The Slider: Delicious Burger Innovation or Small, Sad Excuse for a Sandwich?

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We had so much fun chucking Chow Bella contributors Ando Muneno and Lauren Saria into the ring over Alton Brown, food trucks, movie theaters with food pho and Matt's Big Breakfast that we put them back at it again.

This week's topic: The Slider.

Ando: What are the strengths of the hamburger? Opinions on this matter boil down to two basic camps:

1. Toppings 2. Patty

Adherents to the first camp believe that the toppings make the burger. They want to see some smoked Gouda up there, some arugula, roasted chiles infused with Gordon Ramsay's tears, etc.

The meat within their burgers is an anchor. Adherents to the second camp believe that meat is king. These are brave souls who hand-grind steaks into ground, who select ingredients solely to exalt that meat, framing it in all its glory.

Both paths are roads to the promised land of burger Nirvana. I wish only peace and safe journey to either.

You'll notice there's no "buns are awesome" camp. Therein lies my beef with sliders: They're all bun. They've taken the least important part of the hamburger -- literally just the thing that carries all the good stuff -- and doubled its importance in each individual bite. I wouldn't be excited if someone split a carne asada burger into thirds and wrapped each mini-burrito in an extra layer of tortilla. That would be silly, just like sliders.

Lauren: I'm shocked at your statement. Not because of the content of your argument, but because I have never known you to be a conservative diner, and yet here I stand, wanting to shout at the top of my lungs, "Think inside the bun!"

Sliders aren't about beef and cheese and bun any more than the modern-day burger is. Wake up and take a look around! We live in a world where turkey, ahi tuna, and black bean veggie patties stand side-by-side with beef in perfect burger harmony.

It is against this backdrop of limitless burger possibility that the slider -- the burger's adorable, teenie weenie sibling -- shines.

Check out this recipe chef Paul Lindsay shared with me last year. This trio of sliders goes so far beyond the limits of the traditional bun-beef-cheese recipe that it would almost be unfair to compare. Nobody ever said that sliders had to be shitty mini White Castle-esque burgers (although, I'd argue there's even a time and place for those greasy little suckers).

Ando: You see, those look delicious except for the enormous goddamn buns that are crushing all those interesting toppings beneath their complex chained carbohydrates. What are these, hamburgers for large mouth bass? These buns needs to be at least a third of their size. Or just served open-faced. Or just served by themselves!

Look, once you've removed the burger from the equation, you're not talking about hamburgers, of which sliders are a mutant offshoot. I will allow that anything resembling a patty and composed of ground protein is a burger. Once the ground protein is taken out of the equation, you don't have a hamburger anymore, you just have a sandwich. In the case of sliders, a tiny, slightly sad sandwich. You can have turkey burgers, veggie burgers, and pork burgers but not ahi tuna burgers. That would be an ahi tuna sandwich.

Lauren: Throw me a nice brioche bun and I won't complain one bit. There's nothing more inherently wrong with buns than there is with bread. Try to imagine a sandwich without the bread. Just try. Now I'd argue it's the same concept with the bun/burger relationship.

Bad buns are like squishy white bread. Acceptable if you're 5 years old but ill-suited and misrepresentative of the general bread variety. That sliders tend to be served on oversize pieces of cruddy carbs does not reflect an inherent trait of the dish itself. I'll tell you how to fix that problem: use smaller, better buns.

Next issue?

Ando: Okay, perhaps the weakness of the slider isn't so much that it exists but that it usually is presented at its weakest. As an example, let's look at the sandwiches you talked about before. If we were to accept that these somehow can be considered sliders, then I must admit that they are very tempting. I can try a variety of flavors rather than working through one mono-meat hamburger.

But this is not normally how it is. Usually sliders are just three tiny hamburgers, all with the same meat and all with the same toppings. I guess they're for splitting? Splitting with people you don't know very well? People who would be offended if you used a knife to quarter a regular burger?

Lauren: Why, yes, they are perfect for splitting, particularly if like me, you aren't usually able to finish the disgustingly large American-size jumbo portions they tend to serve at restaurants. I'm not ashamed to admit that sliders are a great option for portion control and for making it easy to pimp off part of my dinner to my meal companions.

So I guess I'd have to agree: Sliders are not the problem. The problem -- as with so many other dishes in our present culinary age -- is poor execution. People want new dishes. They want exciting dishes. But they also want value and speed and familiarity and a laundry list of other qualities that exist in sharp opposition to those that come along with high-quality food.

People want to feel like they're eating something other than their tired old favorites, but in actuality they opt over and over again to eat those same dishes all wrapped up in a shoddily executed facade of nouvelle-ness. I credit this sad phenomenon with the continued existence of the mini patties you so abhor.

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