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Cheap Eats: S'macks Burgers & Shakes

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S'macks' bacon and cheese fries / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

S'macks' bacon cheese fries / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

I first came to Sarasota in 1995, decades after the legendary Main Street burger joint Smack closed its doors for good, but it's still easy to understand the appeal of S'macks, the new high-end burger joint dedicated to recreating some of the vibe of the original. We live in nostalgia-hungry times, for one thing, an era in which a basic TV melodrama like "Mad Men" is elevated to high art because gee, those clothes look awful nifty. In the food world, that's meant a return to established hits: Home cooks are canning and pickling and preserving, while restaurants are turning to diners, fish shacks and, yes, burger joints for inspiration.

I'm not averse to the trend. I mean, look at this photo from the original Smack. Look at that convertible! Why are today's automobiles so repulsive in comparison?

S'macks' bison burger / RACHEL LEVEY-BAKER

S'macks' bison burger / RACHEL LEVEY-BAKER

But what does S'macks have to offer that places like the Hob Nob or the Shake Pit don't? Most importantly, they tell you where the food comes from.

A huge map inside S'macks' slick new building details where the restaurant gets several of its ingredients. S'macks is a brainchild of the team that runs Gecko's, the local mini-empire that has been sourcing much of its vegetables from Sarasota's Honeyside Farms, and the burger joint goes out of its way to tell you that Geiers Sausage Kitchen supplies all its hot dogs (starting at $3) and that the meat in its bison burgers (starting at $5.75) comes from Three Suns Ranch down in Punta Gorda.

My cousin, Marianna, set to depart for a job in Oman in a few days, says she can't taste a difference between the bison meat and the regular ol' beef burger (starting at $3.79), but I disagree. The grass-fed bison gives you a bigger, funkier flavor and amazingly enough, it's healthier — leaner and lower in cholesterol. Topped with melted cheese, crunchy onion, a red tomato slice and a hunk of lettuce, the burger hits all the right notes.

The fries are as excellent as you'd expect. Cut crinkle-style, they come by themselves ($2.59), dusted with garlic, herbs and Parmesan ($3.59) or buried in cheese and bacon ($4.59). All three options are winners, particularly that last one. Whereas many restaurants might make the fries soggy with an avalanche of cheese and bacon, S'macks' fries maintain their crisp structure.

S'macks' standard hot dog / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

S'macks' standard hot dog / COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

On the even more basic side are the hot dogs. Split open lengthwise and then griddled, they've got a dense texture and flavor miles removed from slimy Oscar Mayer varieties. Tasty enough, but I'm sticking with a burger when I come back.

S'macks serves a wide range of frozen custards for dessert. When I ask the young woman behind the counter what makes frozen custard different from ice cream, she tells me the place has essentially perfected the art of ice cream. Yowza. I'm psyched. I order an "Unconditional Surrender" concrete (because Sarasota pride, yo), which contains chocolate custard, fudge brownie bits and Nutella.

Has S'macks perfected ice cream? No. But the concrete tastes great, the bits of brownie like rare, valuable doubloons to be hunted for and scarfed down. "There are some concrete reasons to come back here," says my brother-in-law, Jon, busy wolfing down his order.

How does S'macks stack up against Smack? Unfortunately I can't hop into the DeLorean to find out — but what's not to like? You certainly don't need to feel nostalgic for pencil skirts and retro-future automobile design to enjoy a quality burger.

S'macks Burgers & Shakes
2407 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota
922-7673 or smacksburgers.com


This is the umpteenth entry in a weekly column dedicated to eats that are cheap. If you have an idea for a place to feature on Cheap Eats, comment below, email me at cheapeatssrq@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter: @LeveyBaker.

Last modified: September 13, 2013
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