Belly Up to Slater's 50/50
Slater's 50/50 serves dude food. What else could you call the half-beef-half-bacon patties the restaurant has pioneered if not catnip for the chest-pounding bros who might call it lunch? The new Huntington Beach Slater's 50/50, which took over the building from a failed Flight Bistro, looks just like its older sister in Anaheim Hills. Both follow the biker/sports bar aesthetic. Neon-lit beer logos and plaques occupy that wall space not claimed by a never-ending daisy chain of wide-screen LCDs tuned to baseball or UFC. There are tables for billiards and buxom young things as waitresses. This is a restaurant that has male egos and tastes in mind.
It doesn't take a business strategist to understand why the restaurant has taken off like it has. The burger's own composition is great marketing. What you need to know you learn the second you're told what 50/50 means. It sells itself. There is no ambiguity about what else to expect. You are not surprised to discover that bacon inhabits more than just that burger. Featured are maple bacon milkshakes, bacon brownies and a BBLT, which not only has bacon, but also baconnaise. It doesn't matter if anyone actually orders these items or if they're any good (more on that later); to just have them there on the menu is shrewd and smart. It attracts widespread attention. Because of it, the restaurant was featured in at least one national cable food show that lauds the excesses and audacity of places like . . . Slater's 50/50!
The signature burger is a thick, full-mouthed beast, girthy and salty—a burger you eat once and swear you'll stay away from until your vitals can equalize a month later. But if the effect of the burger isn't surprising, its understated bacon-ness is. The flavor is there, but the texture, the crispness and the tactile pleasure of biting into a fat-dripping rendered strip isn't. Contrary to the hype, the 50/50 patty only whispers the subtext of bacon. The add-on also creates a sturdier, somewhat drier hamburger. Like rebar in concrete, the bacon becomes a natural, if an unintended, structural reinforcement.
I would actually argue that what makes the 50/50 burger great isn't the patty but its chipotle mayo, mashed avocado, pepper jack and fried egg. The balance it strikes could not be improved upon by lettuce, tomato or, heaven forbid, more bacon. I advise sticking to the 50/50 or creating your own burger from a checkbox list that boasts more toppings than a doctor's questionnaire has ailments. Steer clear of the too-dense Thanksgiving turkey burger, which features tepid chunks of bread stuffing, turkey gravy, cranberry sauce and sage-flavored mayo. It's supposed to make you think fondly of the holiday, but it reminded me instead of the agonizing days afterward when we attempt to finish all the turkey leftovers before they go bad.
That experience has (at least temporarily) scared me off trying the peanut butter-and-jelly burger, which I figure can only inspire love or hate. I was somewhere in the middle with the Vampire dip, a hot, melted goo of cheese and mashed garlic slopped into a hollowed-out rustic loaf. I liked the dip, but the half-crispy, half-chewy pita chips provided were sitting in a quarter-inch-deep puddle of the fry oil.
Other than myself, I've not yet seen anyone order a salad. And if I do it again, it won't be the Cobb, which was so messily, well, cobbled together it seemed it was done as an afterthought. All other vegetable matter is covered in a porous beer batter and deep fried, including reedy strips of sweet onion that the coating barely covers, pickle chips and, the most addictive of all, artichoke hearts.
These join other county-fair abominations such as fried mac and cheese, which has a permanent home here, along with a brownie sprinkled with bacon. I enjoyed the latter more than I care to admit, but would've liked it even better if the embedded, chewy meat fibers didn't interrupt what was an unexpectedly lovely pairing of the sweet and the porky. I'm also not ashamed to say that I loved the maple bacon shake, an alarmingly sweet and salty amalgamation of breakfast and dessert that I relished until about the fifth sip. It was then that my body, already overdosed on fat and sugar, refused to let me have any more. It will be a while before I try it again. But then that's what we always say, isn't it?
This review appeared in print as "Belly Up! There's nothing halfway about Slater's 50/50's embrace of America's bacon crush."
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