First Bites

Smashburger's Burger Ain't A Smash

Smashburger started in Colorado in 2007. There are 143 locations (half company-owned, half franchised), with 450 more franchise agreements already on the books. The first Miami branch opened on Biscayne Boulevard at 146th Street a couple of weeks ago (on the lefthand side of the Total Wine strip mall). We were sort of looking forward to it.

Forbes 500 recently cited Smashburger as one of its 100 Rising Star companies -- the only restaurant on the list. That's fitting, because this burger outfit is all corporate marketing and no beef -- or at least no tasty beef.

To put it another way: You will never see Smashburger make it onto a 100-best list in any respectable food publication.

To put it one more way: The hamburgers I tried here sucked.

​The company touts its "100% Certified Angus Beef" and waxes poetic about "painting the grill with real butter, adding a dash of our secret spice blend," and then "smashing" the burger, which "caramelizes the beef, creating a sear that locks in the juices as no other cooking method can. A Smashburger. Not a squishburger."

​I don't even know what that last line means, but the "classic" Smashburger we had was dry and absolutely tasteless -- as though no salt, pepper, or other seasoning, secret or otherwise, had ever come close to it. Not only did it lack caramelization, but it tasted as though boiled -- or perhaps just placed in a deflavorizing machine for awhile.

Many of today's "boutique" burger places, like Smashburger, use a flat-top griddle to cook the meat on. I prefer the char flavor a hamburger gets from being cooked on an open-flame grill. Plus it's healthier on a grill: Burgers on a griddle cook in puddles of grease.

My "big smash" (7 ounces, $5.99) came served on an egg bun with letttuce, tomato, too much red onion, pickle chips, a slice of American cheese, and "smash sauce."  A regular 5-ouncer is $4.99.

​You can also create your own burger, or order one of the signature sandwiches. We tried the A1 Burger, an "homage" to our particular market, It's topped with potato sticks (frita-style) and thin slices of "chorizo" that taste just like the pepperoni used on cheap frozen pizzas. Plus the potatoes were coated in paprika. The whole shebang was so awful-tasting that I found myself taking bites of the regular Smashburger to get the bad A1 taste out of my mouth.

French fries were pale and equally tasteless. Fried pickle chips, served with fake-tasting ranch dressing, were overly salty (to the tune of 2100 mg. of sodium per serving -- without the dip). "Vegetable chips" are cooked string beans and carrot sticks, which are tasty (unless dipped into same aforementioned ranch, which comes as an accompaniment).

​A chicken sandwich takes us back to the bland side of the ledger, although the skinny cutlet was juicy enough. Best bet: The "Spicy Baja Black Bean Burger" with pepper jack cheese, guacamole, jalapeños, and spicy chipotle mayo -- very tasty, lots of spunky spice. Vegans or strict vegetarians be forewarned: Black bean burger gets cooked on same griddle as beef burgers, and thus comes into contact with the beef fat.

Shakes, made from Haagen-Daz, are served with a bit of leftover in a tin shaker. Even this seems contrived, although the shake isn't bad.

​The service staff, incidentally, is pleasant and helpful. And if you're wondering about the founder and Chief Concept Officer Tom Ryan, he has a Ph.D. in flavor and fragrance chemistry, and a Masters in lipid toxicology. He has been involved with marketing concepts such as the stuffed-crust pizza at Pizza Hut, and McGriddles.

And that sort of explains Smashburger.

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Miami New Times' restaurant reviewer for the past decade, and the world's indisputable master of disguise.
Contact: Lee Klein