After launching Mantra, the contemporary Indian restaurant in downtown Palo Alto four years ago, what was the next logical move for Ashwani Dhawan?
To open a restaurant that specializes in itty-bitty American hamburgers, of course.
Yes, the Indo-American, techie-turned-restaurateur opened SliderBar Cafe in downtown Palo Alto at the end of March.
Don’t even strain yourself to look for a curry or tandoori burger on this menu. There is nothing Indian about it. Instead, find everything from the “American Classic Slider” ($2.89) with a Niman Ranch beef patty, and served with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mayo and a pickle to the “Memphis-Style Natural Pulled Pork Slider” ($4.49), made with Niman Ranch pork, and coleslaw.
Breakfast is served all day, too. So you can enjoy a “Mediterranean Breakfast Slider” ($2.69) with a cage-free egg, olives, artichokes, tomatoes, onions, feta cheese and roasted garlic sauce on a puffy little white bun, no matter what the hour.
SliderBar also offers a variety of wines, including economical ones on tap from kegs and dispensing machines that help preserve the wines better.
Why baby burgers?
“I wanted to do something simple and not fine dining,” says Dhawan, who is still part-owner of Mantra. “Fine dining is too hard these days. I also was very interested in portion control.” Light eaters can order one slider while their carnivore companions can go to town to order them by the trio or even by the dozen.
Recently, I was invited as a guest to try SliderBar, where the menu is still being tweaked a bit. The yogurt shakes are now made with ice cream instead. The baked fries were axed in favor of the more traditional fried ones. And dessert offerings are still to come.
The casual restaurant was packed with folks with laptops on their tables, as well as families with young children. The front of the restaurant spills out onto the sidewalk, with tables for prime people-watching on bustling University Avenue. Two flat-screen TVs at the bar also provide entertainment.
You order at the bar, and the food is delivered to your table.
Garlic fries ($2.89) and sweet potato fries ($2.89) arrive in silver julep tumblers, hot, crisp, and done perfectly.
My hubby, aka Meat Boy, and I ordered five sliders between the two of us, each of which could have been cradled comfortably in the palm of one hand. Sliderbar doesn’t bake its own buns, but they are nevertheless fabulous, particularly the multigrain ones which have a crispy exterior and memorable hearty flavor.
The pulled pork was a tangy, sweet tangle of shredded meat. The “California Chicken Slider” ($2.89), piled with avocado, lettuce, tomato and a pretty tame chipotle sauce, was fine but not that exciting.
The “Kobe Beef Slider” ($3.89) with lettuce, tomato, onion and a Parmesan cheese spread was definitely richer tasting than the classic beef slider, which we also had. Both beef patties were seasoned nicely, but bordering on well-done. Had they been a little pinker in the middle they would have been even better.
Our favorite of the bunch was the “Mediterranean Slider” ($3.89) — a Niman Ranch lamb patty topped with crumbled feta, olives, artichokes, tomato, red onion and garlic sauce. It had the most flavor by far, with deep lamb deliciousness singing through.
A side serving of the “Mediterranean Chopped Salad” ($4.49) was quite sizable. Though not chopped quite as finely as true chopped salads, the mix of Romaine, feta, mozzarella, artichoke hearts, olives, onions, garbanzos, tomatoes and candied walnuts was a satisfying blend of tang, saltiness, sweetness and textures. However, there was almost too much cheese. And I’m a cheese lover. But the amount almost overwhelmed everything else in the bowl.
A mocha milk shake ($3.49) is a new addition to the menu. Rather than the humongous-sized shakes at some other places, the ones here come in more manageable ice tea-glass sizes, which is actually kind of nice, given how rich they are. The mocha one had a welcome strong coffee kick to it, too.
Dhawan hopes the Palo Alto SliderBar will be the first of many to come.
With teeny cupcakes all the rage now, who’s to say the next big thing just won’t be eeny-weeny burgers?