Berkeley - Smokehouse – Holy cow (I think)... finally tried the burger ... strategies
Well, it was better, bigger and a little less expensive than Burger King. The subtle flame-broiled taste isn’t phony ... it’s non-existent ... but not phony.
Pro: dirt cheap, open late, independently owned, food actually broiled over a flame, lotsa shake flavors, orange freeze.
Con: Oscar’s, Big Al’s & Pup Hut make a better burger in this category.
Now some of this MAY sound like I don’t like the place ... I do ... I’ll get to that ... eventually.
For all those people who list these grey, dry, thin, flavorless patties as ‘best burger’ or anything but what they are ... cheap eats ... well, you need to go back during the day when sober, I’m guessing.
My own strategy is skipping the condiments. They put on too much.
Does anyone REALLY want relish on a hamburger ... and what the heck is wrong with you if you do? It is NOT the same as a pickle chip.
The lettuce is shredded and the tomatoes are standard fast food quality. But if you are a starving student and want some veggies on the burger to fill up and meet minimum food pyramid requirements for produce ... still SKIP the dressing.
They overdo the mayo and is that thousand island dressing on the burger or is that taste just the combo of relish, catsup and mayo? There are pump dispensers where condiments can be added to your own taste ... though that thinnish catsup ain’t Heinz.
The thing with Smokehouse is that despite things being cooked over an open flame, there is just no taste of char-broil and it dries the burgers. Often they blacken the buns just to get a char flavor causing them to get stiff ... but that translates more to burnt-tasting.
So the first sloppy, black-bunned burger dripping dressing and shedding shredded iceberg was a bust ... I figure ... get the essence of the burger ... double cheeseburger, onions only.
Yeah, you don’t want the essence of this dry burger ... AND ... there is only ONE slice of cheese between the two burgers and it got absorbed by the burgers leaving no cheese flavor. Even though they don’t grill the fresh chopped onions, they give you a good amount and I liked them.
So, here’s my advice ... chili cheese burger ... no condiments. It balances the dry burger and bun.
Fortunately on the double cheeseburger visit I bought a cup of their chili ($1.85) ... not bad for the canned variety with ground beef & beans ... not too salty or soupy ... topped with a bit of shredded cheese & chopped onions on request.
I added some of the chili to the burger which relieved the dryness and gave it a nice spicy flavor and oniony soul.
Ya can’t say I didn’t try to like this burger and give it every chance. Burger $2.20. Cheeseburger $2.25. Double cheeseburge $3.40.
The problem of no char flavor extends to the skinny, foot-long, case-less Miller hot dog ($2.20).
Burger & dog buns come with seeds ... could be sesame seeds ... didn’t have any noticeable taste.
Basic dogs & burgers come with mustard, catsup, relish & onions. The 30 cent upgrade on the burger buys lettuce, tomato & mayo. There are all the combos of doubling meat and adding chili & cheese.
Whatever you do ... DON’T order the grilled cheese ... two slices of American cheese barely melted in a grilled (without benefit of butter) hamburger bun $2.
The big draw for me here are the thick cut fries ... the $1.20 puts the phrase super-size to shame. These are a meal or two in themselves. Mine were not all that crisp with a few on the limp side, but I still like thick, creamy fries. Given that I like the chili & the fries, I’m thinking one of these days I’ll be ordering the chili cheese fries $2.20.
The orange freeze ($2. 25) was horribly good ... by that I mean both adjectives at the same time. Basically this was soft-serve with REALLY fake orange something mixed in.
I like creamsicles ... any type of creamsicles ... so this was satisfying to me. I never could figure out what the orange stuff was. When I first looked at the top of the HUGE paper cup, it looked like bad orange sherbet on top ... the bright orange stuff from Food4Less that comes in huge plastic tubs.
Since the straw didn’t reach to the bottom of the cup, I mixed what I could and only later discovered the orange stuff was liquid and had settled on the bottom like mercury in water.
At first I thought ... bad orange soda. But no ... it was more ... like the orange liquid in those candy wax bottles I bought when I was a kid.
About the shakes... do they HAVE a shake mixer? It seemed like they were pouring flavoring on ice cream and mixing it by hand. Shakes ($2.25) or malts ($2.35) come in lots of flavors ... root beer, butterscotch, coffee, pineapple, peach, banana, orange, blackberry, boysenberry, strawberry, mixed berry, vanilla & chocolate.
I kind of like Smokehouse for the sheer funkiness and becoming an institution through determined longevity (opened 1951). It’s a survivor ... despite everything.
Order at the counter and choose one of the many picnic tables in a semi-enclosed patio ... most tables just protected by a carport-like roof. I hear rumors of heat lamps but I go on warm days. There’s no real inside there unless you’re an employee.
Food, so to speak, I haven’t tried yet ... Salad ($1), veggie burger ($3.50), chicken burger ($3), chicken breast ($3.50). Sure ... I’ll give those a try ... eventually.
I am rworange (HI, RW). I am a junk food junky.
3115 Telegraph Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94705
Mon-Sat: 10:30 am – 1:20 pm... 1:20? That ain’t a typo ... NOT 1:30
Sunday: 10:30 am – 9:20 pm (gives the staff 10 minutes to clean up & close?)
Yep ... one dollar. There was a handwritten sign that said "We now have all salads"
Unfortunately I was contemplating other aspects of the joint and didn't ask what that meant ... probably shredded lettuce & tomato topped with relish, mayo, chopped onion & catsup.
Could be I'm missing out on potato or macaroni. It was left to the imagination.
The butterscotch milkshake is good (as you say, the shakes are made with soft serve ice cream and some artificial flavoring) and it has always been well-mixed when I've been there.
Unfortunately (or fortunately!) I live a block from the Smokehouse. Their fries can be simply amazing. They can also be really incredibly bad. The last batch that I ordered had been re-fried to heat them up. They were greasy crispy burnt awful.
But all in all, it is a great place to be able to walk to in less than five minutes. I have family from the East Coast that inisist on going at least once during a visit, just because it is fast cheap, good and not MCD's or .......
I like the Smokehouse. The fries are excellent. I think of the burger like a In 'n Out...not the best by any means but good for the price and more convienent if you're in Berk/NorOak.
There's something weirdly comforting about the place. Not the best 'hood but by no means bad. Good of mix customers, mildly run-down yet a total lack of pretense of any kind and no big chain fast food marketing in your face. Favorite time to eat there is a sunny summer evening around 7.