Avocado Club burger at Smashburger (Hilary Higgins/RedEye )
Burger review: Smashburger
2031 N. Clybourn Ave. 312-800-9010
Rating: !!! (out of four)
One might call opening another burger joint a mere block away from Five Guys Burgers and Fries risky, audacious … even arrogant. Doing so would require, as they would say south of the border in Mexico where I, The Great Burgerelli, just returned from a lovely hamburger holiday, "cojones muy grandes."
That is precisely what the fine folks behind Smashburger have done with their first Chicago location, just a short walk north from Five Guys in Lincoln Park's Clybourn corridor. Though this beefy business is based in Denver and recently has opened a number of locations in the surrounding suburbs, this is the very first within Chicago city limits, otherwise known as Burgerelli territory.
The burger: One might deduce this from the name, but I will state for the record that Smashburger's black angus beef patties are pressed onto a buttered flat-top grill to create a seared edge that the staffers appropriately refer to as "meat candy." Though they are cooked through rather than grilled to your requested temperature, they remain quite juicy indeed. While some thin-patty eateries—such as Meatheads or Edzo's—stack their patties to satisfy heartier appetites, Smashburger opts to offer a larger patty instead. At nearly 1/2 pound compared to the regular 1/3 pound, the larger size isn't immediately apparent, but upon closer examination, I did see that the patty protruded out from the bun just bit more.
The bun: For a counter-service establishment, the bun selection at Smashburger is stupendous. The classic egg bun was fluffy yet firm, and the multi-grain option was not, as I feared it may be, unpleasantly grainy. And the pretzel bun, now a textbook burger offering in these parts, was as pleasing as expected. All three buns withstand a fair amount of lower bun compression under the weight of the toppings, but no visible cracks or fissures developed.
The fixings: Smashburger offers many of the toppings that are more akin to a gourmet burger bar than a fast-food facility. The Avocado Club burger ($5.99) paired freshly sliced avocado with thick slices of applewood-smoked bacon and a drizzle of ranch dressing. I don't know how the toppings on the Windy City burger ($5.99)—melted cheddar, spicy mustard, lettuce, tomato and crispy onion strings—represent Chicago exactly, but the combination was thoroughly tasty. Other accoutrements include grilled onions or mushrooms, fresh jalapenos, spicy chipotle sauce, truffle mayonnaise, guacamole or a fried egg.
The fries: Sweet potato fries ($2.49) are standard, but the signature Smashfries ($1.99) stand out for their dusting of rosemary and drizzle of olive oil, which pooled a bit at the bottom of the tray, making for a few especially delicious oil-drenched crispy potato morsels. For the especially health-conscious, Smashburger also sells veggie frites ($2.99), a side of flash-fried green beans and carrots.
Everything else: Though my love for burgers is paramount, I do have a rather soft spot for cookies and candies. Imagine my glee to behold Smashburger's selection of milkshakes ($4.29), which range from mint Oreo to Nutter Butter to my new personal favorite, Butterfinger. Though slippery hands are not ideal when holding a burger, the candy bar does make for a fine specimen of a shake.
Bottom line: Five Guys does indeed have a local following and I do admit that I adore their fries, but I would choose Smashburger time and time again if I were to find myself in the Clybourn corridor craving a burger, which, let's not be nitwitted, is always.
The Great Burgerelli is a fearless seeker of fine burgers. firstname.lastname@example.org