Game changer

Game changer

Slater’s 50/50 bacon burger offers something new under the bun

By Dan O'Heron 01/10/2013

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W’hile the Mayan prediction of the world’s end turned out to be a dud, the “Armageddon” burger event on Dec. 21 at the new Slater’s 50/50 opened with a bang.
 
Entering Slater’s at 1:45 p.m., expecting the rush to meet the 3:10 p.m. final push, I was told at the door “to relax,” that the doomsday hype-fest failed to mention that Maya had always been on Denver’s Mountain Time. The waiting room accommodating about 220 diners was nearly packed with guests — each curious and eager to try something new in the form of a meatloaf burger made of half ground beef and half ground bacon. 
 
Management indicates that the “Sterling Silver” ground beef is selected from “the top 12 percent of choice beef, aged 21 days.” In a hand-kneaded mash up in the kitchen, the bacon comes off not as a replacer of beef but an enhancer of flavor. It gives the patty a very inviting smoky saltiness. 
 
I hadn’t been very hungry when I arrived. Any food will satisfy an appetite that comes strictly from hunger. The best appetite develops in the eating. In sampling several Slater 50/50 burgers, I couldn’t wait for the next bite. While chomping on the “Armageddon,” a burger with prosciutto and chipotle ketchup on a bacon-pretzel bun, I looked toward the sky and sighed, “Don’t let it happen until I’m finished.”
 
Oddly, like the Mayans, before this experience, I had long been stuck with an ill and fatal prophesy over hamburgers. While we have bigger fast food burgers, there is no accounting for taste. And while we have better gourmet burgers, there is no account for need.
 
Elsewhere, I’d been troubled paying nearly $20 for any hamburger — even one made with Kobe beef. That’s like feeding tenderloin to a dog or caviar to a cat.
 
Loath to accept alterations to the basic American hamburger, I felt that it should be put in its place: A simple, inexpensive lunch or late-night snack, starting with simple, puffed ground beef patty, cooked medium-well. Ideally, it was served on an onion roll that had been toasted on one side, dabbed with mustard and latticed with tissue-thin slices of dill pickle. Tomato, onion and lettuce were cut to meet the circumference of the meat patty and bun.
 
But the 50/50 has become a game changer: A burger of gourmet quality that I didn’t know I needed until it got here. And at $9.95 for six of its 10 designed burgers, it’s meant to stay. 
 
The basic signature 50/50 burger, among other things, includes an avocado mash and a sunny-side-up egg on white brioche. Other varietal burgers in which ground bacon helps make a good thing better include one that features pineapple. Another dons chili and cheese with a Fritos’ crunch. Then there’s a turkey burger with a Portobello mushroom cap on a honey wheat bun, and a veggie burger with alfalfa sprouts and cucumber slices.
 
They even have the nerve to serve one slathered with peanut butter and jelly. Who needs ketchup? And, I swear, you can get it à la mode.
 
In addition, there’s an order sheet that lets you design your own burger, with choices that include five breads,11 cheeses, 40 toppings and 19 sauces. One cheese, one sauce and four toppings are included in the base price. Additional cheeses and sauces are 50 cents each. Toppings cost 50 cents to $1.50 extra.
 
To add to the surprisingly good-tasting zaniness, you can get a maple/bacon vanilla milkshake, chocolate brownies sandwiching ganache and candied bacon, and a “Bacon Bloody Mary” — a glass of vodka with bacon salt speckled around the rim and garnished with … what else? … bacon.
 
With 100 craft beers on tap and a scattering of high-definition flat-screen TVs to give everyone a five-yard-line seat for the NFL playoffs, Slater’s is every inch a sports bar and brew house. But the gourmet comfort food also makes it a good place to eat. 
The first 50/50 was opened in 2009 in Anaheim Hills. It was followed quickly by units in Huntington Beach, San Diego and now here (another is slated to open soon in Lake Forest). 
 
Founded by deli-chain owner Scott Slater, the first bacon/burger came at a tailgate party at a San Diego Charger football game. 
To perfect the idea of bringing burgers to a gourmet comfort food status, Slater hired Executive Chef Brad Lyons, a graduate of Pasadena’s California School of Culinary Arts now named Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, from where he was working on a cruise ship. To get Lyons to abandon ship in order to cook bacon burgers seemed a daring move. But Slater’s has already captured 10 media awards, including Best Burger, Best Happy Hour and Best Sports Bar from the Orange County Register and Best New Restaurant from San Diego Magazine. Based on large attendance figures since its late November opening in Pasadena, Slater’s looks like a frontrunner for more of the same praise from local publications.
 
Beyond burgers, mac and cheese is a specialty when it comes to making up a king-size bed of comfort food. Four types are offered: Buffalo chicken, jalapeno-bacon, sun-dried tomato and baked potato. Each comes with either a Cheez-It crust or one made from Parmesan/panko breadcrumbs. My $7.95 dish was very tasty but disappointing in that the so-called crust was sticky moist and not hardened, nor crisped at the edges.
 
With a plethora of restaurants in Pasadena cooking up dandy new burgers, is there a burger war going on? Armed with his 50/50, owner Slater doesn’t think so, “but if there is, it’s one-sided.” 
 
While the 50/50 burger would seem to serve only a special occasion for some, for many more it promises to become much more than mere novelty.
 
Slater’s 50/50
61 N. Raymond Ave., 
Pasadena
(626) 765-9700
slaters5050.com
Full bar 
 
Photos by Danny Liao

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