Ambling up to order at the thoroughly modern Smashburger in Gahanna, I noticed the menu behind the counter wasn’t wholly static, but featured a flashing screen. Eyeing beer bottles nearby (all priced $3), I asked the enthusiastic order-taker for a Stella Artois. “Would you like a frosty glass?” she shot back. Nodding yes, I thought, “Is this the future of fast food?”
Based in Denver, Smashburger is a rapidly expanding (about 200 link) international chain that offers burgers ($6-$8, chicken sandwiches ($6-$7), entree salads ($6), multiple fried sides (veggies, onions, pickles and several potato treatments, $2-$3) and Haagen-Dazs-dipped milkshakes ($4). The bustling three-week-old Gahanna branch is the first of about a half-dozen Smash shops planned for Central Ohio — I’m guessing their odds of thriving are fairly strong.
Smash is one of those “seat yourself with a numbered table tent” operations. Fortunately, I barely had time to soak in the upbeat mall music or beige, brown and (especially) red prefab design scheme peppered with local touches (photos of ecstatic Smashburger chompers intermingle with the requisite Buckeye shoutouts and a cutout Columbus skyline) before my detectably fresh food literally zoomed out. It arrived in eco-thoughtful metal baskets and biodegradable “to-go” boxes.
Atop a ho-hum, mistakenly untoasted bun (flavored substitutions are available), the “Big”-sized Classic Smash ($6) was indeed big. Topped with the usual suspects (though myriad add-ons exist) plus American cheese and “Smash Sauce” (a viscous mayo, mustard and relish-y amalgam), it was a nicely griddle-crisped (i.e. SMASHED!) black angus patty that tasted good but was a seven-napkin mess. Verdict: about as much as you can expect from fast food in these parts.
On a decent multigrain bun, an Avocado Club grilled chicken breast ($6) was tricked out with thick, crispy bacon slices, fresh avocado slivers, ranch dressing plus the usuals. Verdict: solid but greasy.
Glistening with olive oil and redolent of rosemary, I thought the crispy and shoestring-y Smashfries ($2) were a bargain and the highlight. Until they were outclassed by a killer and perfectly thick (if long MIA; apologies from a sincerely concerned staff were abundant) Butterfinger Milkshake quaintly poured into an old-fashioned glass.
Overall verdict: If Smashburger is the future of fast food, then the genre’s in good hands.