The Smashmobile: Denver's "Xmas Present to Houston"

Rolling in with one flat tire on its trailer, the brightly-colored Smashmobile limped into the Houston Press parking lot today all the way from Denver and ready to hand out its classic Smashburger and fries.

As discussed in an earlier blog post, Smashburger is the Denver-based "fast-casual" burger chain that takes five or six minutes to deliver a burger after you order. The idea is that the food itself rivals or matches what you'd get in a casual dining (sit-down) restaurant, costs less and is a cut above fast food joints.

Normally, Smashburger sells its burgers and chicken in regular non-portable restaurants. The Smashmobile is a relatively new addition that the company is using for promotions (hence its trip to the Press) and to go to community events and festivals, said Denver rep Greg Creighton, who was on hand to help out with the transition to Houston.

The crew on board Tuesday -- headed up by Houston resident Aaron Johnson, the person who'll operate the first Smashburger restaurant here -- got its mobile kitchen in gear in short order and with only one more minor glitch (a 15-minute delay past the noon hour) started handing out its baskets of burgers and fries.

Why the name Smashburger? "It's the way we cook them," Creighton said. "We use an old fashioned hot flat top grill. We smash the ball of certified Angus hamburger on the grill." Then a crew member uses a special metal patty mold to pound the burger down from the top side. This sears the meat and seals in the juices and the flavor, Creighton explained. He called the process: "Metal on metal, so there's no escape, so to speak."

The first Smashburger in Houston will open December 23 ("Our Christmas present to Houston," Creighton said,) and be located at Main and Kirby. The chain plans on opening another Smashburger at Briar Forest and the Eldridge Parkway after that. Both locations have the demographic profile that's worked well for them in Denver, Creighton said: dual wage earner families who eat out a lot and love burgers.

As for the group taste test: the burgers are indeed juicy and with all the seasonings and melted American cheese that go into the sandwich, a bit of a joyous slithery mess to eat. The fries were the most exotic item, though, with a distinctive flavor that almost no one could place other than the fact that they had olive oil on them. Besides that, as it turns out, are garlic, rosemary, basil and "a touch of sea salt."

So, if you're feeling adventurous during the last-minute holiday shopping rush and you're pressed for time, you might stop by and try out the latest restaurant to make its way to our city guided by the belief that if you're peddling burgers, Houstonians are going to be receptive. - Margaret Downing

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