Tom Ryan, Smashburger's founder and chief concept officer, yesterday hosted the official unveiling of the new, redesigned Smashburger location at 6305 East Hampden Avenue, walking guests through an eight-course menu of Smashburger items as well as a tour of the store.
It was a blast, and I discovered that Smashburger's fried green chiles are my new favorite snack, Tom Ryan is a total food-industry rock star and Smash's signature Colorado burger represents our regional tastes very well.
This smashing Denver-based chain has been around since 2007 and the Hampden store is its 200th location. It boasts a new, contemporary look: subway tiles, wooden rafters, large windows for natural light, a partially open kitchen, a nice-sized patio, a lighted beverage display and digital menu screens. After getting everyone acquainted with the new store, Ryan and crew brought out full baskets of every side dish on the menu for us to sample. (And my version of sample means I crammed my burger-hole non-stop for an hour.)
I'd eaten at Smashburger before, and I always liked that the kitchen has goat cheese, will pretty much put it on anything if I ask for it, and the Smashfries with rosemary, garlic and olive oil are righteous. But I hadn't tried any of the other sides, so I dug in and not only do I approve of all of them, but the fried green chiles with dipping sauce gave me a fat food boner.
The basket came piled with fresh, thin-sliced, mild green chiles fried in a light, delicate, oily-crisp batter and with a side of spicy, smoky chipotle sauce. They were addictive to the point that I finished my basket and went creeping around to see if everyone else was going to finish theirs. I haven't emotionally bonded with a batch of fried peppers like that since TGI Friday's served deep-fried jalapeno rings back in the '90s, then booted them off the menu.
Yammy-fries are ubiquitous on casual dining, fast-casual and fast-food menus right now, but Smash's sweet potato fries are unusually good, since they have the same seasonings as the regular Smashfries and are extra-crisp. While the haystack onions aren't much different here than at many restaurants, they're well-made. And the fried pickles with buttermilk ranch may be a bit salty, but they're still better than most.
I also fell in love with the new veggie fries: tender-crisp fried carrot sticks and green beans with ranch, a side well-suited to healthy, Colorado tastes.
The love carried right on over to Ryan, who has some serious looks and street cred. I was expecting a stuffy old guy sporting an execu-tie with little golf tees on it, but he's tall, handsome, a snappy dresser and has some luscious, romance-novel guy hair. And he has not just beauty but brains, with a Ph.D. in Flavor and Fragrance Chemistry, a Masters in Lipid Toxicology and an undergraduate degree in Food Science.
Ryan is a major player, having worked with Quizno's, McDonald's, Long John Silver's and Pizza Hut, and he's created some well-known menu items: Pizza Hut's stuffed crust and Lover's line, McDoo's dolloar menu, Big & Tasty, fruit and yogurt parfaits and...wait for it...the McGriddle. Yes, Ryan gave us the most disgustingly unhealthy but amazingly delicious McDoo breakfast item ever invented.
But now he lavishes his love on Smashburger (and Tom's Urban 24 in Larimer Square, which opened last fall.) He presented all the burgers on the Smash-menu as if they were his beefy little money-babies (probably because they are) and gave us the skinny on every one. The Colorado Smashburger is an ingenious and indigenous combination of a signature plump, crisp-edged, hand-smashed beef patty, a shockingly perfect multigrain bun (soft as a pillow, I swear), leaf lettuce, tomato slices, mayo, melted Cheddar and pepperjack cheeses, and a plethora of sautéed mild green chiles.
After taking this regional special out for an oral test drive, I may very well abandon my usual truffle-mushroom-Swiss with extra goat cheese burger and order this one next time, with a basket of fried chilies. Smashburger plans to open sixty or seventy new locations in the new year, all with the new design. Sadly, outside of Colorado no one will be able to order a Colorado burger -- but Smashburger offers regional specials at its other stores. It should make sure to include fried chiles with all of them!
Keep reading for the complete list of Smashburger's regional specialties: Here's Smashburger's list of its regional specialties, all created by Tom Ryan and crew after doing regional flavor profiles to determine what ingredients locals enjoy most and then taking those findings to the test kitchen.
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COLORADO Grilled, fresh mild green chilies, melted cheddar cheese, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo on a spicy chipotle bun.
TWIN CITIES Layers of melted cheddar cheese, aged Swiss cheese and garlic grilled onions with lettuce, tomato and mayo on an onion bun.
OC - CALIFORNIA Grilled sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions, baby arugula, aged Swiss cheese and truffle mayo on an egg bun.
L.A. - CALIFORNIA Crispy wonton, fried egg, cilantro, cucumber, lettuce, tomato and Japanese steakhouse ginger dressing on a black and white sesame seed bun. MIAMI Grilled Spanish chorizo, frita potatoes, aged Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and spicy chipotle mayo on a Cuban roll.
GEORGIA Williamson Bros.® BBQ Sauce, coleslaw and Wicked® Pimina cheese on an egg bun.
THE BRONCO - IDAHO Applewood smoked bacon, Franks® RedHot® Buffalo Sauce, crumbled blue cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo on an egg bun.
WINDY CITY - ILLINOIS Layers of melted cheddar cheese, haystack onions, lettuce, tomato and Gulden's® spicy mustard on a pretzel bun.
KANSAS CITY Grilled onions, sautéed mushrooms, aged Swiss cheese and haystack onions with A.1.® Steak Sauce on an egg bun.
BLUEGRASS - KENTUCKY Wild Turkey® Bourbon bbq sauce, applewood smoked bacon, melted cheddar cheese and fried banana pepper rings on an egg bun.
MICHIGAN OLIVE Chopped green olives, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo on an egg bun.
ST. LOUIS - MISSOURRI Provel cheese, garlic grilled mushrooms, grilled onions and sweet bell peppers on a pretzel bun.
HUSKER -NEBRASKA A.1.® Steak Sauce, haystack onions, garlic sautéed mushrooms, aged Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo on an egg bun.
NEW JERSEY Applewood-smoked bacon, blue cheese, grilled onions, haystack onions, lettuce, tomato and mayo on an onion bun.
BROOKLYN - NEW YORK Grilled pastrami, Swiss cheese, pickles, onion and yellow mustard on a pretzel bun.
NEW YORKER - NEW YORK NY cheddar cheese, garlic grilled onions, fresh spinach, tomato and peppercorn garlic aioli on a brioche bun.
CAROLINA CHILI American cheese, beefy chili, chopped yellow onion, Dukes® Mayo and coleslaw on a pretzel bun.
NORTH DAKOTA Spicy grilled onions, cheddar, aged Swiss, lettuce, tomato and mayo on a pretzel bun.
OKLAHOMA Fried pickles, pepper jack, haystack onions, lettuce, tomato and buttermilk ranch dressing on an egg bun.
TENNESSEE Jack Daniels BBQ Sauce, two slices of American cheese, grilled garlic jalapenos and grilled onions on an egg bun.
FORT BLISS - FORT BLISS Fresh jalapenos, cheddar, grilled onions, haystack onions, lettuce, tomato and chipotle mayo on a spicy chipotle bun.
TEXAS Mustard, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles on an egg bun.
JALAPENO BBQ - DALLAS, TEXAS Grilled garlic jalapenos, applewood-smoked bacon, cheddar, haystack onions and BBQ sauce on an egg bun.
BEEHIVE - UTAH Honey BBQ sauce, applewood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese and haystack onions on an egg bun.
CAPITAL - VIRGINIA Grilled onions, aged Swiss, baby arugula, applewood-smoked bacon, tomatoes and mayo on a brioche bun.
International Menu Items
COSTA RICA Topped with chorizo, grilled Turrialba cheese, refried black beans, fried potato sticks, and Lizano cilantro mayo on a classic egg bun.
Local guests may also enjoy Smashburger'sPejibaye Frites, a side of flash-fried and seasoned peach palm fruit with cilantro mayo, or Portabello mushroom fries.
KUWAIT BURGER Hot pepper cheese, Hawaii grilled jalapeños, labneh, baby spinach, tomato and cucumber on a spicy chipotle bun.
CALGARY - CANADA Canadian seasoned grilled onions, pepper jack cheese, applewood smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and Dijon-mayonnaise on a kaiser roll.
SAUDI BURGER In Saudi Arabia, the 100 percent Certified Halal Angus Beef local burger is topped with Saudi spices, cheddar cheese, red onion, lettuce, pickles, tomato and tahini sauce on a spicy chipotle bun