Lance Ebert, the chef and larger-than-life personality behind SC Bread Boy, began by selling cannolis and focaccia off the back of his Vespa on East Cliff Drive. Now, he pops up three times a week to offer extravagant and skillfully prepared smash burgers inspired by French bistro classics.
Few foods have a more dedicated fan base than the smash burger. This burger style gets its name from its super-thin patty that’s literally smashed onto a hot griddle. The fat from the beef browns the outside of the meat, resulting in a burger with a delicious crust and a juicy center, which is layered with gooey cheese, griddled onions and usually another patty or two.
Peel back a corner of the Internet and you’ll find legions of devotees comparing techniques to achieve the perfect smash burger, but, at least in Santa Cruz County, no one is elevating the concept like Lance Ebert. Ebert is the chef and larger-than-life personality behind SC Bread Boy, and while he began by selling cannolis and focaccia off of the back of his Vespa on East Cliff Drive, for the past six months he has dedicated himself to more savory pursuits. Now, on Mondays and Tuesdays, he pops up at Avanti in Santa Cruz and on Sundays at New Bohemia Brewing Co. in Pleasure Point and offers the most extravagant smash burgers I’ve ever experienced.
What makes these burgers so incredible? Ebert doesn’t so much smash his beef onto the grill as smear it, carefully spreading the patty into a wide circle. This creates the maximum Maillard reaction, which is the scientific name for when heat browns the sugars and amino acids in foods, creating deliciousness. It’s the reason people love smash burgers, and Ebert cranks it up to 11: Fat renders from the beef, frying the edges to a crispy, delicate lace while the interior remains tender.
The patty sticks out dramatically from the bun, like a little Martin’s Potato Roll island in the middle of a burger lake. It’s just there to give you something to hold onto as you dive into layers of American cheese, pickles, grilled onions and special sauce.
If that wasn’t decadent enough, after a monthlong kitchen internship, known as a stage, at Épi d’Abord, a bakery in Brittany, France, Ebert is creating specialty smash burgers inspired by French bistro classics — a steak frites-style smash with sweated shallot, Swiss cheese and sauce bearnaise; smash burger au poivre perfumed with black pepper and whiskey; and a smash burger smothered in a velvety bordelaise sauce, a red wine and beef stock reduction that took Ebert two days to make. To eat these burgers, you start with a knife and fork, but finish by dragging fries through every last drop of the skillfully made sauce.
The vibe might be irreverent, but the technique isn’t. “I don’t really think of mine as a stunt burger because there’s a lot of technique and discipline behind it,” says Ebert. “I take French cooking very seriously. I’m having fun but also doing something really cool and delicious.”
Find Ebert’s smash burgers (the classic burger is $16 with fries and the French-inspired burgers are $18 with fries) at Avanti in Santa Cruz on Mondays and Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays at New Bohemia from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. But don’t wait — as cooler weather returns, he’s bringing ramen back on the menu.
So, what’s next for Bread Boy? Ebert says he’d like to open his own French bistro but hasn’t been able to find the right spot. “It would be sick to just have a little doorway shop. Just a little shop with a bar to sit at and like three or four tables outside,” says Ebert. “I’ve been doing pop-ups for a couple of years now and I’m ready to have my own little spot.”
Follow Lance Ebert on Instagram at @s.c.bread_boy.
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