And so, another specialty burger joint opens in South Jersey, joining the ranks of Cheeburger Cheeburger, Elevation Burger, and Five Guys. But why should I care? Haven’t we been burger-ed out? Weeeeellllllll…. after attending a little media preview of Smashburger’s first South Jersey location last Tuesday (the day before it officially opened to the public), I’m inclined to say I submit the following for your consideration:
- All patties are 100% Angus Beef…and though we’ve heard everyone claiming that from Burger King to Applebee’s, the proof was in the tasting of the naked patty itself (which was offered to us before the first assembled burger hit the table). “Smashed” under a hot iron on the grill, seasoned, the patty remains on one side , only turned until a gorgeous brown crust forms and remains on the patty (called “fond” by the French, who will kill for this mysterious meat-sear substance on the bottom of their pans, from which all gorgeously rich meat sauces are concocted). Though I don’t buy that the method “seals in the juices” as they claim ( I watch Good Eats, for cryin’ out loud) the result is a crusty, juicy and joyous mass of meat, long before it hits a bun. Yow.
- The simple classic (above) was my favorite, but you have to love a chain that honors the local traditions by creating burger riffs that are strictly available only in the areas they are located. The Liberty (grilled onions, Cheez Whiz©, Gulden’s Mustard©, on a pretzel bun) and the New Jersey (Applewood-smoked bacon, blue cheese, grilled onions, haystack onions,lettuce, tomato, and mayo on an onion bun) were really good, if a bit too much to finish. I still think they wimped out a bit and should have substituted the bacon with pork roll, though.
- What’s really different, though, are the sides. The Smash Fries are simple crispy shoestrings tossed with rosemary, olive oil, and garlic. Really good. So good, they may require their own 12-Step program for those who might not know how to stop (like me). Fried pickle chips are a fun novelty, but the real shocker are the Veggie Frites (above). These are simply raw carrots and green beans that have been flash fried and seasoned with salt and pepper, nothing more. The result is a still-crunchy veggie with its natural sweetness brought out, and an actual healthy side dish option (really and truly:I checked the nutritional info).
- Chicken Sandwiches are usually a bore at burger places….the surprise here is that their chicken is created more “paillard-style”; thin cutlets smashed on the grill, and seasoned, just like the burgers. Whether served as a “Avocado Club”, “Cucumber and Goat Cheese”(above), or a “Baja” (with fresh jalapenos, guacamole, pepper jack, chipotle mayo, all on on a chipotle bun) the result is a darn good sandwich.
- The biggest surprise was the black bean burger, done “Baja” style (above). While most of the “vegetarian option” burgers I’ve had have been sad, dry, pasty little hockey pucks, this is a sandwich a carnivore might actually want to go in and order. Really flavorful.
- For those forced to resort to a salad at a burger place, for whatever reason, you can’t really go wrong here. A big red bowl was brought out housing a huge “Harvest” salad (greens, tomatoes, raisins, cranberries, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, blue cheese and balsamic dressing). The mix of greens contained baby spinach and romaine (nary an iceberg leaf to be found), with a real respect for the art of creating a good and satisfying salad.
- For those who don’t really give a damn about calories, there’s also the option to add a Haagen Dazs shake to your order. We sampled the Nutter Butter (made with the actual cookie) and a good, old fashioned Chocolate. Let’s just say they make a damn fine milkshake.
I ‘m often not a proponent of chains, but the attention to the details and the actual respect for preparation of the ingredients (even veggies that taste good without being obliterated by batter or over processing) , make this one worth checking out.