For those not steeped in Hoboken lore, I'll give you a quick primer; other than being the birthplace of Frank Sinatra and the location where Marlon Brando's "On the Waterfront" was filmed, Hoboken's main claim to fame is its reputation for making world-famous bread. And that reputation began with one man - Leopoldo Policastro.
Policastro was born in Italy in the small town of Saviano near Naples. And that is where he worker as a baker until immigrating to New York, and eventually, found employment at a Hoboken bakery called Marie's. In time, he bought out ownership and introduced his own line of breads which included round peasant bread and focaccia. However, the bread that put Hoboken on the map and on which his legacy rides, was a fat, chewy "French" style baguette. The loaf was dense and aromatically yeasty, and quickly became a staple on tables throughout Hoboken and beyond. In fact, it is no secret that Sinatra used to have his plane loaded with bread from Marie's Bakery at Teterboro Airport and flown to his home in Palm Springs. It was that good. Leopoldo Policastro set the bar high and regardless of all who claim to have come before or after, Policastro-style bread is indeed the benchmark all others are measured by today.
So with my nagging and quirky sense of historic curiosity, I relished the opportunity to visit with the site's new occupants. Unfortunately, word of its opening seemed to linger in the air for mere moments and then quietly fade from earshot. Several weeks passed and the new eatery did indeed open for business; albeit, similarly quiet. After a soft opening, two weeks of operation and over 8,500 sliders pushed out the door, I received a call to come on down, give them a try and offer my thoughts. I more than happily jumped at the opportunity.
We arrived and were quickly introduced to the three forces who have made Slider Street a reality - VP of Marketing, Shannon Cerrigone; GM and chef, Juan Melkissetian; and an owner who simply likes to be referred to as "Chef John".
The smiles and warm embraces that greeted us made me feel a welcomed guest as opposed to a mere writer fulfilling yet another request for promotion. It was refreshingly obvious the sentiment was genuine.
Approaching the building, I was immediately met with a wave of nostalgia in the sense that I had previously walked into this location many times as a youth during its former incarnation as a bakery. In fact, being born in Hoboken, I was raised on the bread Marie's Bakery baked. But the location was where all similarities ended.
A bright coat of white paint now covered the familiar brick facade I remembered and a new sign hung above the doorway with a snappy and very marketable logo. Entering, I found the interior to be bright, shiny and spotless. Hanging on a bright red wall behind the counter hung a large menu listing all 23 slider options, each sounding more delicious than the other. Three smiling counter girls immediately greeted us and I recognized this was obviously an environment in which the main focus was customer satisfaction. So far, so good.
Entering the kitchen, I found the scene and the staff no less remarkable. A team of three cooks led by general manager and chef, Juan Melkissetian, were busily working in perfect unison, apparently creating little works of art on brioche buns.
One by one, they introduced themselves with an air of professionalism and quickly resumed their tasks with obvious enthusiasm and intensity. It takes a lot to impress me, but this team's work ethic and esprit de corps did just that.
We were told the plan was to prepare 8 to 10 sliders that would give us a good representation of the variety of taste sensations Slider Street offered to customers. I took quick stock of my environs and judging by the freshness of the products within view, the adeptness of the staff and the smells emanating from the kitchen, I had a feeling we would not be let down in any sense of the word. The truth was, I could hardly wait.
Laid before us were ten gems that highlighted every aspect of Slider Street's philosophy - "gourmet flavors on a bun in record time".
The array of little masterpieces on brioche buns were cleverly named after familiar streets, a detail I found amusingly delightful. The spread consisted of:
Le Grand Ave: Angus beef, cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, tomato, arugula and SliderSauce.
Route 66: Angus beef stuffed with bacon and cheddar cheese, topped with caramelized onions, arugula and SliderSauce.
Rodeo Drive: Filet Mignon, bleu cheese, caramelized onions and bacon mayonnaise.
Bourbon Street: Grilled cajun chicken with bacon, cheddar cheese, arugula and SliderSauce.
Hayes Road: Angus beef stuffed with bacon, bleu cheese and topped with caramelized onions, tomato, arugula and SliderSauce.
Belmont Ave: Grilled chicken with pesto sauce, mozzarella, tomato and arugula.
Arthur Ave: Grilled portobello mushrooms, roasted red peppers, mozzarella and balsamic vinegar.
Wall Street: Kobe beef, cheddar cheese, caramelized onion, arugula and SliderSauce.
Nicolas St: Turkey Burger stuffed with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes topped with arugula and avocado spread.
We took our time, slowly making our way through each slider; noting the elements that made each of them stand out from one another. Some were subtle, while some erupted with an unexpected burst of flavor. Take for instance the Rodeo Drive. These are big flavors we're talking here. The juiciness of the perfectly cooked Filet Mignon was ignited by a burst of bleu cheese that when combined with the rich bacon mayonnaise, just exploded in one's mouth. The immense, in-your-face flavor brings you right to the precipice of overwhelming, only to pull you back and leave you begging for another bite. Amazing slider.
Conversely, the Belmont Ave was a slider I expected to have big flavors due to the presence of the pesto sauce. Surprisingly, it did not. But that is by no means a negative. Instead, it had the most subtle and fresh flavor profile of every offering, and I found its clean, perfectly seasoned composition hard to resist. In the end, this slider was absolutely in my top three.
The Bourbon Street was another nice menu choice. There were few surprises here, as the slider tasted exactly like its description read. There was just enough flavor to discern it's Cajun leanings without being overly spicy. The bacon was crisp and flavorful, and the cheddar cheese was robust, yet it blended perfectly into the landscape of texture and taste. I feel there were other sliders whose immense flavors could have possibly overshadowed this offering, but its design and execution were performed masterfully.
And even all these taste sensations did not prepare me for what was to come - the Wall Street. For those of you who have never tried Kobe beef, I implore you to do so. There is no more succulent, flavorful and tender piece of beef you will ever try. The Wall Street utilizes Kobe beef that is so delightful in texture and essence, that it literally melts in your mouth before your senses have the opportunity to recognize the ingredients that accompany it. It is like staring at a great painting and never noticing the frame. It is an exquisite creation that in my opinion, is as perfect as a slider can be.
The Arthur Ave, though flavorful and bright, was mild in comparison to its meat and poultry counterparts. I believe I would have enjoyed this offering far more if it did not come on the heels of an array of sliders that set my expectations soaring.
One pleasant surprise I honestly did not expect to be blown away by was the Nicholas Street. Named after the owner's son, I confess that I usually detest turkey burgers and expected to do so once again. Remarkably, I was wrong.
As I wrap up the details of our Slider feast,I would be remiss if I did not add my feelings in regards to the Le Grand Ave. In truth, there was nothing special to be read in its description. In fact, it seemed slightly pedestrian in comparison to its flavor-laden brethren. However, do not judge a book by its cover, This slider was masterfully created to allow the charred burger flavor to take center stage and it did so magnificently. So much in fact, that the simple elegance of this tastefully prepared burger was one of the menu's highlights for me. I loved this slider.
The White Truffle Parmesan Fries were spectacular in a salty, keep-ya-coming-back-for-more sorta way, but I was amazed at how easily they were forgotten as I bit into the Sweet Potato French Fries. Dusted with cinnamon sugar and a dash of salt, they delicately danced upon your palate in an almost dessert-like manner.
John, Juan and Shannon are not partial to being termed a fast food restaurant, even though in truth, that is exactly what they set out to be. However, in doing so, they also set out to change the perception of fast food and offer nothing less than great food fast. Or as John likes to say, "beautiful food in seven or eight minutes." That's impressive.
They use the finest and freshest ingredients available. Their meat is fresh and never frozen. They only use certified Angus beef. They use Filet Mignon and Kobe beef. They tried dozens of rolls before choosing brioche buns from Hudson Bread for their superior flavor. They are sticklers for detail. They are perfectionists. They are visionaries. Their kitchen was designed to suit their menu. Their staff loves what they do. Their entire company is one cohesive team and it is reflected in their product. I could go on and on about the reasons behind why I cannot call them a fast food restaurant with a clear conscience. These are real chefs making great food and striving for excellence. And that's exactly what they are achieving here at Slider Street in seven or eight minutes.
They've come a long way in less than a month. They've served over 8500 sliders in their first two weeks and Hoboken 411 has already deemed them, "Best Mini-Burgers in Hoboken".
I'd have a hard time deciding which was my favorite slider here at Slider Street. I'd have an even harder time discerning what I enjoyed more, the food or the people. But why try? Both are excellent.