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Thursday, November 19,2009

Smashburger a cut above

By Clay Fong

The Lafayette branch of Smashburger, a growing chain, is the latest in a series of burger joints that emulates the famed In-And-Out Burger. Providing higher quality sandwiches than its competition for only a few dollars more, Smashburger follows In-And-Out’s lead by serving cooked-toorder burgers made from fresh, never frozen meat. It also distinguishes itself by having servers bring out your food after you order at the counter.

On a recent weeknight visit with friend Kuvy and her young son Adrian, we also quickly discovered that this eatery doesn’t scrimp on the portions, be it a burger, hot dog or salad. Approaching our table after ordering, Kuvy pointed out a $6.99 wedge salad, which featured a hunk, if not nearly a whole head, of iceberg large enough to pull small moons out of orbit.

We started with a round of $3.99 root beer floats. A spritzing of aerosol whipped cream on top was a distracting flourish. Despite this unnecessary misstep, Smashburger’s melding of Haagen-Dazs vanilla and top-shelf IBC root beer was simply sublime. Had Aristotle written a treatise on root beer floats, he would have simply said to throw these two ingredients together and call it good.

A family-friendly spirit is evidenced by the $3.99 kids menu that includes burger, hot dog and chicken strip selections accompanied by a drink and fries. Adrian’s grilled cheese was a comforting classic, with lightly toasted white bread sandwiching endearingly gooey American cheese. The plain fries were average, but that’s OK, since a kids’ menu generally needs to appeal to simple, and occasionally fussy, palates.

Considerably more sophistication informed Kuvy’s choices, including a $2.99 portion of veggie frites. A fry alternative, these were crisp-tender strips of flash-fried carrots, green beans and verdant asparagus stalks. Her $5.99 Smashchicken sandwich — apparently it costs extra to tap the space bar after typing “Smash” — was a fine buy for the money, featuring moist and flavorful chicken breast. Pounded thin, this tender cut happily lacked the blandly uniform appearance of the Stepford poultry common to this price point — it looked home-cooked. Fresh onion and lettuce toppings contributed crispness, and a dollop of mayo rounded out the flavor.

My side of $1.99 Haystack Onions was cause for celebration. I usually find fried onions too heavily breaded, or worse yet, comprised of chopped and formed vegetables. These were thinly sliced ringlets of onion with a lacy texture underscored by a sweetly caramelized flavor. My only advice is to enjoy these as soon as they arrive hot at your table; they won’t retain their delicate crispness for too long.

My main event was the $6.99 half pound Spicy Baja burger. The toppings were the stars of the show, a mix of assertive fresh jalapeño slices, pepper jack cheese, guacamole and chipotle mayonnaise.

Unfortunately, it was harder to get on board with the smashed Angus burger, flattened into a thin patty on the grill. A flat burger means a well-done one, which equates to compromised flavor, in my book. In its defense, the meat had adequate marbling to stay reasonably moist, but I still like the beefy flavor of a thicker patty.

But that’s not to deny that Smashburger still serves up tasty food for the money, and much here is a cut above similarly priced eateries. Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

Clay’s Obscurity Corner: What's the fuss about Angus?

From fast food joints to the priciest steakhouses, restaurants tout the fact they use Angus beef. But what does this really mean? It certainly isn’t a guarantee of rarity, as Angus is one of the most common breeds of beef cattle in the United States. Nor is it necessarily a guarantee of quality, although the American Angus Association has a “certified” seal of approval for beef that meets 10 specifications, including marbling, ribeye area and lack of capillary rupture (Yum!). However, regardless of certification, Angus tends to be fattier and more flavorful, as well as more tender than other breeds.

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