Burgers and beer, the all-American marriage of food. But where to find this perfect combination? A truly complete meal where you can wash down a hearty, juicy and flavorful burger with our favorite, sudsy adult beverage? Founder and CEO, Tom Ryan set out to solve this dilemma by creating Smashburger, a restaurant offering creative variations of the perfect burger, and teaming up with local craft breweries across America to create pairing menus unique to each location, 15 and counting to date.
When he got to San Diego, Stone Brewing Co. was a shoe in. Together, Ryan and “Doctor” Bill Sysak, Craft Beer Ambassador for Stone created the perfect pairing menu. Customized to the San Diego palate, this menu covers the spectrum of amazing creations both have to offer.
To celebrate the launch of a new, Point Loma Smashburger location, and the pairing menu that will be available at 11 Smashburger locations throughout San Diego and Orange counties, Ryan and Dr. Bill hosted a tasting event showcasing these masterfully crafted pairings and sharing their histories.
Before we even got to the pairings, a feast of side dishes and sauces was presented: Smashfries (rosemary, olive oil and garlic), Sweet potato fries (thick and crunchy with mellow sweet potato flavor) Haystack onions (thin-sliced with chicken-fried steak batter), and Veggie fries (carrot and green bean, seasoned, crispy and delicious.)
Also, to our delight and surprise, a secret-menu item, Deep-fried pickles and ranch dressing. An absolute must-try, these little guys were also battered chicken-fried steak style, perfectly vinegary, salty, crunchy and sour. Warm pickles are a bit of a shock to the mouth, but the flavor is crazily addictive, by far our favorite side.
We started off pairings with the basics (not basic by a long shot), The Classic Smash +Arrogant Bastard Ale. Starting with a hand-smashed patty (hence Smashburger), the Classic Smash piles American cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickle, and Smash sauce on a butter-egg bun. The burger was juicy and flavorful, the veggies crisp and fresh, and the bun flaky, moist and buttery. Arrogant Bastard lives up to the name, a bold, dark ale that is surprisingly smooth. Most importantly, the two together create flavors in your mouth not present in the ingredients. A bite of burger followed by a sip of beer just makes you go back for more, time after time.
The Truffle Mushroom Swiss Burger + Stone Smoked Porter, my God, what a creation. The Smash is adorned with sauteed baby portabellas, aged Swiss and a truffle-infused mayo. Followed by the rich decadence of the smoked porter, Stone’s being one of only two on the market, this is THE perfect pairing to satisfy your taste and warm your belly. Melting in your mouth only begins to describe what happens when these two are brought together.
BBQ, Bacon and Cheddar Burger + Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, probably what I would order walking in with no prior knowledge. I would have found exactly what I was looking for with this pairing. First, a note about Smash’s BBQ sauce, each is crafted to the cuisine of its specific location, Florida’s is orange-based, New Orlean’s is spiked with root beer and ours in San Diego is crafted with chilies, cumin and honey. The burger is also topped with thick-cut, crispy bacon and those delicious Haystack onions from earlier. Paired with the uniquely fulfilling “black” IPA that Stone selected to wash this monster of a burger down.
When we got to the San Diego Burger + Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale, I was very curious to how well a national chain could pin down our culinary identity and match it with a great, local brew. They nailed it. The burger is presented on a telera roll, topped with avocado, cilantro, pepper jack, sour cream, chipotle mayo and a wedge of lime. Southern California on a bun. The oak barrelled beer matches the intensity of flavors. Spices, savories, citruses and bitter hops offset and harmonize with each bite and sip.
The Spicy Veggie Black Bean Burger + Stone Ruination IPA is the menu’s vegetarian option. It is, however, one this meat-lover could definitely go for again. Built around a stick-to-your-ribs black bean and blue corn tortilla chip patty, the burger doesn’t let up on spice or flavor bringing in pepper jack, fresh jalapenos and chipotle mayo. The light, crisp and refreshing IPA is absolutely essential to quell the burn of the burger. I could see this being the perfect lunch pairing for Smashburger and Stone in San Diego.
How do you give an unbattered, unbreaded chicken breast the kind of flavor that Smashburger and Stone look for in a pairing? Simply, the Classic Chicken and Stone Cali-Belgique IPA. The chicken is also hand-smashed, true to form, and served on a multigrain bun with the essential veggies. For both the sandwich and the beer, the secret is in the seasoning. When the chicken is roasted, the skin is removed, then readded to the seasoning to provide that perfect salty, home-cooked chicken flavor in every bite. The beer is carefully crafted with a belgian yeast to bring up flavors and aromas that match the comfort food feel of the chicken. One of the best pairings on the menu and one of the best chicken sandwiches I can remember.
The final pairing of the night was the Avocado Club Chicken + Arrogant Bastard Ale. This, the more finely tuned chicken option and beer recipe to San Diego cuisine, capped things off perfectly. The caramelized malts of the beer match the savory of the applewood-smoked bacon and the bitterness of the hops perfectly contrasts the avocado and chicken. A match made in heaven.
Just when we thought they were done, Mr. Ryan and Dr. Bill had one final trick up their sleeve. A Stone Smoked Porter float with Vanilla Haagen Dazs ice cream. If you’re reluctant of milk and beer in the same glass, you’re not alone, but this creative dessert is definitely worth a try. The flavors blend amazingly and provided the final satisfaction this tasting deserved.
A final note regarding our hosts. These two men exude a creativity and passion that is so blatantly evident in this menu. They possess some of the most refined palates in the world, earned through years of travel, experience and dedication to their craft. Together they have created this menu as a gift and tribute to San Diego eating, and trust me, each pairing is worth a try.