Burger Battle: The Search for the Best Burger in St. Charles
For the next few weeks, our resident restaurant reviewer is searching for the best burger in St. Charles. This week, she tried Smashburger.
Now that summer has come to a close, St. Charles Patch is searching for the best burger in the city.
The recent review of JJ's Restaurant sets a high bar for burgers in St. Charles. However, there are some other worthwhile contenders. Throughout the next few weeks, we’re visiting the best burger joints in the city to see how their offerings stack up.
We started the first skirmish in our burger battle at the appropriately named Smashburger.
I like the idea of a restaurant that focuses on doing one thing and doing it well. That's Smashburger's schtick. It makes burgers. OK, it also makes chicken sandwiches, but treats chicken like a different kind of burger patty instead of a fundamentally different beast.
Smashburger is a fast, casual restaurant with a factory-like atmosphere. When you enter, you're immediately fed into the ordering line where you study the straightforward burger menu while you wait your turn to order. Pay up front, take a number and head to one of the red-and-black booths to wait for a staffer to bring your artistically arranged food served in a rectangular wire basket.
The factory feeling is only enhanced by the exposed ceiling and chrome accents. It's a little like being inside a noisy appliance. That's not a bad thing, though. The place also feels incredibly modern, and that extends to the notions of what goes on a burger.
You can choose from six basic burgers. There's the classic hamburger with traditional fixings, a cheeseburger with haystack onions, a mushroom and swiss burger, a barbecue bacon burger and a spicy baja burger. Although this is a national chain, I appreciate its nod to local cuisine by rounding out the list with a St. Louis burger topped in Provel cheese, grilled mushrooms, grilled onions and sweet bell peppers, all served on a pretzel bun.
However, the fun of Smashburger comes in the customization. Your basic burger options include four buns, six cheeses (probably five in other parts of the country that have never heard of Provel) seven sauces and seven toppings. If you're willing to spend a little extra, you can get away from things such as barbecue sauce and kosher pickles and get into interesting add-ons such as guacamole, fried pickles, onion rings, garlic mushrooms, avocado, beef chili or a fried egg.
You really could enjoy a complete breakfast on a bun here if you added a fried egg, bacon, and cheese to your burger.
Since I couldn't decide between the haystick onions (fine cut onion rings), beef chili or fries for my side dish, I decided to cheat a little and add them all to my burger. It was a great way to enjoy the best of all worlds.
My order was artistically presented as though it was a three-part sampler platter with fries to one side, cold toppings to another, and the warm part of my sandwich crowned with chili and onions in the middle. The presentation and options give Smashburger a lot of upscale appeal to counter the factory atmosphere.
The thick, meaty chili was clearly designed to be a topping. You could stick a spoon upright in the middle of a bowl. It added a nice, earthy flavor to the burger without making it unmanagably wet, which is no small achievement.
The haystack onions were wafer thin, sweet onion slices coated in batter about twice the thickness of the vegetable itself. They were well drained and free of grease. When I put the top bun over my burger and smashed them down into the chili, they promptly absorbed the flavor and moisture, helping keep my pleasantly huge sandwich together.
The thick, toothsome egg bun was just dense enough to hold its shape under the weight and moisture of everything inside. The flavor itself was reminiscent of challah. It was just sweet enough to add a little extra complexity to the burger without being distracting. For people who don't like sweet breads with their meats, Smashburger also offers a multigrain bun, spicy chipolte bun or pretzel bun.
I was seriously torn between the regular fries and the sweet potato fries for the side I would eat with my burger instead of on it. Both are tossed with rosemary, garlic and olive oil. When I reached the front of the line, I asked the cashier which she preferred. She smiled and told me if it was my first time she'd recommend the sweet potato fries, but if I didn't like them, just bring them back up, and they'd swap them out for no fee. Small customer service aspects such as that in a factory-like chain restaurant setting were a nice touch. She steered me in the right direction.
This being an artisan burger joint, side dishes included the sweet potato fries and some veggie frites made from asparagus, carrot sticks and green beans. You could also get less faux-healthy options in the form of fried pickles or chili cheese fries.
I’ll be honest—I liked this burger a lot. Everything from the topping choices to the presentation to the localization impressed me. The real question is whether it was better than JJ’s Burgers (my current gold standard for St. Charles.)
Smashburger made a valiant effort, though. JJ’s set an insanely high bar and Smashburger comes pleasantly close. The real deciding factor for me was that authentic grill flavor at JJ’s versus the “best darn factory I’ve eaten at” flavor from Smashburger.
My huge, well-topped burger, sweet potato fries and an iced tea came to $14 plus a $2.50 tip left on the table. I know people have mixed feelings about leaving tips at fast, casual restaurants. My rule of thumb, however, is any time someone clears my table and offers to refill my drink, I’ve crossed the line into tipping territory.
Smashburger is darn good at what it does and offers a good-sized meal pretty fast at a reasonable price. The high-quality ingredients, variety of toppings and speed make me pleased to offer it a very solid A-.
Burger Battle Contenders:
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