Slater’s is a small burger chain with five locations in California (Anaheim Hills, Huntington Beach, Lake Forest, Pasadena, San Diego). My apologies to those of you not in Southern California, and I’ll try to avoid reviewing regional chains in the future, but Slater’s specialty is bacon. I’m sure you understand.
We visited Slater’s 50/50 on a chilly, rainy night in Pasadena. Despite the weather, it was crowded, and there was a wait for our table, but they use a clever scheme where they send you a text message when your table is ready, which allowed us to browse nearby stores, out of the rain. That was nice.
But by the time we were seated at our table all the good will generated by not having us wait outside in the cold and damp had begun to evaporate. When we came in, our table wasn’t ready, and when we were seated it was a still little messy from the last party. When the waitress came she was surprised no one had taken our drink orders, and when they brought our drinks, they didn’t bring a spoon for my wife’s coffee, and offered milk in a makeshift little dish. Otherwise, the service was very friendly and our waitress did a good job explaining the menu and the ordering process (using cards where you check various options, similar to The Counter).
When I asked for a nutritional information sheet for their menu, I was given an unconvincing excuse as to why they didn’t have one. (Their restaurant chain is too small?) Things weren’t off to a good start for us. I began thinking I’d need to break out my critic’s thesaurus of snarky words.
But then the food came.
The first thing you notice as the food arrives is a steak knife stabbed through the heart of each meal, standing upright and proud. As if it were a message from the chef: “Here’s your damn burger, enjoy.” What a statement! And the only way to back up a statement like is with a great meal.
I have rule about judging restaurant food: If a diner can’t make good coffee, don’t bother with the rest of the menu. A steak house should make great steaks and a barbecue joint should have the best ribs. If a restaurant can’t do a great job with their signature dish, they lose all credibility. Why even bother?
At Slaters, they have set the bar very high: Bacon and burgers are their forte. They not only have to show they can make excellent burgers, but they also have to do great bacon. Any less on either means a total failure. And you can easily go wrong with both. Nouvelle cuisine works for some foods, but stay away from bacon and burgers.
We ordered two custom burgers with buns (for the carb eaters), a burger salad for the carb-restricted dieter, and a low-carb burger with no bun for the low-carb fanatic (yours truly). I had their special 1/3 lb. 50/50 patty ($8.95), half ground bacon and half ground beef. You can also order 2/3 lbs. ($10.95) and full pound ($13.95) patties. You can choose up to four standard toppings from a list of 20, (additional toppings $.50 each). I chose grilled onions (probably the highest carb part of the meal) and baby greens. None of the other lower carb options really grabbed me. For premium toppings (18 options at $1 each) I chose the thick-cut bacon (of course) and the avocado mash. I topped it all off with imported Swiss cheese (pick one from 11 cheese options, extras $.50 each). The plate looked grand. Fresh and hearty, steaming hot.
My wife ordered the bacon cheeseburger salad ($10.95), and that was pretty good, but she said later she would have preferred her own custom burger. The others had picked fairly carby burger and topping combinations with buns, and they ordered fries. (Sadly there was no low-carb appetizer or sides options, but, if they had offered a bacon side order to go with the bacon-burger-with-bacon on top…)
So how did Slater’s do? The bacon on my low-carb bunless bacon burger was perfect. Thick cut, well proportioned between lean and fat, perfectly crispy, but not burned. It was delicious. 10 out of 10. I think it might be the best bacon I’ve ever had in a restaurant, or anywhere for that matter. And the burger patty? A surprising delight. Juicy, yet firm and well-textured. It didn’t fall apart on the plate or in the mouth. And it was more than just beef with a bacon flavor, both meats and both flavors thrived, neither overpowered. The toppings were fresh and flavorful, which was good, because it would be a shame to ruin such a wonderful low-carb meal with inferior condiments. Even the bacon salt on the table was treat and a nice surprise. Bacon flavored salt works, if done right. Who knew?
Yes, the mechanics and logistics of the service at Slaters are not perfect. But that’s fairly typical for this kind of loud, raucous, crowded, and busy dining room with big-screen TV’s and a young, enthusiastic, clientele. They lose one mark for the service glitches, and a another mark for not having nutrition data available. I generally won’t recommend eating at chain that doesn’t provide nutrition data, but, I came in to Slaters with high expectations for the food, and it’s a rare treat when high expectations are surpassed.