I rarely review chains. Most people are familiar with them. But the name “Smashburger” intrigued me. I knew that there was an outlet already in Clifton Park and one In Albany, but colleague Gail was heading to Virginia to spend the holidays with her daughter and son-in-law the next day, so we decided to stop for a light meal at the Smashburger in Niskayuna.
The building, inside and out, was not particularly inviting, but we were there for supper, so décor wasn’t at the top of our list. It was late afternoon and only a few tables in the utilitarian red, tan and brown interior were filled.
The front door and a waist-high wall corralled us behind a few customers in line to reach the counter.
WHERE: ShopRite Square Plaza, 2309 Nott St., Niskayuna, 487-4099, www.smashburger.com
WHEN: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
HOW MUCH: $23.44 before tax and tip
MORE INFO: accessible, parking in large shopping center lot, all major credit cards accepted, noise level and music permits conversation
Behind and above the counter was the menu consisting of smashburgers and smashchicken, salads, fries and sides, kids’ meals and shakes and malts.
Given my slightly elevated cholesterol, I recognized that chicken is better for me than beef. Nevertheless, I chose the avocado club (avocado, Applewood smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, ranch dressing and mayo on a multigrain bun for $7.09).
I could have chosen the New Yorker (with cheddar cheese, spinach, grilled onions on a brioche bun), a Spicy Jalapeño Baja with guacamole, jalapeños and pepper jack on a spicy chipotle bun, an avocado ranch black bean burger, or I could have created my own combination. All are in the $6-$7 range with counterparts of chicken (grilled or crispy) for a few cents more. Smashburger’s beef is fresh, never frozen, 100 percent Certified Angus beef.
Gail ordered the Classic Smashburger (American cheese, smash sauce, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, pickles and red onion on an egg bun for $5.79) because she wanted to sample the restaurant’s namesake.
Bypassing the salads, we delved into the less healthful sides: sweet potato fries ($2.49) for Gail and haystack onions ($2.49) for me. Smashfries tossed with rosemary, olive oil and garlic ($2.39 for the smaller portion and $3.49 for large) were also available, as well as fried pickles ($2.99) and veggie frites (2.99). What I should have ordered, of course, was the side salad for $2.99.
Undefinable background music was just soft enough to let us carry on our conversation, which went something like this:
Me: I wonder why they’re called smashburgers?
Gail: Look at the edges peeking out of the bun. They are scalloped as if thicker patties had been smashed on the grill.
In truth, the burgers were quite juicy — Gail had to remove a sopping lettuce leaf loaded with Smash Sauce in order to eat the burger in a reasonably ladylike manner. The smashing procedure did, however, make it impossible to produce a medium rare result.
Both sides were salty and flavorful — and greasy. Guilty pleasures only half consumed, for the guilt soon overpowered the pleasure.
Gail noted that Smashburger was the modern version of the ’50s malt shop. Server Kim explained to us that the restaurant is popular with local high school students.
For under $5, one could order a shake or a malt in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, plus Oreo, Chocolate Oreo, Peanut Butter, Salted Caramel or Butterfinger. Haagen-Dazs, Reeses Peanut Butter Sauce and Stewart’s Root Beer are used in beverages.
Speaking of beverages, our evening began on a negative note. When the counter person asked what we would like to drink, I replied hot tea with lemon. “We don’t have hot tea,” said the young man who told us that he had just begun working at Smashburgers, but neglecting to tell us they did have iced tea.
Ok, I’ll have a coffee, I suggested enthusiastically. Do we have coffee he asked his supervisor. No. How about a diet soda? Nope. A sign was posted that they were out of it. So a bottle of water it was for Gail and me, though I’m sure the beverage issues will eventually be straightened out.
In the end, it was the service that rescued the evening. Our burgers were served quickly and attractively on wire mesh platters. Young server Kim was smiling and attentive. When we asked her about tipping, she shyly told us they were allowed to accept tips.
A minor aspect of Smashburger annoyed me (and this is strictly a personal matter): the listing of calories for each item. My meal totaled over 1,500 calories. Kind of a spoiler.
According to the Smashburger website, the first restaurant in the chain made its appearance in 2007.
There are now more than 300 corporate and franchise outlets operating in 32 states and 5 countries. Food may be ordered online from their site.