In New Paltz, new eateries tend to pop up in clusters of the same type of cuisine. Remember when the town had no Indian restaurants at all for years and years, and then we had two opening within a couple of months of each other? Or when we went from no Middle Eastern food to a nice sit-down Turkish dinner destination on one side of Main Street downtown and a more casual café diagonally across the street, with a Greek diner next door? Or how about two Thai restaurants right next to each other and a Vietnamese pho place opposite?
Trace the timeline back a little further and one may recall similar waves of Japanese, Mexican and Sichuan restaurants opening up within relatively short spans. It seems that as soon as a particular type of food becomes popular, there are multiple entrepreneurs poised to jump on the same bandwagon – even out here in the provinces. Some wither and some stick around.
Setting aside the pizzerias that perennially come and go in this town, the trend most recently seems to be for hamburger joints that aren’t junk food. Most of our sit-down eateries offer burgers in some form, often more than acceptable. Garvan’s currently serves the version highest-rated on TripAdvisor, but that place is off the beaten track; you have to be going there on purpose. For a long time, New Paltz didn’t have an obvious successor to the fondly remembered charbroiled Kobe burgers for which the late lamented Barnaby’s Loaf & Tankard was once famous.
Burger Box recently surfaced, in a space vacated by one of the aforementioned neighboring Thai restaurants, its sights set on filling the void left by the closure of Barnaby’s in 2015. So, based on past patterns, it was only a matter of time before new contenders arrived.
The latest arrival, Smash Shack, opened on February 6 in the little space next door to K & E Beverages that used to house the Taco Shack, a Mexican fast-food joint. The proprietor is Nic Woerner of Mexican Kitchen, and one of his employees, Bianca Camba, is managing the new burger café. “Taco Shack never came back from COVID,” Camba explained to Hudson Valley One when we paid an exploratory visit. “Nic’s thought process was that he saw a necessity for a burger place that wasn’t quite fast food and wasn’t quite sit-down. He saw an opportunity and wanted to jump on it. So, he bought this place and started fixing it up.”
The first thing one notices upon walking inside Smash Shack is that the space has indeed been seriously spruced up, the walls freshly painted a pale blue/grey, with new terracotta floor tiles. “He did a complete renovation,” said Camba. “New kitchen, new countertops, new bathroom, new tables and chairs. It was pretty rough in here.”
Besides Camba, two other Mexican Kitchen staff members were imported to get Smash Shack in operation: chef Skyler Youngs and Jessica Buontempo, who helps with the front of the house. They’re currently advertising for a line cook to keep up with demand.
So far, business seems to be brisk – to the point that we had to wait for more than half an hour for our order to be filled, late in the afternoon on a Friday. While there’s seating for 20, the priority here is clearly to fulfill phone and online orders for pickup. Smash Shack works with Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats (though not Carry Out Kings at present), and college students are the primary customer base for takeout.
According to Camba, “The entire menu was created by the staff. We’re all local, and it was a team effort.” Regular hamburgers and cheeseburgers, single or doubled, are the core offerings, with a “build-your-own kind of style” and prices starting at $7. The burger patties are “humane-certified, vegetarian-diet Angus beef” from an upstate New York source, Plymouth Beef, Camba said.
Ten different toppings are available at no extra cost: tomatoes, sautéed onions, raw onions, lettuce, pickles, sautéed mushrooms, ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce and jalapeños. For an additional cost, you can add bacon, extra cheese, vegan cheese, vegan mayo, a gluten-free bun or substitute an Impossible Burger. A chicken option at $13 is called the Bee Burger for its honey sriracha sauce. There’s also a kids’ menu with three choices, all going for $9. Regular and Cajun fries are the available sides. Beverage options are sodas and bottled water, though Camba said that milkshakes may be on the horizon later in the year.
The verdict so far? Smash Shack burgers are much less greasy than fast-food burgers and come on a nicer bun, which would’ve been improved by grilling. On the evening of our visit, our testers found the patties overcooked and insufficiently juicy, though nicely blackened on the outside. Our Cajun fries were well-seasoned but definitely not crispy enough. Burger toppings (we tried the cheese and mushrooms) were tasty and generous.
Presumably, service will become smoother and the timing of grilling the burgers and frying the fries will be fine-tuned as this brand-new business gets up to speed. Meanwhile, it’s nice to have more alternatives to the fast-food franchises.
Located at 255 Main Street (Route 299), Smash Shack is open from noon until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and until 9 p.m. Thursday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. To place an order, call (845) 419-5050 or visit Grubhub, DoorDash or Uber Eats online.