55 Third Avenue, New York NY 10003 (b/n 10th & 11th; map); 212-420-9800; ctrnyc.com/THESMITH
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Sledgehammer execution compromises a hamburger that might be compromised anyway
Want Fries with That? Included in price with but a case of quantity over quality
Price: Bacon cheddar burger with the "works" and fries, $13
While I am generally a purist when it comes to hamburgers, preferring a simple preparation involving no more than salt, beef, cheese, and bread, I can appreciate the equally classic construction of a burger cast in the mode widely identified as Southern Californian—add lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and special sauce to the above listed sandwich. At least when it is executed well. Applied sparingly and in proper proportion the additions can elevate beef and bun that are perhaps not of the highest quality to something greater than the sum of its parts. On the other hand, when applied with reckless abandon the result can be less than satisfying. Unfortunately that is what I experienced at The Smith when I recently sampled their burger.
The burger showed up in a bit of a state. The bacon was overcooked to the point of acridity and was unevenly strewn over the patty. A holdout from breakfast perhaps? The lettuce had a thick stalk in the middle and while the tomato was fresh enough, everything was blanketed in such a thick layer of "special" sauce (mayo, ketchup, and far too much pickle) that it masked any flavor the toppings might have imparted.
The eight-ounce patty is a grilled sirloin affair. It is moderately juicy—it won't leave the bun soaked, but it is moist enough (besides, the torrent of dressing and deluge of perfectly melted cheddar helps in this department). It has decent flavor, which is the point of sirloin—at its best it hints at the flavor of steak—but texturally I prefer some chuck in the mix for a bawdier mouthfeel. The burger was delivered close enough to the rare that I ordered and had a decent char, providing a pleasing textural contrast within the patty itself. Its perfectly circular geometry did reveal that it was formed in a mechanized manner, and indeed it was a little dense, lacking the flaky quality of a hand-formed burger.
Set on a bulbous brioche bun the burger just doesn't really come together in a synergistic manner. I am not sure it would have mattered much even if the burger had been more judicially sauced. The principle culprit for this burger's disunity, beyond the over-abundant saucing, is the brioche itself. The initial bites only hint at its sweetness, but as one progresses through the burger it becomes increasingly cloying, building up on the palate, aided and abetted the sugary special sauce. Proportionally, the bun is perfect; it conforms around the hefty patty and goop of toppings, and does an admirable job of containing them. Despite its height, the burger is not that difficult to eat—at least it would have been easy if it wasn't hemorrhaging sauce.
The fries at The Smith have always disappointed me. The fresh cut skin-on fries should be good, and they often look good (though not on my last visit), but they are invariably rather oily and never crispy enough. It's too bad because they give you a huge portion. But then that may be the problem—quantity over quality.
It is hard to recommend The Smith hamburger based on the failures in execution that I experienced. For a better burger cut from a similar cloth—eight ounces of grilled fresh beef on a brioche bun—go to Great Jones Cafe. The bun might not be much better than the one at The Smith, but everything else is for a comparable price.
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