September 7, 2011 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
(Blogger’s note: The following company provided free food to me and other blogging and media types. If something’s bad, even if it was free, I’m always going to speak up, save for a feeble relative whose only joy in life is cooking food everyone knows is terrible. And if something’s good, I’ll rave about it. Just wanted to give everyone a bit of full disclosure. Now, on to the food.)
I just emerged from a two-hour nap that I blame exclusively on the tastiness of a new burger joint in town.
Smashburger, a national chain of hamburger-centric restaurants, will open its first Louisville franchise today at 9409 Shelbyville Road. The powers-that-be opened Smashburger a day early to media people and bloggers like me so we could get a preview of this fast-casual restaurant and tell folks about it.
My guest-for-the-day/hubs-to-be, Rob, and I ate through a great swath of the menu. The employees and even the founder of Smashburger were burger-pushers for the day, slinging sandwiches, fries and shakes to anyone who paused too long between bites. We ate until our waistlines groaned for mercy, took home a couple of doggie bags and slept away the fullness in our stomachs.
Now that my meal is digested and I have some sense about me, I can honestly say that Smashburger will provide Louisville with some good burger eatin’, the kind of eatin’ that drives a reserved eater to gluttony.
In a nutshell, this place is good. Real good. Here’s why:
- Smashburger is passionate about providing delicious food. “We want to get burgers back in people’s lives,” said Tom Ryan, founder of Smashburger and host of the event. Burgers never left my life, thank goodness, but I like his ambition.
- The restaurant blends diner-style techniques with bistro tricks to provide a new burger-eating experience. It’s called Smashburger because of the way employees cook each patty. They take a ball of meat, throw it on a griddle, and press it down with what I can only describe as a cast-iron-like smasher for 10 seconds, a technique that helps sear in flavor. They combine practices like this with more upscale methods you don’t usually find at a burger place, such as hand-tossing french fries in a mix of oil, garlic and rosemary.
- Though Smashburger is a national chain, each franchise makes a small effort to cater to its local audience. The first thing I tried was the Bluegrass Burger, that included Wild Turkey bourbon barbecue sauce, fried banana peppers, bacon and cheddar cheese. And to all you Ale-8 lovers, they serve this drink from Winchester, Ky., and include an Ale-8 float on the dessert menu (Ryan used to live in Lexington and said Ale-8 was a favorite drink of his). Unfortunately, the Ale-8 hadn’t arrived yet, but it’s on Rob’s to-order list for our next visit.
- The menu has something for just about everybody. Not into burgers? There’s hot dogs. Not into beef? There’s a whole chicken menu. Not a meateater at all? There’s veggie frites, salads and a black bean Smashburger.
- Coke Zero has a slot on the fountain. I am a recent convert from Diet Coke to Coke Zero, thanks in part to raves from my buddy Michelle at Consuming Louisville and the discovery of Cherry Coke Zero. Smashburger has my new favorite drink on tap, along with regular Coke, Diet Coke and Cherry Coke. For a Coke aficionado, it doesn’t get much better than this.
- Finally, and most importantly, the food is fantastic. The Bluegrass Burger was like a smoky taste of Kentucky with the rich sauce and melty cheese that dripped with every bite. The patty, which is sprinkled with a blend of spices, was juicy but not greasy. The Avocado Club Smashchicken Sandwich with a crispy fillet was sort of magical. The fresh avocado slices mingled well with the ranch dressing, and the chicken fillet was good enough to eat by itself. Hubs-to-be went for the Sweet Potato Smashfries, whose sweetness he thought complimented the Bluegrass Burger well. I went gaga for the aforementioned rosemary Smashfries, aka what happens to regular french fries when they grow up and find the spice rack. The grilled chicken Baja Cobb salad was more like a sandwich minus the bread. When a salad includes an entire chicken breast, a mix of lettuce, bacon, cheddar, tomatoes, onions, guacamole and jalapenos all tossed in spicy chipotle dressing, it’s hard to convince yourself that it’s healthy. Oh, and we had dessert — a Nutter Butter milkshake made with Haagen-Dazs ice cream. I don’t have to tell you how good that was. Just use your context clues.