While this Forker knows she's not tall, I felt exceptionally space-efficient meeting up with Dino McDonough of the growing Slater's franchise. It's no wonder; as he's six-foot-three, I was content to sit on the raised bench in the Huntington Beach locale to conduct our interview. He's been with them since Anaheim found its footing, and he shows no signs of slowing down, now that the San Diego branch runs swimmingly.
McDonough was happy to discuss all things burgers, beer and bacon. For more on his East Coast state-of-mind (and those tattoos), you'll want to check back in tomorrow.
Your earliest food memory:
Oysters from Neptune Oyster in Boston. I was 8.
Favorite meal growing up:
Either pizza or chop suey in New York City. My father and I used to take the ferry to Long Island, and they would have these monster slices right off the ferry. You'd have to fold it three times to eat it. I like the thin crust. I went back about a month ago and brought home a large pizza, with individually wrapped slices in Ziploc bags. Every time I go there, I try to bring back a pizza.
For chop suey, it's just something that's easy to make, but not a lot of people out here know what it is. It's like cafeteria food -- you either love it or hate it. I prefer it over other comfort food, such as shepherd's pie.
Your most recent food find:
Wood-grilled Kobe skirt steak from Sol Cucina in Newport Beach. Medium rare -- always. Not crawling, but bloody.
Most undervalued ingredient:
Everybody needs salt. You can take basic coleslaw and add a pinch of salt, and it tastes good. And people can add more salt, but you can't subtract it. We don't salt our flour; we use a White Lily flour. It's a Southern secret.
Pumpkin sauce, sage mayo, baconnaise -- what is your inspiration for your sauces?
We take already-great flavor combinations and put the Slater's 50/50 twist on them to give our guests a new flavor experience.
What's your favorite burger combination?
The pizza burger is one of our most requested burgers of the month. Sterling Silver ground beef is mixed with real Italian sausage, house-made red pepper and garlic marinara, with fried mozzarella sticks and served between ciabatta bread.
Your Sterling Silver beef is weighed after cooking. Isn't most meat weighed before?
Yes, we weigh our patties before cooking to ensure the finished product we serve our guests is either 1/3, 2/3 or 1 pound. The full-pound, uncooked burger weighs in at 23.5 ounces.
You've got a huge list of beer potions. What's your favorite?
We take great pride in offering a great selection of highly rated beers. My favorite is Ballast Point Sculpin IPA. It goes well with everything on our menu.
Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
Burgers at Slater's 50/50.
What fast food do you admit to eating?
Jersey Mike's. I like getting it "Mike's Way": olive oil, salt and pepper. Italian sandwich is always good. Reminds me of childhood memories, since they started back East.
What is your beverage of choice?
Guinness Mint Chocolate milkshake at Slater's 50/50. [He also pointed out this month's burger of the month is a corned-beef-and-Guinness burger. The chefs use a Guinness mayo and cook down the corned beef in the beer.]
How was the Pliny the Younger tap event in Anaheim Hills?
Great! It's such a sought-after beer; once we announced we were getting it, we were stoked. We had a line at the door two hours prior to opening.
One food you can't live without:
Porterhouse steak. Once a month, I spoil myself at Fleming's Steakhouse. It's laidback there.
Where was your most recent meal?
I just got back from Sushi On Fire off Main Street in Huntington Beach. I got the shrimp and crab roll with filet mignon on it -- a.k.a., the New York New York roll.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Organize food and ingredients prior to cooking. Scrambling around last-minute to find the clove equals burnt bechamel. And always season with your nose, not your eyes.
What else sells besides the burgers?
Fried chicken and pancakes and our new salads. People are pleased with our selection. There's also our Design It mac and cheese. Guests can choose from a variety of toppings to customize their meal.
What do you think of people who take photographs of their food?
It cracks me up, even to this day. Love to see people having fun. I've even on occasion taken pictures of some of the creations. Not everyone has seen a 3-pound burger.
Got to go with chef Gordon Ramsay. I love his energy in the the kitchen and how he can make grown men break down. For a culinary genius, I would have to go with Rick Bayless.
Is there anything you did differently in the San Diego location?
Slater's 50/50 in San Diego is killing it. It has a beautiful patio, just won best burger in the San Diego Burger Battle, and has 111 beers on tap!
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten.
Chocolate-covered grasshopper legs.
Sweet or savory?
Savory. The Beverly Hills Cheese Store has a dessert cheese that's either orange or lemon-flavored. [We believe he's referring to the lemon Stilton.]
Favorite places to eat (besides your own):
Francoli's is very good. I used to go when it was at Fashion Island; it's now in the Orange Circle. Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach was my first job when I came to California; I used to be the sous chef there. Plus Haven Gastropub, also in the Orange Circle, and L&L Hawaiian.
What's the craziest combination you've heard of, so far, for a custom burger?
A young gentleman with a very healthy appetite would come into the Anaheim Hills location and order the full-pound 50/50 burger with all the trimmings: all 20 sauces, 12 cheeses and 30 toppings. It's, like, an $80 burger. The first time he did it, all the cooks were taking out their phones and taking pictures of it.
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You're making breakfast. What are you having?
If I have time, sausage-stuffed pancakes, eggs scrambled easy and coffee, with lots of Coffee-mate.
Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
Customer requested our bacon mac and cheese on top of his burger. Not only did we fulfill the request, we featured a bacon-mac-and-cheese-stuffed burger as our burger of the month.