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Food Porn Friday: Tiny burgers

 

Good things come in threes.  Especially sliders.

Good things come in threes. Especially sliders.

 

I don't know when it happened, exactly, but at some point in the last fifteen years or so, "gourmet hamburgers" -- the kind you find in gastro-pubs and have things like lamb and arugula and duck eggs on them -- devolved into two distinct categories.  On one hand is what I like to call "burger overkill," represented nicely by the $27 version at New York's Minetta Tavern.  If you're willing to fork over nearly thirty bones for a greaseball made of braised short ribs and foie gras, this is the sandwich for you.  You probably also work in finance and have an unhealthy appreciation for Bolivian marching powder and ladies of ill repute.  (Yes, it's a stereotype, and  yes, it exists for a reason.)

On the other hand, we have sliders.  I can't say I ever heard the word "slider" growing up, but, apparently, it's a cute little hamburger, typified by the slimy steamed sandwiches served by the sack at White Castle.  An interesting thing about White Castle: Back in the early 20th century, hamburgers were largely equated with terrible meat and even worse preparation, the province of construction site "roach coaches" and seedy boarding houses that could neither afford nor prepare (or even keep sanitary) decent beef.  The creators of White Castle made a calculated gambit to renovate the hamburger's image in the public consciousness, going so far as to make sure that their restaurants offered immaculate dining rooms, an open kitchen where people could witness the expert preparation of fresh beef, and even -- this is the best part -- a name that connoted both wealth and cleanliness.  It's almost pitifully ironic that White Castle is now largely considered as offering the opposite of what its founders intended.  If you're not dirt poor, a college student, or Harold and/or Kumar, the White Castle is probably not the first place you're headed if you genuinely want a decent burger.

But say what you will about the Castle's sad decline, what they did for the burger was groundbreaking.  So, good for that.

Today, skilled and creative chefs are cooking up lovely versions of the dish that White Castle pioneered: a miniature burger that you can finish in about two or three bites.

I enjoy sliders for a number of reasons.  First, there's variety.  When you order sliders, you often have the opportunity to sample several different varieties, from glazed pork belly (a chef's kryptonite - it's on every menu these days that isn't specifically heralded as Glatt Kosher) to fried chicken, shrimp, BBQ brisket, you name it.  And I happen to like variety.  Second, you get to eat several of them, and every decent, God-fearing, patriotic American knows instinctively that three hamburgers are clearly better than one.  Another reason I like sliders is that they are small, which makes my hands look huge, and no matter how old I get, I'm always going to get a kick out of pretending that I'm the Incredible Hulk (HULK EAT BURGER, THEN SMASH!").  It's in my DNA somewhere.

And you?  Where do you find yourself on the rise of teeny gourmet hamburgers?


Native New Orleans food writer Scott Gold, author of The Shameless Carnivore, has written for Gourmet, The New Orleans Advocate, Gambit, ThrillistEdible Brooklyn, Tasting Table, The Faster Times, and other publications. His Food Porn Friday column for NolaVie offers a weekly mouth-watering photo essay designed to start culinary conversations in the Big Easy. Find him on Twitter @scottgold.