despite being full to bursting, I couldn’t help but order a chocolate shake to round out the meal. It was wonderful… but I couldn’t even finish it.
Seeing I was done eating, Tom Ryan came over with an apron and, putting it on, I followed him into the back kitchen area, where he demonstrated the Smashburger method.
Every morning, he explained, a fresh shipment of ground beef is delivered, and this beef is formed into balls and placed in refrigerated drawers under the grill. When a burger is ordered, a little butter is brushed onto the grill. A ball of meat is placed on the grill and covered with a square of parchment paper. All of this is smashed down with a burger patty mold and held for ten seconds. This is the essential difference between their method and merely forming a patty: the parchment paper and sides of the mold really serve to literally lock in the juices. I was impressed.
Upon removal of the mold, the burger is liberally seasoned with salt and pepper. It cooks for about a minute. “You can see it cooking upward, like a pancake,” indicated Ryan. The burger must then very carefully be scraped off with a spatula and flipped. This part is essential: the seared bottom is crisp and flavorful and serves as the backbone of the burger. After another minute, we have a completed Smashburger, ready for dressing.
Smashburger opens today and is located at 9409 Shelbyville Road. It is set back a little, so I didn’t see it right away: it is at the intersection of Shelbyville Road and Hurstbourne Parkway, in the shopping center with the Walgreens. Stop by for lunch and give it a try. I personally guarantee your satisfaction.
Photo courtesy of Smashburger's Facebook page.