I get why some folks love Smashburger. The restaurant chain uses never-frozen Certified Angus Beef, which is literally "smashed" into the shape of a burger on a 400-degree flat grill to "sear in the juicy flavor." The beef is tasty.
But after two visits to Smashburger — which calls itself "America's fastest-growing, fast-casual 'better burger' " restaurant — I'm just not impressed.
My problem with the Classic Smash ($4.99), which ought to be the marquee menu item, is the burger-to-bun ratio. It's a very nice eggy bun. But the way-too-thin burger gets so lost in the big bun that the beef almost feels like another condiment along with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, onion, pickles and "smash sauce."
For another $1 to $2, depending on the burger, you can "big/double" the patty size, and that may be the solution.
Much, much better, however, is the Mushroom Swiss Smash ($5.99), which features the same single patty and bun. But the addition of garlic-sauteed mushrooms, Swiss cheese and mayonnaise gives this burger a luscious mouth feel — creamy, salty, garlicky and earthy. The Spicy Baja Smash ($5.99) is also better than the Classic. with its combo of pepper jack cheese, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, onion, spicy chipotle mayo and fresh jalapenos. I even liked the spicy chipotle bun.
Maybe the lesson here is to add as much as possible to your Smashburger? Most sauces and toppings are free. Cheese is 70 cents. Add-ons include 75-cent chorizo, $1 beefy chili and $1.50 applewood smoked bacon.
If there's one burger I'd go back for, it would the Spicy Baja Black Bean Burger ($5.99) with pepper jack cheese, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, onion, spicy chipotle mayo, and fresh jalapenos on a spicy bun. So many bean burgers lack flavor or palatable texture. This one's a winner.
As for the sides, veggie frites ($2.99) were so greasy on one visit that I couldn't eat them. Smash fries ($1.99) — tossed with rosemary, olive oil and garlic — were only slightly less greasy. I figured it might be a fryer temperature issue. But on a second trip, those Smash fries were just as greasy. Haystack onions ($1.99) were equally greasy, and while I suppose these are Smashburger's answer to onion rings, they had the texture of something you'd use to top a green-bean casserole. They're also available as a 75-cent burger add on. Good idea.
Somehow, fried pickles ($2.29), which are served with buttermilk ranch dressing, weren't greasy at all. They will remind you of the best kind of carnival food.
Likewise, Haagen-Dazs milk shakes are outstanding. Both the Mint Oreo shake ($4.29) and the strawberry shake ($3.99) are served in old-fashioned, clear, fluted glasses. They also came with side cars — metal cups with the leftover shake that wouldn't fit in the shake glass. Nice touch.
Expect to see Smashburgers across South Florida. The Denver-based company has more than 200 corporate and franchise restaurants in 29 states. South Florida's first Smashburger opened in North Miami in late 2011. In February, Fort Lauderdale's restaurant became the fifth. All South Florida locations are corporately owned.
The 108-seat Fort Lauderdale Smashburger has bright-red booths, wooden floors and lots of graphic wall decorations that give the restaurant a leg up over fast-food restaurants. Guests order from a counter, and trays of food are brought to tables. On one visit, it took more than 15 minutes. On the second visit, the wait was more reasonable.
If you're a fan of craft beer, you're going to love that Smashburger features locally made beer in every market. In South Florida, Holy Mackerel beers are front and center. Unfortunately, only one of the eight beers was available on one visit.
Like beer, Smashburger also looks nearby for a locally inspired burger. The Miami Burger ($5.99) is topped with grilled Spanish chorizo, frita potatoes, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and spicy chipotle mayo. It's even served on a Cuban roll.
All month long, that Miami Burger has been offered free of charge on the day following a Miami Heat win. All fans have to do is show up at one of the five South Florida locations while wearing a Heat jersey between 2 and 6 p.m.
They've been giving away lots of burgers. I suppose that's one way to win fans.
5975 N. Federal Highway, Imperial Square, Fort Lauderdale. Other locations in Pembroke Pines, Boynton Beach, North Miami and Kendall.