Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review: Smashburger, Tempe AZ

Jeez, it's about time I updated this thing. JUNE? Really? Pioneer Woman churns out updates with LOTS of photos every single day, and I can't be bothered to write about a restaurant or cooking for six months. At least I got to meet PW on her book tour. She's an awfully nice lady. Anyway, the title of this post isn't What The Hell The Jester's Been Up To All This Time (hint about other things that happened: Aim your car's airbag at your chest, not your face), it's about a brand new burger place in the heart of Tempe.

Before Smashburger even opened, there were press releases in my inbox about this brand new burger place opening on campus just yards away from long-time (Over 278 Sold!) college favorite The Chuckbox. When I looked at their website and saw that they are hellbent on opening franchised locations across the country, I was a little nervous. When I saw that it was opening in the same strip of restaurants that included such dreary options as Port of Subs and Panda Express, I would have bet you pot brownies to pound cake that Smashburger would be anything but a smash hit.

My friend Blaze and I wandered in on an unseasonably warm autumn Arizona evening. I was in the mood for something classic, so I got their 1/3 lb. Classic Smashburger (American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, ketchup, and Smash sauce on an egg bun; $4.99) and an order of Smashfries ($1.79 when ordered with a burger, $2.79 a la carte), which are fries tossed with garlic and herbs. Blaze was feeling as fiery as ever, so she went for the Arizona Smashburger (habañero jack, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, onion, fresh jalapeños, and chipotle mayo on a chipotle bun $5.99) in the same size. For her side, she was feeling a little healthy, so she went for the veggie frites ($2.99/$3.99). After a quick trip to the soda fountain (Woohoo, they have Coke Zero!), we settled into one of the booths by the window overlooking all of the nubile coeds and virile gents strolling up and down College Avenue.

A short time later (maybe a bit less time than one has to wait at the In-N-Out up Rural Road), our chow hit the table and our eyes lit up. The minimalist plating, a wax paper lined steel basket free of garnishes such as the silly shredded carrots and beets at Delux, only focused our attention on the matter at hand that much more. I flipped the toppings onto the bottom half of the burger and dug in. I was blown away. This burger was as close to perfection as I've seen. The patty had a nice sear on it but was still juicy, the toppings were fresh and crisp, and they gave the bun a good buttering and toasting before they assembled the whole thing. The fries were delicious too. But then, anything deep-fried and covered with garlic is going to be tasty. I think Blaze liked her burger. When I got up from the table to refill my beverage, I came back to see her burger GONE and she's staring like a starving hyena at what's left of my burger. I can only take that as a good sign. I quizzed her about it to make sure she didn't just inhale the thing. She said that the fresh jalapeños were much better than the canned ones you see on top of bad nachos, and that next time she's ordering it with extra jalapeño. She also remarked that she wasn't a fan of the chipotle bun because it didn't hold up all that well under the juicy burger and all the toppings. I'm not sure how she could figure that out; I think I couldn't have hummed the Jeopardy theme in the time it took her to devour that burger. She then set her eyes on the veggie frites, and took a bit more time to enjoy those. I was expecting to see a tempura style batter on the vegetable pieces, but instead the asparagus, green beans, and carrot sticks were fried au naturel, and finished with a sprinkle of salt and some ranch dressing for our dipping pleasure. We were both quite fans of these. The frying helped caramelize the natural sugars in the veggies, and gave them quite a delicious flavor. They weren't crispy like the Smashfries were (of course they weren't, these veggies aren't high in starch like Russet potatoes), but they certainly weren't cooked to death either. I look forward to future visits to see if a normal side salad can be as interesting.

The total bill for both of us was just shy of $20. While that's fairly high for a quick-service burger joint, I still felt it was a great value. The burgers were better than they had any right to be for a burgeoning nationwide chain, and everything else about the place was just right. I'm quite curious about their salads and hot dogs to see if they're up to the same par as the burgers. Maybe I can convince myself to try one of their Häagen-Dazs milkshakes by getting myself a salad for my entree so the two can cancel each other out.