Slide on down

Tiny burgers have a major presence in Boulder

Don Tartaglione | Boulder Weekly

Could sliders be the perfect bar food?


Perfect is a strong word, but sliders have a solid argument backing them up. Versatility, affordability and convenience all can be used to describe them and are reasons for their popularity in Boulder.

Bars and happy hour deals are everywhere. Affordability is what happy hour is centered on, and sliders have evolved from a simple burger and patty to whatever a chef can fit between the two mini-buns. They have the capability to be a part of any menu, and it’s no surprise they’ve found homes in a variety of restaurants around Boulder.

Popularly known as a sushi restaurant, Hapa’s starter menu includes Hapa Hawaiian sliders: four mini Kalua pork sliders on Hawaiian sweet rolls.

They were added to the menu because they literally help Hapa live up to its name and restaurant theme.

“Hapa means a mix of cultures, Japanese and Hawaiian,” says Assistant General Manager Sean Guffey, “so it’s part of what we’re looking to promote.”

Guffey attributes the slider’s popularity to the traditional Hawaiian style of cooking in which they are prepared. Whole pork butts are slow-roasted for eight hours in banana leaves, a little bit of soy sauce and a few other ingredients that Guffey wouldn’t disclose because they are part of Hapa’s secret recipe.

Traditionally, sliders are known as mini-burgers first introduced by the White Castle chain, which wanted to sell a low-cost burger. Today, the ever changing restaurant scene has developed the original five-cent burger into almost anything that can fit between two mini-buns. In fact, today even the buns are optional.

The West End Tavern is consistently reinventing the slider based on what is fresh in the kitchen. Every day the selection is different, and their chefs aren’t afraid to get creative. A brisket and Gouda cheese slider can be on the menu one day, and if the time is right, a crab cake or blackened catfish slider can show up the next.

There is one slider that shows up consistently every week on the West End Tavern’s menu. A take on their fried chicken and waffles dinner, the fried chicken and waffles slider appears every Tuesday as a blue plate special and is available anytime before 3 p.m. Tempura-battered and fried chicken rests between two half-waffles and comes with white chicken gravy and jalapeno cherry jam. The dish is an example of how far a chef can take the concept of a slider.

Sliders can be found in a variety of different restaurants, showing they’ve not only grown beyond the mini beef patty and buns, but the type of menu they can be a part of.

Nick Swanson, chef de cuisine at PastaVino, says the concept of experimentation with sliders is a fun and low-risk venture for chefs.

“You’re not risking a whole lot because they are just small,” Swanson says, “so if something doesn’t come out the way you want, well, give it to the staff and move on.”

A slider can help draw in the lunch and happy hour crowd, and Swanson says one possibility is a twist on a classic carbonara.

“Take your beef burger, switch it into a lamb slider, do a fried egg with a crispy piece of prosciutto and maybe some Gorgonzola cheese,” says Swanson. “So it’s kind of a play on a carbonara. Things like that to incorporate the whole Italian concept.”

Swanson says a growing trend among Italian restaurants, and something he’s seen firsthand in New York City, is the growth of the meatball slider.

“It ran rampant amongst a bunch of the trendier restaurants; you don’t get them in the three or four-star New York Times restaurants, but definitely you get them in the trendier gastro-pubs and things like that.”

The Absinthe House’s menu is dominated by a variety of sliders. Even though only one chef can fit in the kitchen, the mixing and matching of a few staple ingredients allow there to be a lot of creativity in a small space.

Sean Konczewski, head chef of the Absinthe House, says sliders’ popularity is due not only to the trendy nature of the dish, but how well their price fits the happy hour menu.

“They’re trendy, not a meal, but they’re filling,” Konczewski says. “If you’ve had a long day of drinking, it’s exactly what you need.”

Offering everything on a slider from the classic burger to roast beef and pulled pork, Konczewski can have as much fun making the sliders as do the customers, who are encouraged to design their own.

“Having variety is beautiful because you take a bun and just add on to it,” says Konczewski.

Sliders have come a long way from their beginnings as a low-priced White Castle burger. The amount of experimentation allows them to appear on a variety of menus prepared in different ways.

Whether they’re perfect is up for debate. Maybe there’s no such thing as a perfect slider. But with the amount of versatility they have, the only thing that’s for sure is they’ll continue to disappear from people’s plates.