Smashburger aims to reinvent the casual hamburger experience with an array of upscale burgers presented with flavorful, healthy toppings. The Denver-based chain, which last week opened its 256th location at Durham’s Pavilion East at Lakeview shopping center on Erwin Road, also serves grilled chicken sandwiches and salads that are superior to most fast food joints.
The thing that makes a Smashburger different from dozens of other chain options is the way they are prepared. Starting with certified angus beef that is never frozen, burgers begin as loose balls of meat that are placed on the grill atop a pat of sizzling butter. A proprietary tool then is used to, yes, smash the meatball into familiar burger form.
The result is a crisp sear on a burger unafraid to show its shiny curves. Fat imparts essential flavor in beef, and tender egg buns are the ideal conveyance. The 1/3-pound Smash is $5.99 and the ½-pound Big Smash is $6.99 (add-ons, like bacon or avocado, are $1 each).
The first combination offered to guests was the Classic Smash, with American cheese, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion – plus, of course, secret housemade Smash sauce. More adventurous choices include the BBQ, Bacon & Cheddar, with its tangy-sweet cranberry barbecue sauce, and the Carolina Chili Burger, a regional specialty with well balanced ingredients served on a pretzel bun. The Truffled Mushroom & Swiss, with its distinctive flavor coming from a mayo-based spread, was a favorite at our table.
While the vegetarian Avocado Ranch Black Bean burger generated mixed reviews – it got a solid thumbs-up from me – there was strong consensus that that grilled chicken sandwiches were very good. In fact, they were better than the burgers. Chicken sandwiches are $6.99 each. (Salads were not sampled but sound tempting from the menu descriptions; they are $5.99 each, with optional grilled chicken for an extra $2).
The meal was capped off with a sample of Smashburger’s thick and creamy milkshakes makes with Haagen-Das ice cream ($3.99 to $4.29). The sea salt caramel was slurp-worthy but too sweet. Asking your server to customize a slightly less syrupy version would be well advised.
Smashburger has offered Eating My Words readers a chance to win a pair of coupons for free entrées at the Durham location. To enter, follow @Smashburger online and enter a comment below by 12 noon Friday, March 21, stating which menu item you are most curious to try. A winner will be selected randomly.