The Slider’s Slippery Past

New Burger Trend Is Old-School

The reemergence of the humble slider as a respected member of the burger family suggests the human race might have finally discovered the brake pedal in its pell-mell dash to drive off the cliff. The modestly sized slider ​— ​do we really need to eat a whole half a cow in one sitting? ​— ​marks a necessary cultural antidote to the massively oversized and overwrought mega-burgers popularized by the cholesterol lobby and gluttony industry.

Adherents and high priests of the gastro-foodie faith are to be excused for believing they “discovered” the slider, but in fact, the slider and the hamburger were virtually indistinguishable for decades. The supersized dimorphism that characterized the evolution of the burger didn’t really start until the late 1970s. By the ’90s, we were all eating the burger equivalent of the SUV.

By contrast, when I was a kid growing up outside of Washington, D.C., Sunday-night dinner was a big bag of what I would learn later were sliders, courtesy of Little Tavern, a localized knockoff of White Castle, the chain credited with “inventing” the slider in 1921. They were skinny little patties topped with grilled freeze-dried onions and topped generously with sliced pickles and slathered in ketchup. We frequently wondered whether we were eating a cow or a horse, but such questions never slowed us down. The burgers were quick, fast, cheap, and good enough to go back for seconds. No cooking was required; no dishes needed doing.

In recent years, the slider started creeping back into the equation. I like to credit happy-hour dining for the development, but I can’t swear I’m right. Most happy-hour food is insufficient to qualify as real eating, let alone to offer the necessary ballast to accommodate the quantity of alcohol consumed. In this context, the slider provides real heft without becoming full-on “food.”

As gastropubs and tapas bars increasingly dominate the ecosystem of bar-based grazing, greater attention has necessarily been paid to the quality of meat. It’s no accident that Alcazar on the Mesa ​— ​part tapas bar, part gastropub, part happy hour ​— ​has some of the best sliders in town, both lamb and beef.  

This trend has been accentuated further by the less-is-more minimalism that defines the slider aesthetic. As a rule, sliders are not gussied up with sideshow flourishes and lots of condiments. Cheese, for example, is not really an option for any self-respecting slider. Like the plain doughnut, a slider either speaks for itself or it doesn’t. All of this brings us to where we are today: the golden age of the slider. Enjoy.

For more Burger Week 2018 stories, go here.