Cow Town

… I headed for Smashburger, a new, Colorado-based chain currently just two links long but with beer!The owner is Cervantes Capital, which acquired the semi-famous Icon Burger in Lafayette about two years ago and used it as a “living laboratory” to experiment with the QSR concept, then opened the first Smashburger in south Denver almost six months ago, in a South Colorado Boulevard strip mall. Smashburger has all the affectations of a standard QSR operation: counter-ordering and tableside delivery, a fast and easily navigable menu, a simple and easily duplicatable decor of red and gray, tables and booths, swooping curves and iron mesh. But it also has a far from standard burger. “Smashburger was designed for the two or three out of ten QSR customers who wanted something better,” explains Tom Ryan, Cervantes’s chief concept officer.

Like Culver’s, Smashburger has figured out the trick of buttering the egg buns and grilling them on the flat-top for that extra, luxurious kick of fat. But unlike at Culver’s, the better-burger variation at Smashburger is mostly physical, not ingredientiary. Here the burgers are truly smashed thrown and mashed onto the flat-top grill with a press that I at first thought was for show, then realized played an important role. When a half-pound of ground, nicely fatty Angus beef is whacked onto the hot steel, it produces a flood of meat juice that caramelizes instantly into a crispy halo of blood and fat around the edge of the burger. It’s like meat candy, the delicacy you lose when a burger is cooked on a slotted grill the traditional cooking surface for burgers smashed by hand.

This burger is fantastic not at the third bite or the fourth, but from the very first. For starters, there’s that crisp bit of caramelized juice, then the tender, luscious (even at medium-well) meat, a secret sauce (that isn’t really that secret: just ketchup, mayonnaise, chopped pickle and lemon juice), quality toppings that include chili, guacamole or a fried egg. It’s an excellent, if somewhat calculated, burger made by an excellent, if somewhat calculating, operation. Togo .

And it’s good enough to make following the conventions of Leviticus seem easy. With a burger like this, who needs lizards?

Still, every time I find myself standing before the counter at Smashburger, filling out the little card with my wants and needs, checking this and circling that, I can’t help but add a cross of applewood-smoked bacon, sometimes double bacon, to my smashburger with cheese. May God have mercy on my soul.