Is Smashburger really the “better burger restaurant,” as the chain’s PR folks like to say (repeatedly)?
After attending a media tasting last night at its new Bethesda location, I guess it’s a question of “better than what?”
I’ll reserve complete judgment until I check out other fast casual competitors such as Bobby’s Burger Palace, Elevation Burger, and Bethesda’s upcoming City Burger.
But at least for now, I’d put Smashburgers’ burgers somewhere above Five Guys and Kraze Burgers, but below Shake Shack and the neighboring Bold Bite and BGR The Burger Joint.
Smashburger delineates itself from the burgeoning burger market with its “smashed” patties. The technique (which you can watch on YouTube, of course) involves covering, flattening and searing an Angus beef mound on a flat top grill with a sided metal contraption that’s supposed to caramelize the surface and seal in the fat and juices. After 10 seconds, the flattener is removed, and the meat cooks for about three minutes more, with a flip in between.
I’d say the gimmick works; the patties really are juicy.
At last night’s tasting of seven items (four hamburgers, one black bean and two chicken), the best of the beef bunch were the uber-flavorful BBQ, Bacon and Cheddar Burger, and the Truffle Mushroom Swiss.
The Regional Burger, designed for the Washington metropolitan area (the chain has exclusive specialty burgers in each of its markets) was the biggest disappointment. The burger, which came with Swiss cheese, tomatoes, onion and bacon, had two ingredients—arugula and a brioche bun—that were meant to represent the sophistication of this area, according to Smashburger spokeswoman Stacie Lange.
Not too clever, and not very special. It pretty much tasted like a souped-up cheeseburger. The black bean burger seemed pretty mushy to me, but it was considerably jazzed up with its chipotle bun, pepper jack cheese, spicy chipotle mayo, fresh jalapenos and guacamole, making it a way better than average vegetarian option.
It’s nice that the chain offers chicken, but the super thin patties didn’t do much for me. I’d say Smashburger does a better job with beef.
What made the tasting particularly unique was that each burger was paired with a different Honest Tea drink (although this was understandably not a very scientific exercise, like coordinating wine with cheese or other foods). The local company signed a deal to serve its organic bottled teas in all 250 Smashburger locations.
Although the tea is available at many fast casual restaurants, this is the biggest chain partnership so far, according to founder and Chevy Chase resident Seth Goldman. Another first: fresh brewed iced Honest Tea, made on the spot at each restaurant from the same recipes in the bottles, will also be offered at all Smashburger locations.
But the Goldman family (dad, mom and their three sons) won’t be eating a BBQ, Bacon and Cheddar Burger at Smashburger anytime soon. They’re all vegetarians.
Nonetheless, Goldman did say he really liked the black bean burger.
4903 Cordell Ave., Bethesda, www.smashburger.com