Danny Gallagher is Big Grey Horse Media’s newest contributing writer. His first assignment was to attend the media preview party for Smashburger in Waco, Texas. Being the agreeable guy that he is, Danny attended and sampled the food for us. Reading through this piece, I am very curious to try Smashburger during the upcoming horse shows in Waco and in Katy.
Hamburgers are a classic part of the American diet because they seem so simple and almost ordinary in their preparation, and yet we have 147 different ways to present them to the hungry masses. Sure, they are just a flat slab of ground beef with a thick piece of bread on either side, but mankind has somehow found a way to improve upon an already perfect marriage of protein and carbohydrates.
Global fast food chains, for instance, have their own spin on the burger, whether it’s the triple decker, special sauce tower known as McDonald’s Big Mac, or the pork-infused, sandwich eating challenge we call Wendy’s Baconator. Some offer small, bite-sized burger snacks like the famed White Castle Slider or the massive, behemoths of meat, cheese, and bread such as the Hardee’s Monster Thickburger. Both, however, are usually eaten when the person is either drunk or hungover, and this rarely leads to a positive emotional and physical outcome.
Today’s eater on-the-go has more health conscious thoughts on his carb-riddled mind, even as he craves something naughty-yet-nourishing as the noble burger. Some chains have tried to cater to this new consumer by offering a more carefully prepared form of comfort food with fresher ingredients and lower calorie offerings. It’s still an unapologetic form of the classic American burger, but these menus offer an interesting mix of artery clogging goodness and some healthier alternatives for people with the nerve to actually stick to a diet plan for longer than five minutes without saying, “I’m starting right after this last french fry. OK, this one. No, wait, this one. I really mean it after this one. Well, I can’t let the rest of these go to waste…”
Smashburger is a strange, unique mix of the two. The establishment encourages patrons to stop, sit, and eat their food rather than have it thrown to them through a car window. However, Smashburger’s menu isn’t full of health food, either, just because it doesn’t come in a wrapper that can be cleverly twisted to serve as a portable holder for the person who doesn’t have time to actually stop and look at what he’s putting into his mouth. You’d be surprised how many people end up getting a big bite of their wallet or cell phone, since both usually have the same nutritional value, except wallets don’t have the same amount of trans fats.
Smashburger’s Waco branch mostly follows the same model as the rest of the 300-plus locations across the country and parts of Canada. It sits in a quaint little shopping area. Parking was plentiful for the media preview party, but it looked a little small for a place that’s about to get a huge influx of customers. Remember, too, there’s no drive-thru lane. It might be best to visit during its non-peak hours or when you’re not pressed for time.
The decor of the restaurant also matches the core of its locations. The Smashburger brand revels in mild art-deco decor with rounded, red lamps dangling from the ceiling and large, monochrome portraits of families enjoying a good ol’ American meal. Since this is a new location, it is practically pristine, and the staff seems eager to keep it that way as long as it can stay open and attract a steady stream of hungry customers. Of course, if you’re in a place like Smashburger, you’re more likely to care about the food anyway.
The menu goes slightly beyond the usual selections of burgers, fries, and large, addictive cylinders of caffeinated colas. If that’s what you’re in the mood for, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re trying to watch what you eat or are just sick of the usual finger food, Smashburger does offer some interesting alternatives with mixed results. Of course, if you’re in the mood for a regular pile of fries, you’re in luck. Smashburger offers a thinly stripped french fry that feels very close to the old shoestring potatoes your grandmother would put on the green bean casserole at Thanksgiving. These french fries are easy to get addicted to because they taste so light and crispy. Just make sure you get a batch that’s been freshly fried since the fries turn stale and soggy real quick as they cool off.
Customers can also order a number of different finger foods. My favorite was the fried jalapenos, something most restaurants get wrong because they just fry the whole thing and stuff it with processed cheese. Smashburger slices their jalapenos almost paper-thin and lets them float in the frying oil for just a few seconds, creating a tasty, almost delicate layer of crispy fried goodness. The spice level is good, but minimal.
Smashburger also sells a tasty side of fried pickles and a side of lightly grilled vegetables as healthier finger foods. The onion strings, however, became my least favorite of the bunch. They tasted like a handful of fried something that may or may not have had a speck of stringy onions in it.
The main courses offer a fairly wide variety of burgers and sandwiches that cater to different tastes and offer an interesting range of healthy alternatives. The difference between Smashburger’s burgers and the rest is literally in the title. Each patty is smashed with a special press that sears in the natural flavor of the meat and gives each beef disc an interesting, seared, crispy edge that becomes less well done as you work your way to the middle. Smashburger also serves their burgers on egg buns.
The Regular Burger
Just about every burger joint has to get their most basic hamburger right. It’s the foundation for the rest of the menu because if they can’t accomplish something tasty with the most basic burger ingredients, then there’s no way they can do the same with more complicated ingredients. Thankfully, Smashburger gets its most basic burger right. The meat is lean and comes loaded with vegetables, a must for any good burger, since any schmuck can slap a piece of meat between two pieces of bread. This burger also has a tangy, special sauce if you’re sick of the usual ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise mix.
The BBQ, Bacon, and Cheddar Burger
The BBQ, bacon, and cheddar burger was easily the best of the comfort food bunch. It’s got a nice, rich, tangy barbecue sauce smothered with those fried onions that don’t work so well on their own, but do a nice job of complementing the mix of tastes this sandwich offers. Most of the burgers aren’t very greasy on their own, but a BBQ burger needs a little grill runoff to complete its smoky texture and flavor. I’m not suggesting that Smashburger serve this burger with a grease dip or anything (which I immediately regret writing because somebody is probably trying to patent that idea as we speak).
The Truffle Mushroom Swiss Burger
The truffle mushroom Swiss burger was easily the least appetizing of the bunch. Mushroom burgers aren’t my first choice, but they can be good if you’re looking for something hearty that’s light on veggies and just above eating a plain, ordinary burger. This burger, however, didn’t taste right. The bar was set pretty high, but the truffle mayonnaise was just too rich and overpowering. The mushroom felt soggy as it soaked up what little grease was already in the cheese and beef patty. Adding an egg bun to the mix didn’t calm my stomach.
The Texas Burger
Each Smashburger location offers a special, local burger to the menu and in this case, the Texas burger was kind of a disappointment. It was tasty, but it didn’t seem to stray very far from the norm. In fact, there is only one difference between this burger and Smashburger’s regular creation: mustard. Granted, Smashburger already has a BBQ burger, but it doesn’t seem necessary to put a burger on the menu with an ingredient that you can put on yourself, depending on how lazy you feel and how much energy you’re willing to expel with the muscles in your hand and arm.
The Spicy Veggie Black Bean Burger
If you’re trying to watch your weight, Smashburger offers some creative burger alternatives. This black bean patty is meat free. That might be considered a sacrilege for some parts of a state that prides itself on its ability to consume cows per capita. However, it’s actually a pretty tasty treat that won’t fill you with regret as it fills you up. The spicy veggie black bean burger is loaded with fresh veggies. The patty is made entirely out of black beans, which does have a weird texture for a burger, but is quite hearty and flavorful. The spices give this hippie option a real kick, like putting a flame-shooting engine on a Toyota Prius. It’s not necessary, but it helps it stand out from its meatier brothers.
The Chicken Classic and Avocado Club Chicken Sandwiches
Smashburger also offers two chicken alternatives including a basic grilled chicken sandwich with vegetables, and an original twist on the chicken club with avocado and a ranch-mayo dressing on the whole grain bun. The chicken could have been a little plumper and almost felt lost in the mix of toppings and sauces, but the avocado club had such a wonderful, flavorful mix that it was easier to overlook.
Smashburger is located at 1230 N. Valley Mills Drive in Waco, Texas 76710. The phone number is 254-400-2749. Visit Smashburger online for menus, online ordering, and more.
Images courtesy of Danny Gallagher.