Cook’s Tour; Burger Friday: Smashburger

I was highly skeptical when I first read about the splat-and-frizzle cooking gimmick at Smashburger, the Denver-based boutique burger chain that recently opened its first Houston outpost at Kirby & Main. How juicy could the ground beef patty possibly remain once you had smashed it down on the griddle, the better to allow its escaped juices to crisp and crust the edges? That’s what I wanted to know.

Answer: um, plenty. In fact, I was so pleased with my maiden voyage to this great-looking, friendly new spot that I can’t wait to return. Here are the particulars:

*PRICE: $4.99 FOR THE 1/3 lb. Classic Smashburger, which comes with cheese as standard equipment (add $1 for the 1/2 lb. version); french fries $1.49; haystack onions $1.99, chocolate Haagen-Dazs shake $3.99.

*ORDERING: You can pause in the entrance foyer to gaze up at the looming wall menu, but one of the staffers may well approach to greet you, waving a paper menu. Line up at the counter to order, take your numbered placard to your cozy booth or table, and someone will bring your food to you.

*ARCHITECTURE: Salad stuff on top. Served open face, so you have to clap it together. On a thinnish, eggy bun, butter-browned on the griddle, goes the beef patty, the square of American cheese, 3 slices of deli-quality dill pickle, 2 thin slices of tomato, sliced red onion, frilly leaf lettuce, squiggles of ketchup, and lastly a discreet slather of “secret” mayo-mustard sauce.
*QUALITY: This burger succeeds wildly on the sandwich level, which is to say the whole leaps above the sum of the excellent parts. The patty has that expansive beef-fat flavor I prize; and while the “smashing” produces little rift valleys in the meat, it remains mysteriously moist. The crust-frizzles abetted by the smashing are irresistible. And the condiments and trimmings are spot on, from the discreet application of the sauces to the perfect onion ratio. I loved the blast from my northeastern childhood past that I got from the restrained hit of ketchup. (So sue, me, Texans! Or order the Texas Smashburger, which boasts the familiar mustardy flavor profile we all know and love.) By the way: I have come to the conclusion that the 1/3 lb burger patty is my preferred size–over and above the 1/2 pound-and-over behemoths beloved by the guy-guys. Works better on a sandwich level for me, and if that makes me a sissy, so be it.

*OOZE RATING: Good, to my surprise. Nice drips involved.

*GRADE: Enthusiastic A.

*BONUS POINTS: The skinny little “haystack” onion strings are a welcome variation on the thick-cut variety, even though I found them a little too enthusiastically salted. (My water consumption afterwards soared, well into the evening.) The interesting, mayo-based dipping sauce with them–sharp with mustard and perhaps horseradish–is a nice touch. I may always like big, juicy onion rings better, but these definitely have personality. And, as an ingenious option, you can order them as a burger add-on.

*MORE BONUS POINTS: Chocolate shake made with Haagen Dazs tastes of chocolate, not ersatz choco-syrup. And the extra comes in the metal shake-vase. Shoestring french fries, while they don’t have the slick, moist potato texture I prefer in the handcut variety, were very, very crisp and beautifully fried. If you don’t like thyme, though, you’re in trouble. *SUPERDUPER BONUS POINT: You can order any of the variously trimmed and tricked-out burgers here with a fried egg on top! Which pretty much guarantees that I will be back, and pronto.