What do you want from me?
So I had the happy opportunity to attend the media preview event at the new Smashburger on Wolf Road that’s opening on Saturday. It’s in the old Friendly’s space right next to Trader Joe’s in Colonie by the mall. After sitting through a well-rehearsed, oft repeated (this is one of the fastest growing chains in the nation, they’re doing these constantly) show and tell about the company, menu, owners, etc. and tasting samples with a small group (I asked, yes, it’s hard to get people to attend a Thursday afternoon media event, especially bloggers that have real jobs on the side) including YNN, the Record, and Steve Barnes and Kristi Barlette from the Times Union, I was driving back to work thinking about what I was going to write about. And it wasn’t just run-on sentences.
Obviously I have no intention of just writing a long press release for Smashburger. I wanted to write honestly about the food I tasted. I knew the ‘real’ press would be printing photos of the pristine open-faced burgers they brought out specifically for photo ops (indeed YNN showed them in their blurb item and Steve has them here: link). The papers will have the backstory of the chain etc. But I kept thinking, “What do you want from me?“
And then I knew. I thought about why I write this blog…to share experiences about food in the Capital Region and help people maybe decide what to try, where to go, etc. Like when we wanted to try El Charro and there were no reviews out there yet to tell us if it was any good. What would I want to see if I clicked on this blog to read about the new Smashburger if I live in the area and have never tried or even heard much about Smashburger? I’ve checked out what the Record came up with, what Steve wrote, and the YNN report. Apart from a couple of comments from Steve, none of them said anything about the pile of food we tasted. And that’s what I’m going to try to do…give you an idea of what their signature dishes taste like so maybe you can decide whether you want to try them out (yes, do it) and maybe what you should order your first time there. Let’s do that now.
Now I don’t know if what I tried was totally representative, so let’s get that out of the way, first. I don’t know if the people making just a few items at a time without real time pressure of a line of waiting customers were newly trained and on top of their game or ringers brought in for the pre-opening show and maybe to train the new staff. If you go in next week and get a dry, lifeless piece of chicken as they shakedown the restaurant, please don’t think swear words in my direction. Let’s assume what I tried and how it tasted will be what we’ll get as they hit their stride, no matter how soon that is. OK? Great. Let’s be friends and share a basket of veggie frites at Smashburger.
But let’s set the mood. It’s a nice place, for sure. Lots of cozy wood, menus, a few photos including local scenes. Let me show you some (yes, this will be a photo-intensive post, I finally caved and got a smartphone with a decent camera).
At Smashburger, you place your order and they give you a number for your table. You go sit and then they bring you your food, whether inside or on the patio. The typical wait is 5-6 minutes. Then they bus the tables when you’re done, there are no garbage cans out.
Apparently you can sign up for their club and get a free birthday shake. Word of warning, they have to post calories…a shake’s gonna add to your shake to the tune of almost 1,000 calories.
First they brought out a sampling of some of the sides. From bottom to top:
- smashfries – Thin cut, tossed with rosemary and garlic in olive oil. Quite tasty with a good potato flavor, they had a nice fluffy potato center for such a thin cut, they weren’t just a shell. My concern with these is that they’re thin fries all exposed in a pile and I think they must get cold pretty fast. Not sure I’d get them (see below). 4th of 4 for me.
- Haystack Onions – These I really liked. Nothing that needs much explanation, they’re onion peels, onion strings, call them what you will. Comes with a nice and tangy horseradish sauce. They had a nice flavor, I’m not sure what it was exactly, heck it could’ve just been salt. I didn’t eat enough of them (tried to control myself) to nail it down and then I had moved on. 2nd of 4 for me.
- Sweet Potato Fries – If you like sweet potato fries, I think you’ll swoon for these. They were 3rd of 4 for me, but mostly because I’m not a huge sweet potato fry fan. These were a thicker cut fry with a ton of sweet potato flavor. Not too crispy, nice and sweet. People will gobble these up.
- Veggie Frites – Best for last. I loved these. The others seemed to like them, also. “Flash fried” carrots and green beans served with a really tasty ranch dressing. Despite the frying, the carrots were super floppy. Maybe that always happens with fried carrots? It matters not, these rocked. The carrots were so sweet they were, as they say, like candy. Really good and I don’t love carrots. The green beans were delicious, too, but in their case they were really helped by the generous topping of salt and pepper the basked received. My wife and I will definitely order these and destroy the basket. It was nice to see something really different.
Then the burger parade started. Each of the tables got a quartered burger to try and, since I had a table (and burger!) to myself, I took pictures of them as assembled like you’d get it on your plate. I also think I was the only one there routinely picking apart the offerings and trying individual parts, maybe because I didn’t have to share. I’ll try to offer feedback as appropriate.
The Classic Smash is the straightforward burger. The one zing is the addition of Smash Sauce, a combo of lemon juice, relish, mustard, and maybe one other thing I didn’t catch. It was OK, honestly. I wasn’t jumping up and down or anything after my first taste of a Smash Burger burger. I know their thing is the ‘smashing’ of the meat on the grill to keep it moist, but it’s a pretty thin patty (Angus, never frozen), and none of them seemed super juicy to me. The burger smelled really enticing…not just because I was hungry, either.
So it’s not like there’s a crazy crust going on here. Trying the patty on its own, it was tasty, well seasoned, but nothing out of the ordinary. They were all somewhat juicy, but not to the point of drippiness.
Tasty! I think they said either 68% of men get this or 68% of them are ordered by men. Either way, apparently men like a BBQ burger with bacon. Shocker, right? Nice ‘pull’ to the cheddar and the onion strings add a nice bit of saltiness.
Check out that bacon. Now THAT is fast food bacon. I tried it on its own and it was like fresh out of the pan. Thick cut and delicious. I think it was Kristi that mentioned how nice it was to have crispy bacon on a fast food burger. All of the above come on the egg bun, which has a nice flavor, light textured, and not overpowering compared to the ingredients.
I was a little worried about this one. Not an arugula fan. Not a fan of mushrooms on burgers. Don’t like swiss cheese. We were warned that these have a strong smell, like you notice in the dining room when one is brought out, and they weren’t kidding. And, wow, does this burger pack a strong flavor. I keep coming back to the word ‘unctuous’. So rich tasting. The arugula bite is the only thing not just soft, squishy, and gooey in the bite. I know the word is totally hackneyed already, but the mushroom, etc. really does embody ‘umami’. I tried a bun with some of the truffle mayo on it and it was fantastic. You can actually taste it over all those other flavors a bit, too. This one, per our host, is popular with the ladies. I don’t know that I would get this, but given my feelings on the ingredients on their own, I didn’t dislike this.
Look how thin sliced those mushrooms are and how that swiss just fills every crevice. Get ready for a turn in the other direction.
Here’s your New Yorker burger. Yeesh. A pile of spinach, garlic grilled onions, peppercorn garlic aioli (I couldn’t taste this), and NY cheddar. Forgettable brioche bun. Yawn. Just whatever. Not that I can think of anything more ‘NY’ that would work…apple slices? I would never order this. It was very spinachy. Removing the top bun and spinach, the onions had a nice mild flavor that worked well with the burger, which actually could be described as quite juicy this time. So it is possible.
Yikes. OK, just to let you know, none of us liked this. The patty was just really mushy and overly smooth. It smelled sort of weird, too. I guess they recently changed the recipe from a chunkier patty, so maybe if you’ve had it before it won’t be the same. There was a slight sting from the pepper jack cheese. The flavor wasn’t terrible, but the texture of the patty, combined with the avocado, was just a big squishy mush.
Here was my favorite and I wasn’t alone. The chicken, tasted alone, has a delicious, peppery taste with loads of zing and was really juicy. They make the chicken thin so it cooks at the same speed as the burgers, but they keep it juicy. There was some amazement expressed, but it’s not that hard. I slice breasts thin at home all the time and grill them juicy, you just need to pay attention and they clearly do at Smashburger. So this sandwich was really good. The goat cheese adds a nice smooth flavor and a bit of squish to the chicken. I will say that the great flavor of the chicken sort of gets lost in all the other flavors in the sandwich. The balsamic is ‘here and there’ so you taste it in some bites and when it’s there it adds a nice pep to the overall effect. I would definitely buy this. The multigrain bun has a decent flavor, nicely wheaty but not overpoweringly so. Inoffensive, which is a compliment for a multigrain bun or bread.
Avocado. Yummy bacon. Juicy chicken. No mysteries here. It was fine. But what if you have a daintier appetite? Maybe a little salad?
Yeah. That’s a big salad. Like a REALLY big salad.
This was a nice shake if you like caramel (I’m ambivalent). It was tasty enough if that’s your thing. It was nice and smooth and easy to suck through a straw.
You get a big shake and then the remainder in the blender cup.
We also tried the Oreo shake. It was OK, not too sweet. Much thicker with some very large Oreo pieces.
Did I mention the large Oreo pieces? I found this troublesome to drink. In addition to the lodged piece of cookie, I often got the dreaded ‘empty straw suck’ here and there. It was OK, but I doubt I’d spend my calories on it.
A few more random notes:
- you can get any of the options with either a burger, chicken (grilled or crispy), or veggie patty as well as swapping up buns and adding premium toppings like a fried egg or bacon
- we should see a buffalo chicken with blue cheese sandwich later…sounds yummy
- there are some organic items, but it’s not all hardcore like Chipotle
- fried pickles, once relegated to the ‘secret menu’, is now right up on the board
- also a ‘secret menu’ item is the Sin City Burger, the Las Vegas regional burger which is available at all Smashburger locations…features an egg, bacon, etc. you can check it out on the website, apparently
OK, I think that’s it. It was fun and informative. Thanks to Smashburger for the invite. Personally I think they’re probably going to do really well. The location is great near Trader Joe’s and the mall. Look out, the rest of the Capital District, Colonie is playing to win – Smashburger, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods…
World changing? No. A nice change and a welcome addition? Heck, yeah.