Smashburger is opening their first location in San Francisco this Saturday, September 21st. They are known as a fast casual restaurant (think Chipotle Mexican Grill or Panera Bread) where you do go up to the counter to place your order and pay, and your food is delivered to your table. The burgers are hand-crafted and made with fresh (never frozen) 100% Certified Angus Beef. They are smashed, seared and seasoned on the grill to juicy perfection for every individual order. The first restaurant opened in 2007 and they now have over 220 locations worldwide, with plans to open five stores in the Bay Area this year and another five to seven in 2014. Fingers crossed one will be in the East Bay, because I found Smashburgers to be appealing and quite affordable. And I must add that the Potrero Hill location is in a strip mall with ample parking to boot.
I was invited to a media preview earlier this week where we met Tom Ryan who is the founder of Smashburger. He is high-level fast-food/QSR brand-and-concept developer known for creating some of the world’s most popular restaurant items including Stuffed Crust Pizza and Lovers™ line at Pizza Hut, McGriddles, Big ‘n Tasty, Dollar Menu, and Fruit and Yogurt Parfaits at McDonald’s and Steakhouse Beef Dip, Prime Rib and Sammies at Quiznos. He received a Ph.D. in Flavor and Fragrance Chemistry, a Masters in Lipid Toxicology and his undergraduate degree in Food Science, all from Michigan State University. He talked about his strategy to put burgers back into people’s lives, introducing us to the menu and sharing little tidbits along the way.
We got to sample just about everything on the menu and began with the sides which were french fry oriented. My favorite were the Smash Fries® ($1.99), petite fries tossed with rosemary, olive oil and garlic. I really loved them dipped into truffle mayo… yes, you heard me, they have truffle mayonnaise and I’m not sure it even costs extra!
The Veggie Frites ($2.99) are flash fried carrot sticks and green beans served with a rich and creamy ranch dressing. These were excellent, cooked aldente, which means that they maintained most of their natural vegetable texture and tasted fresh.
The Haystack Onions ($2.99) are thinly sliced onion, delicately battered and lightly fried to a delectably fragrant crisp.
My friend TK really liked the Sweet Potato Fries ($2.99), which were fried to a satisfyingly crisp texture and well seasoned.
The Deep Fried Dill Pickle chips were really good, made from the crinkle cut, sour/salty variety with a light coating of batter that was cooked to a delicate crisp. They were served with ranch dressing and madly addictive.
Now onto the burgers. This is the Classic Smash ($4.99/$5.99 for a big smash) smash burger topped with American cheese, Smash Sauce, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, pickles and onion on an egg bun. The bun was tender with a lovely density that was lightly griddled with butter. I must say that the knife used to cut these into quarters seemed to be very, very sharp….
A full view of the Classic Smashburger
Truffle mushroom swiss ($5.99/$6.99 for a big smash) is made with truffle mayo, sautéed baby portabella mushrooms, and aged Swiss on an egg bun. It was richly infused with the earthy flavor of truffle and quite good.
Each location has a regional local burger, and our local version is the Bay Burger, which was made with local baby arugula, sauteed baby portabella mushrooms on a smash burger with aged swiss, and truffle mayo on a sourdough ciabatta bun.
Everyone really liked the Classic Smash Chicken, a grilled chicken breast topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, red onion and mayo on a multi grain bun. The chicken is prepared piccata style where the breast is butterflied or sliced along its width and then flattened with a tenderizer.
And then there was the decadent Avocado Club Burger, Smash chicken patty, apple-wood smoked bacon, lettuce & tomato, Ranch Dressing, Mayo on a multigrain bun.
Spicy Veggie Black Bean ($5.99), Fresh jalapenos, guacamole, pepper jack, lettuce, tomato, onion and chipotle mayo on a spicy chipotle bun. And this is most definitely spicy.
This is a closeup view.
And there are a few salads on the menu including this Classic Cobb ($5.99), Fresh greens, fried egg, applewood-smoked bacon, tomatoes, onions, cheddar and blue cheese topped with buttermilk ranch dressing. One of the servers mentioned that since they fry the eggs for the salad, you could feasibly order a breakfast sandwich made from a fried egg, choice of cheese and burger or bacon or chicken or black bean patty on a bun even if it isn’t on the menu… sounds good to me!
Here is one made with Oreo®
After we finished eating, we got tours of the kitchen and watched Tom make a smashburger. Those who wanted to were able to make one too. I was a bit skeptical because modern cooking methods warn you to never smash the burger while cooking because it will squeeze out all the juices. But Tom described how they use a special technique for grinding up the 100% certified angus chuck made from an 80/20 meat-to-fat ratio so that it stays fairly loose and is then packed into 1/3 or 1/2 lb meatballs and stored in refrigerated drawers under the grill.
To make a SmashBurger, Tom demonstrated by placing a meatball on the heated griddle surface that has been greased with a generous amount of butter (400° is the optimal temperature for searing burgers).
The patty is then smashed using a custom-made two handed press held down for 10 seconds to start the searing process.
The burger is aggressively seasoned with a proprietary blend while it cooks, funnels of steam and juices burble through the interstices indicating it is ready, then it is flipped over using a special two handed technique to ensure that the seared crust remains intact. Cooking them in this fashion with the butter caramelizes the bottom of the burger and creates a seared exterior that helps keep the juices in.
The burger, while thin and smashed looking, had a nice charred exterior with a slightly pink interior that was surprisingly juicy and flavorful .
Did I mention that today is National Cheeseburger Day? I am a totally a cheeseburger girl, my sister pefers her burgers cheeseless…. To each their own. Anyways, get ready San Francisco because Smashburgers is on the way!