Watching Matt McIvor and Kevin Malone sling smashburgers is beautiful. It’s a choreographed display of burger prowess, the type of line cooking that Anthony Bourdain so accurately described as “ballet or modern dance.” A telepathic relationship exists between not just these two men, but among themselves and the equipment. Malone operates a fryer that’s missing a temperature gauge like a television medium placing their hand on a widow’s forehead. Although he has a laser gun thermometer on hand, it seems like he just flat out declines it. The man just knows when the oil is hot enough. The fries, once fluffy and crispy, Malone squirts with a little bit of duck fat as he simultaneously tosses them in a stainless steel bowl with a rhythmed flick of the wrist. All the while, he’s coordinating with the cashier and expediter, an eager 17-year-old kid with a passion for food service named Jack. McIvor, meanwhile, casually churns out smashburgers at the high level of professionality you typically only see out of grill cooks at Casino restaurants. He swings his hips around, opening a tailgate cooler to grab a few portioned spheres of ground meat, adds thinly sliced onions, then flattens them into the meat in one fluid motion. The whole operation looks like an outdoor theater, only these boys are Shakespeare-ing in the park underneath a tent outside of a beer store in Redondo Beach.
“It wasn’t always like this,” laughs McIvor.
McIvor isn’t a professional cook or a restaurant owner by trade. He used to work in restaurant PR, which he often found frustrating, and eventually got out. After the PR gig, he started cooking burgers in his backyard as a pandemic activity, casually serving 40 burgers to his neighborhood over a three hour span. In that time he honed his skills, tried different variations of pickles, cheese, buns, and sauce, until he landed on the burger he knew in his heart was the one. When that happened, people started to flock to his home in Redondo. “One day I hit 80 burgers, and I thought ‘Oh shit now this is getting real.’” 80 eventually turned into 300 once he set up shop at Select Beer Store in Redondo. But, as McIvor says, none of this would be possible without Malone.
Things fell into perfect place once Malone popped into the picture. The way McIvor talks about him, it’s like he’s a shrewd baseball GM who landed his star free agent. Malone’s culinary expertise allowed them to hone the operation and make it professional. That choreographed dance you see underneath the tent, the calmness and focus in the middle of a dinner rush, that comes with the territory for Malone, who’s got years of fine dining experience underneath this belt. Malone’s involvement also added another dimension to the product. In addition to the classic smash, you’ll find a rotating special like a jalapeño popper burger (a burger stuffed with cream cheese and pickled jalapeños) and a habanero burger with barbecue aioli, pork shoulder cut bacon, and caramelized onions.
There’s heavy line cook energy on full display at Proudly Serving. A humble, technical, no-bullshit vibe permeates the tent. Malone and McIvor understand the value in ripping open a bag of frozen french fries instead of cutting potatoes themselves. Fresh cut french fries are often mishandled, a fact that’s never more apparent than a trip to In-N-Out. “They’re the worst. It’s actually kind of good to see a chink in their armor,” Malone laughs, “It’s perfect otherwise. A four dollar burger that good? It’s incredible.” Malone calls Proudly Serving’s fries “platter fries.” They’re not quite a steak fry, but they’re definitely not thin cut. A thick, crunchy coating of batter surrounds each potato. The fires are tossed with salt and the aforementioned duck fat before being placed vertically in a cup and served with ketchup. Perfectly executed french fries are rare, but each week Malone and McIvor confirm their existence.
Proudly Serving proves that well-seasoned, heavily vetted ingredients win out every time. In the midst of a trend as big as smashburgers, how do you differentiate one burger from the other? Martin’s potato roll, a melty American cheese that McIvor describes as a “step up from Kraft”, a special sauce that adds an extra layer of creaminess. These aren’t unfamiliar flavors and textures. But, like McIvor and Malone, everything about their smashburger works in unison. Nothing interrupts the pure joy of biting into this smooth, decadent burger. It’s perfectly executed 300 times in a row. Don’t try to split hairs and rank this in the pantheon of smashburgers. Doing so would deny yourself the experience. How to differentiate one smashburger from another might seem like a fool’s errand, but sometimes it takes watching the cooks to understand the difference.
Proudly Serving is currently serving on Fridays at Select Beer Store in Redondo Beach, and at Lake Arrowhead on Saturdays. They’ll be popping up more in L.A., and you can expect a brick and mortar in the works in 2022. Follow them on Instagram: @proudlyserving.
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