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Friday, September 23, 2011

Does Smashburger Deserve to Thin Out the "Better Burger" Competition?

Posted By on Fri, Sep 23, 2011 at 9:00 AM

The "Spicy Baja" burger at Smashburger - IAN FROEB
  • Ian Froeb
  • The "Spicy Baja" burger at Smashburger
The Place: Smashburger (1981 Zumbehl Road, St. Charles; 636-724-6667), the national "better burger" chain that opened its first area location this July.

The Lunch: The "Spicy Baja" burger ($5.99) with a side of "Smashfries" ($1.99).

Regular Gut Check readers know that St. Louis has caught the "better burger" bug in a big way this year. Over the past few months, I've visited Christy's Hamburgers, Dave & Tony's Premium Burger Joint and It's a Better Burger.

Smashburger rode a wave of hype into the St. Louis market a couple of months ago. It's a very sleek operation, heavily branded -- the words smash, sizzle and savor cover walls and windows -- with a modern design aesthetic that evokes Chipotle.

But does it, in fact, serve a "better" burger?

The Verdict: How you'll feel about Smashburger will depend first and foremost on how you feel about very thin burgers. As its name suggests, the restaurant smashes its burgers (made from certified Angus ground beef) flat on the grill, resulting in a thin burger with lacy edges à la Steak 'n Shake. You can't cook these burgers to any temperature except well-done, so the flavor is as much a product of the exterior char as the meat's natural juices.

If you don't object to such a burger on principle, Smashburger turns out a decent example of the species. The flavor is recognizably beefy, the texture firm and juicy.

Honestly, though, within the category of thin burgers, I prefer Five Guys Burger and Fries to Smashburger. Whether because of a difference in the ground-beef mixture or some other reason, Five Guys' burger seems a little fattier, in the best, indulgent sense -- a necessary trade-off when you know that the burger won't have a pink, let alone blood-red center.

This particular burger, the "Spicy Baja," comes with lettuce, tomato, raw jalapeño, red onion, gucamole, chipotle mayo and pepper jack cheese. The toppings were fresh and, except for the insipid tomatoes, flavorful. The bun held up well, even if it didn't strike me as having much of a chipotle flavor.

The "Smashfries" are thin and crisp and seasoned with olive oil, garlic and rosemary. However you feel about thin burger patties, you almost certainly will eat every last one of these.

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