Smashburger offers many opportunities for delicious deviation

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You know when you sincerely promise yourself you'll try something different the next time you eat at a restaurant, but then don't because you just love that one thing so much? That's me with the Truffle Mushroom Swiss burger at Smashburger. Every single time I've eaten at a Smashburger, I've ordered the same meal: The TMS burger with extra goat cheese and a side of Smashfries -- no deviations, no exceptions. But after trying other burgers and sides at a recent media event at the newest Smashburger location in Denver, I discovered that deviation can be downright smashing.

See also: -First look: Smashburger unveils new design concept -Smashburger hauls its buns all the way to Costa Rica -Smashburger puts the brakes on SmashCart...for now

My exercise in Smashfood deviation started at the store at 6305 East Hampden Avenue, where Smashfounder Tom Ryan, a food-industry rock star who has an impressive resume including inventing the McDonald's McGriddle sandwich, talked to the troops, explained the new design and rolled out the food. I got to try damn near everything on the Smashmenu: the burgers, the sides, the avocado club chicken sandwich, the new salted caramel shake. I loved almost everything I tried at the event, but I wondered: How does the Smashgrubbery rate on an everyday, non-special event basis?

This Smashquestion needed a Smashanswer, so I cruised to the Smashburger at 7305 East 35th Avenue for lunch.The first thing I noticed was that this location, unlike the Hampden store, had a Freestyle Coke machine, something I recall talking with Tom Ryan about at the media event. I'd asked him if he was aware that those robotic drink dispensers were being used by Skynet for the purposes of human mind control, and he chuckled. (Yeah, keep laughing, sir. It won't be so funny when humanity is enslaved.) The Freestyle Coke machine at the 35th Avenue store was doing something I hadn't seen any of them do before -- a couple of weird blinky lights kept signaling something -- so I asked one of the cheery and wholesome-looking employees if the flickering lights meant that we had somehow angered the machine. She calmly informed me that it was all good, and the lights meant a cartridge needed to be replaced. (Yeah, keep laughing...)

I still kept my eye on it the whole time I was there.

I ordered two things that I hadn't tried at the media event: the spinach and goat cheese chicken sandwich and the Colorado dog. I also ordered the fried green chiles which I'd loved at the media event, as well as one of those little, aluminum 100-calorie bottles of Coke, for obvious reasons.

While my food was being prepared, I thought about all the burgers I'd even the week before, and was genuinely sorry that I hadn't branched out from my usual order much earlier. Smash's classic All-American burger really shows off the best qualities of the hand-smashed beef patties: the moist, juicy insides; the crisp beef-fatty outsides; and the perfectly melted square of American cheese definitely enhance the experience. I also love that Smashcooks use decent pickles -- thick, crinkle-cut dill chips with some turgidity to them.

The Spicy Baja Black Bean Burger was exceptionally tasty as well; the housemade, meatless burger patty was thick, dense and well-seasoned, and there was as much guacamole as there was patty -- and that is brilliant. Ryan had explained that for Smashburger's chicken sammies, the cooks pound the breasts flat so as to avoid the common annoyance of the fat middles/ jerky-dried edges. The avocado chicken club made good use of this technique, too, because the thinner patty left more room for thick slices of crispy bacon and rich, mealy avocado slices.

I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention the angelic qualities of the Truffle Mushroom Swiss burger. It was my first love at Smashburger simply because of the sheer amount of fragrant truffle oil used. I'm nutbag-crazy over truffle oil, the more the better, and I like it when I can smell truffle before the burger gets to my table. And although the melted Swiss that comes on the burger is more than adequate, I like to order extra goat cheese crumbles because something about the combination of earthy, barnyard goat chevre and earthy, woodsy truffles make this burger so rich it should come with a side of wallets.

The arrival of my lunch stopped all those memories of previous meals. I have yet to receive any service at Smash's that wasn't fantastic, and the service this time measured up -- as did the food. The fried chiles were just as tender-crisp, lightly battered and delicious as they were the last time I had them. These are seriously my new favorite snack -- especially with a salted caramel shake.

I was never big on caramel before the salted trend started, but since it's hard to find caramel lattes, cake, ice cream or candies that aren't dotted with sea salt crystals these days, I have fads on my side. Smash's shakes are made with Häagen-Dazs, and there is a definite correlation between the quality of ice cream used and the overall quality of the shake. I was disappointed that this shake was less salty than my last one; next time I'll just ask for extra salt to enhance the sweet, crème brulee taste.

Usually food items that carry the Colorado descriptor have a few pleasant commonalities: meat, perhaps, and peppers of some kind. Smash's Colorado dog sure did -- the Angus beef dog, split down the middle and grilled, was stuffed with Cheddar cheese and topped with melted pepper jack cheese, grilled onions, green chiles and fresh tomato slices, slathered with chipotle sauce and served on a fat, seeded egg bun. "Filling" would be an accurate word for this hot dog. It was so substantial that this and a small Coke made an adequate meal.

But if I'd stopped there, I would have missed the spinach and goat cheese chicken sandwich: the breakout star of this meal. It was a simple combo of flat-grilled chicken breast, goat cheese crumbles, fresh baby spinach, tomato, cucumber and red onion slices with a touch of balsamic vinaigrette on a multi-grain bun that was light, fluffy and soft. The spinach and cucumber slices brought a moist crunch; the goat cheese, onions and balsamic dressing melded those spicy, earthy and tart flavors. As an added bonus, this is one of those sandwiches that makes you feel healthier after eating it.

Too bad it didn't cancel out the gut-heaviness of the hot dog. I would recommend Smashburger's Colorado dog as an effective sleep aid, right up there with beer and watching documentaries on ancient Egypt on PBS.

Dining at Smashburger at a planned media event got me excellent service, a smashing meal and unbeatable value, of course -- but having lunch there, unannounced, on a regular weekday also got me excellent service, a smashing meal and real value. (Sure, I had to pay this time, but Smashfood is inexpensive for the portion sizes and quality ingredients.)

I can't say that I'll abandon my favorite Truffle Mushroom Swiss plus goat cheese burger forever, but I'm looking forward to years of delicious menu deviation at Smashburger.

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