Where the Hell Can You Get a Real Slider Around D.C.? [FOUND ‘EM!]
Last Thursday, Eater DC went and talked “sliders” for an hour and in their wake, left us fiending for a fix. Too bad it’s damn near impossible to find them around here.
No, we don’t want a plate full of “mini burgers,” sitting all pretty on their brioche buns. We want SLIDERS. Cheap, greasy, working-man’s sliders. The kind that aren’t available at 99% of the D.C. joints that lay claim to sell them. (In case you missed it, Matt waxed eloquently last week on why what just about everyone calls a slider, isn’t a slider.)
There was a time, however, that getting those diminutive slabs of beef, cheese and onions around these parts wasn’t so difficult. In fact, for a number of years we even had our very own slider-slinging chain: Little Tavern.
A White Castle knock-off, Little Tavern was born in Kentucky in 1927 and, a year later, was brought to D.C. With the slogan “Buy ’em by the bag,” the chain specializing in sliders was quite popular with close to 50 stores in the area at its peak. While the chain is no more, there’s a good chance you’ve seen one of their former buildings around town. Many of the original Tudor-style shacks, long-since converted to new store fronts, are still standing around D.C., Maryland and Virginia. The Li’l Pub on Capitol Hill was once a Little Tavern. Goody’s, the late-night pizza place in Clarendon, is a former Little Tavern. Georgetown’s tiny Sweetgreen? Yup, another Little Tavern.
But a lot of good that does us. Old Little Tavern buildings don’t put the delicious sliders in our bellies now do they? Fortunately, during our long hours of investigative burger research, we found a spot that will.
Laurel Park Donuts is a tiny dive on Route 1 in Maryland that opened five years ago in a former Little Tavern building. The new owners’ initial plan was to sell only donuts but so many customers asked for burgers that they started making them within the first week. After learning this joint that once housed a slider restaurant was actually still flipping the beef, we had to verify if they were legitimate sliders and not just small versions of a burger. (Again, check out Matt’s post to get schooled on the difference.)
We hit up the spot on Saturday and found it even smaller than it looks in the picture. There’s a small counter next to a windowed donut display case, a drink cooler and a single table in the corner that can fit two people semi-comfortably. It’s most certainly a “to-go” type of place. And we’re guessing that even if they were a bit more dine-in friendly, most would still choose to eat their grub elsewhere as it isn’t exactly the most pristine of eateries. But a little grease and grime –hell, even dirt– has never scared us away, so we were more than happy to set up shop inside for our meal.
Much like a popular D.C.-area joint, Laurel Park Donuts sells their mini burgers in groups of three, six or nine, but without the fancy-ass ingredients, buns and chefs in the kitchen, they ring up at a third of the price.
But are they sliders?
After our in-depth fact-finding mission, we can confirm that yes, yes they are.
These things tick off all the requirements on the list. First up, they’re mini and they’re beef– two of the most important prerequisites on the slider checklist. But while all mini burgers masquerading as sliders meet this criteria, Laurel Park Tavern’s go the distance.
The beef is fresh, not frozen, (which is already a leg up on White Castle) and starts out as small meatballs on the flattop. Each wad of meat is seasoned and then a healthy handful of chopped white onions are pressed into the beef before being smashed down via spatula on the griddle. After some cooking and a flip later, the burgers are then topped with one half of a mini, white squishy bun which soaks up and absorbs the greasy, onion-y goodness. A loaded order adds American cheese, ketchup, mustard and pickles to the mix but any of the above can be left off. Groups of three are then wrapped in wax paper, tossed in a brown bag and ready for the road.
Volume-wise, they’re no match for the 1/2 lb. or double-pattied burgers out there, but they’re not supposed to be. Sometimes, all we need is a grease-stained paper sack filled with a half-dozen tiny beef sandwiches to get our juices flowing. And after we finished at Laurel Park, we were completely satisfied with the flow of our juice.
One of the best parts of it all? At right around a buck a piece, they’re cheaper than just about anything you’ll find outside of a fast-food chain.
A few notes:
1) Be sure to get an order fresh off the griddle. If there’s a batch idling in the warmer, just sit tight for someone else to get those. It shouldn’t take long– during our 15 minutes there, we saw at least three other orders go out the door. Trust us, the wait is worth it.
2) This place is the epitome of a greasy spoon. If you keep a packet of wet naps or a half-gallon of hand sanatizer on your person at all times because the thought of touching a public surface makes you break out in a cold sweat, you’re better off just staying at home. This place isn’t for you.
3) Don’t go in expecting anything other than beef, grease and cheese on a bun, because that’s EXACTLY what you’ll get: tiny, smooshed-up, grease-soaked flavor packets of bread and meat. They’re true sliders. And they’re great.
Our visit was, without a doubt, the simplest and most unpretentious burger outing we’ve been on since we began our Burger Days adventures. Sure, Laurel isn’t the most convenient spot to go when feening for a burger, but these are legit sliders. And there’s a dog track right up the road, so there is that too…
But while we will forever refer to Laurel Tavern Donuts as the home of sliders*, you won’t find that word anywhere in the joint. On the menu and signs taped to the windows, they simply refer to their wee beef sandwiches as Mini Burgers.
And you know what? That makes us like them even more.
Laurel Park Donuts | 115 Washington Boulevard | Laurel
* We’re not claiming this is the only place around D.C. that sells sliders, but it IS one of the only places we know of that does. If you know of another joint in the area that slings them, please let us know.