I walked away from a recent media lunch at Smashburger, hosted the day they opened in Sarasota, with three thoughts weighing heavy on my mind.
First, who would have ever thought that smashing could make food taste so much better that you’d name your restaurant after it? Obviously, I had some juicy details to learn.
Rod Boyer, VP of Franchise Operations, was kind enough to explain the smashing success behind Smashburger’s franchise record-breaking madness. He explained that when grilling frozen burgers, like so many places do, smashing them against the grill makes little difference, since the juices are pretty much non-existent at that point. But, when it comes to grilling fresh Certified Angus Beef® (as in never frozen,) smashing fresh beef patties against a flat-top grill was how burgers were originally cooked all those decades before fast-food took over the American palate. But rather than just talk about the difference smashing makes, the crew at Smashburger started bringing out food for us to sample.
At Smashburger, they start with a 385-degree grill and paint the flat top with real, unsalted clarified butter. Then, they place a loosely packed ball of Certified Angus Beef® on the grill, and smash it with a custom metal “smasher” with sides on it, similar to those on a cookie cutter. This smashing shapes the ball of beef into a perfect-sized patty, while searing the burger with a crispy, caramelized shell. Trapping the patty inside the edges of the smasher makes all the difference, as it pushes the juices up into the burger, instead of out onto the grill. But the real secret is in the timing of the smash. . . 10 seconds. No more, no less. Just enough where they caramelize in all that buttery goodness. Even the buns are toasted in butter, which creates a crunchy crust that forms a protective barrier against all that juicy goodness, instead of soaking into the bun. And, please . . . don’t let me start on those absolutely amazing egg buns. That’s the second thing I kept thinking about after our visit to Smashburger . . . Their egg buns. These buns are so pillowy soft and flavorful, I would adore them all by themselves.
At Smashburger, we’re reminded that magic happens when meat and heat collide. Just ask fast-food mastermind, Tom Ryan, Founder and Chief Concept Officer of Smashburger, a Denver-based outfit that has been steadily racking up accolades—and more than 300 storefronts—since 2007. Tom’s resume includes such culinary inventions as Stuffed Crust Pizza®, McGriddles®, Fruit & Yogurt Parfait®, McFlurry® and the Quiznos Steakhouse Beef Dip®. (That’s a whole lot of registered trademarks!) In fact, Tom Ryan is called a “foodie savant” by those who know him best. As a Smashburger co-founder, Tom has focused this talent for culinary innovation into his own fast-casual restaurant, unleashing that creativity in healthy, fresh and delicious flavors, with options like gluten free buns, black bean burgers, and a create your own burger or chicken option where you’re can take control of your own diet. There are two different sized burger patties to choose from, as well as different portion sizes in their four fresh salad options.
At our media lunch, we were treated to 4 different burgers, 2 unique chicken sandwiches, and their popular black bean burger. Fortunately, each tasting was cut into four, so we could taste away without feeling too guilty. We were also treated to baskets of their haystack onion rings, thinly sliced french fries (with the skin on,) sweet potato fries and some yummy fried pickle chips.
Rather that go into details on every sandwich, let me call out a few favorites. In addition to the original Smashburger (their #1 seller,) we were impressed with the BBQ, Bacon & Cheddar Burger, a classic Smashburger topped with cheddar, applewood-smoked bacon, haystack onion rings and BBQ sauce. The flavors just exploded in my mouth; the bacon crunchy and smokey, the sweetness of the onion rings embracing all that burger goodness. Just look at those thick slabs of perfectly cooked bacon and haystack onion rings!
In consideration of the more ‘adult’ palate, Smashburger presents the Truffle Mushroom Swiss burger. I couldn’t help but think this is the perfect sandwich for those nights when the kids want a burger or hot dog while mom and dad crave something a bit more elevated. Here the secret is a truffle oil mayo, sauteed crimini mushrooms and aged swiss. Are we really in a burger joint? You bet your egg buns you are!
Also appealing a bit more to the adventurous palate is the Spicy Jalapeno Baja Grilled Chicken sandwich. A pounded chicken breast, cooked to juicy perfection, tops a spicy chipotle bun, with pepper jack cheese, jalapenos and chipotle mayo bringing on the heat, while crisp lettuce, tomato, onion and fresh guacamole add a cooling factor. Do you see that crunchy fresh jalapeno? Those babies aren’t out of a jar, so prepare yourself for some zing! I only had a quarter of this sandwich, and believe me. . . it left an impression. A good one! You can order any of these sandwiches with grilled chicken, crispy chicken or the black bean burger.
Speaking of which, a favorite of several of the media darlings joining us that day was the Avocado Ranch Black Bean Burger. This vegetarian menu option is served on a multi-grain bun, with melted pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato and ranch dressing. Big slices of fresh avocado enhance this sandwich in such a way that I can’t imagine ever enjoying a black bean burger again without the creaminess that the avocado brought to the taste. Really, really delicious.
While writing this blog, I’m reminded that Smashburger does something unique to each market, creating a regional favorite burger that you can only get in that store. (What a brilliant way to keep their food savant engaged!) In Sarasota, it’s the Medianoche Sandwich, available with either beef or chicken, and topped with smoked ham, aged Swiss, pickles, red onion and mustard on that amazing egg bun we loved so much. This does not taste exactly like a Cuban sandwich, but the inspiration is clearly present in each and every bite.
And finally, the third thing I took away from our visit to Smashburger is this . . . While your SarasotaFoodies focus our blog on all those amazing locally owned restaurants we adore in Sarasota, we’d be remiss not to talk about Smashburger just because they’re a franchise. In my humble opinion, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better burger joint to take your family. Try it out yourself and let us know what you think.
And don’t forget one of their Haagen Daz® milkshakes. . . even if it means taking one home with you. Just sayin’!