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Review: New Old Market burger joint Craft Sliders + Beer fills a void, but there's room for improvement

Review: New Old Market burger joint Craft Sliders + Beer fills a void, but there's room for improvement

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The Old Market really doesn’t have a solid burger joint. Craft Sliders + Beer, which opened this summer on the edge of the neighborhood, is trying to fill that void with its blend of house-ground meat, its big list of beer and its affordable price point.

I liked the tiny burgers — that meat blend turned out to be pretty tasty. The service during my two recent visits, though, wasn’t great.

Though all the staff we encountered were certainly nice, everything took longer than it should have. That was especially the case on the second visit, when a party sitting next to us at the bar who arrived after we did was done eating by the time we got our order. And when we did get it, things were wrong.

And this was when the space, formerly the Beansmith coffee shop, near 12th and Harney Streets, was only about half full.

Inside, the restaurant looks much like it did as a coffee shop. Banquette seating along the back wall has been changed to tables, and the coffee bar is now an actual bar, with high-top seating and counter service. The space has high ceilings and lots of wood, so sound bounces and it gets noisy. Television sets above the bar are also new.

True to its name, there’s a big selection of craft beers, many local. We tried a handful: tangy Dogfish Head Sea Quench and hearty IPA from both Toppling Goliath and Dogfish Head among them. The list will rotate regularly.

Beef sliders dominate the short list, and the house blend of meat, in both the Craft and Classic versions of the sandwich had a nice, meaty flavor and a hand-ground texture. You can taste the quality. Jaymee Foster, the general manager, said the meat is a blend of short rib, brisket and ground chuck.

Though the majority of the burgers we had were well-done, when we asked for one to be cooked medium, the kitchen pulled it off — even with the burger’s small size. Buns, both classic and brioche, are soft and served warm, and condiments, like smoky bacon, briny pickles and fresh lettuce and tomato, pleased. And a beef slider topped with funky blue cheese that partially melted into the meat might have been the best of all three.

20180628_liv_dinereview_craftsliders_5

The Hot Chicken slider at Craft Sliders + Beer in Omaha.

There’s more than just beef on the slider list.

A jackfruit slider had all the flavor and texture of pulled pork, and came topped with more vinegary slaw, plenty of barbecue sauce and a lot of spice. The jackfruit had more spice than the breaded spicy chicken; I’d call its heat more mild. The breaded hunk of meat had a hot, tender interior and spread well past the edges of the slider bun. And an al pastor slider came piled with plenty of pulled pork and a deep flavor of pineapple.

There’s a short list of salad, and I tried the craft, heavy with candied nuts and crumbled cheese. The only disappointment were small croutons that tasted boxed.

The sides, including a vinegar-based coleslaw, were good, though some had some small issues. Thickly breaded onion rings had nice seasoning but fell apart when bit into. Mac and cheese, which carried spice thanks to red pepper flakes, had a cheese sauce more stringy than creamy, and I’d wish for the latter.

And though I liked the breaded cauliflower, it was a bit strange served on a bed of lightly dressed greens with a side of cheese sauce. I, for one, don’t want to dump cheese sauce on what is essentially a salad.

Service issues plagued both of our visits. On the first night, our friendly server was mostly slow, and twice she brought us the wrong menu items, realized it, and apologized. The second night, something seemed to have gone wrong between the time we placed our order and the time it arrived, a tape total of more than 30 minutes. A party of two sitting near us arrived and ordered after we did, got their food first and had nearly finished by the time our order arrived. Instead of a side of mac and cheese, we got an additional slider. The server did remove the slider we didn’t order from the bill. A less patient customer might have been irritated.

Foster said for the most part, service has been going well. Delays, when they happen, are mostly because the kitchen, tucked in the back corner of the space, is small. When it gets crowded, she said, things slow down.

With improved service and some streamlining in the kitchen, I believe Craft Sliders can indeed fill the burger gap in the Old Market. The beef burgers, especially, are good. But the restaurant isn’t yet firing on all cylinders.

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