Roadside Sliders, Coast To Coast

There’s an age-old battle between a man’s gut and a man’s burger. They are diametrically opposed; the burger calls softly like a siren, whispering of succulent beef and liquid cheese, the gut sits mute, hulking, accusatory. Luckily for me then, I appeased them both when I took the lengthy walk from Brighton’s Seven Dials area all the way along the front to the marina’s Coast To Coast restaurant. I’d burned off a decent amount of calories, I reasoned smugly, so I could return to a happy status quo by consuming them all again in the same meal. Taking this logic to it’s natural conclusion, factoring in the return walk and the added exercise, I went a step further and ordered three burgers. Well, ok, so technically they weren’t burgers, they were sliders. But I could count on a lot of bang for my buck, as long as Coast To Coast weren’t repeating the mistakes of the execrable Hove Bank and their miserable slider offering. I’d been burned once already. I prayed I wouldn’t be burned again.

I did get burned, after a fashion. I ordered chicken wings in a Louisiana hot sauce as my starter, not realising how flipping hot that sauce was to be. Historically opposed to anything evenly remotely spicy, my advancing years has brought with it a willingness to test my culinary boundaries, and subtle spices have been known to pass my lips in recent times. After these bad boys, I hardly had any lips left.

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Chicken wings with Louisiana hot sauce – hotter than the bowels of Hell

The Roadside Sliders at Coast To Coast are mini versions of their bigger brothers, comprising of a Black and Blue (blue cheese and an onion ring), Pulled Pork (self-explanatory really) and Bacon and Cheese (yep, you guessed it). At £12.95, they’re not exactly cheap, but any rising panic that I had another Hove Bank debacle on my hands were soon assuaged when they arrived resplendently on a big chunky wooden board (bonus points!), perhaps not identical to the picture printed on the extensive menu, but as near as dammit. I licked my lips and bent to my task.

The Sliders

coasttocoast_fullMealThe Roadside Sliders, an admittedly beautiful sight

The first of the three to find its way careening down my esophagus is the classic bacon and cheese, and its a bit disappointing that it ends up being the best of the three. The patty is a little thin, but juicy and tender, made even more lip-smacking by crispy, streaky bacon. The cheese takes a little bit of a back seat, but the little bundle of perfect ingredients is held together admirably by a sizeable, homemade brioche bun. As I dab away the last crumbs on my (still-burning) lips, I’m nodding vigorously at the quality of the meal.

Such unbridled enthusiasm is tempered by my next victim – the pulled pork burger. Same deal with the beef patty, but crested with a handful of pulled pork. What’s not to like, I hear you cry, incredulously. Too much sauce, is the definitive answer. The pork is drowning in BBQ sauce, to the detriment of the flavour of the meat, the Monterey Jack cheese and any number of other ingredients lurking anonymously under that bun. Not a bad burger by any stretch of the imagination, but a wasted opportunity.

coasttocoast_CheeseBaconInside the cheese and bacon slider. It’s hard to mess up this combination, and Coast To Coast doesn’t 

The Black and Blue suffers from the same affliction, but this time from the blue cheese sitting on the bottom half of the bun. The onion ring manages to let out a brief, strangled cry before being washed away by a tidal wave of stinky, stinky cheese. A recent convert to blue cheese done right (The Troll’s Pantry’s ‘Troll’s Stinky Breath Burger’, incidently), when it’s handled wrong, the results are not quite disastrous, but unsatisfying. The Black and Blue needed something more then the scrapings of rocket and the onion ring to combat against that cheese onslaught, and a third beef patty did little to alleviate matters either.

And yet, I polished off all three quickly and greedily, and didn’t feel as if I’d ordered poorly. Coast To Coast have made a decent fist of introducing its customers to its range of burgers, but perhaps could mix it up a little more, offering the customer their own choice of sliders, or at least switching out one of these (the Black and Blue perhaps) for a chicken burger, or (whisper it) maybe even a veggie option. The whole point of sliders is to cater for the burger lover that just can’t decide what he wants – why not mix it up a little further, push the boundaries, refuse to play safe.

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The Black and Blue. Don’t be fooled by the innocuous cheese hiding under that patty – it makes its presence known

The Sides 

Not at all left hungry by the sizeable sliders, the straw fries filled in any last remaining gaps in my groaning stomach. Plentiful and crispy, and nestling cosily in a little metal bucket, the fries were a little lukewarm, feeling suspiciously reheated. Which, in retrospect, was understandable giving how busy it was inside the restaurant, and how many of the meals came with fries. Nothing mind-blowing then, but nothing to really complain about either.

The homemade slaw fared much better however. Made predominantly out of purple cabbage, the slaw provided some nice crunch to counterpoint the unctuousness of all that buttery bread and chewy beef. And that gallon of BBQ sauce that comes with the pulled pork…

The Atmosphere

Swamped in American kitsch and memorabilia and leather-clad booths as far as the eye can see, Coast To Coast is one of those enormous eateries that screams ‘chain restaurant’ as soon as you step into its air-conditioned entranceway, and reinforced further as you navigate the lengthy tome that constitutes its menu. But it stops short from soullessness on account of its down-to-earth staff, and its gently nostalgic soundtrack of Motown and American rock; a playlist that had me singing along to pretty much every number during our meal there, much to the chagrin of my fiancé. The food is down-to-earth too, unfussy and generous and comforting, the kind of meal where you know what you’re getting and you know you can expect a certain quality from. I’ve had a club sandwich at Coast To Coast that will blow your mind (and your stomach), a thing of gargantuan beauty. But an erring on the side of caution and an imbalance of flavours prevents a good meal at Coast To Coast from being a great one.

Summary

You won’t go hungry, you won’t be disappointed, and you won’t complain. You’ll be sated, even, and at least parts of your meal will be lip-smackingly good. If you’re at the marina, you could do a lot worse in your quest for a burger – there’s a Wetherspoons nearby and even, shudder, a McDonalds.

But some careless balancing ultimately proves the undoing of the Roadside Sliders’ appeal. A little shake-up in what’s offered here, and more care applied to what’s going in could elevate these sliders above what they currently are – a tasty, above-average meal.

Price: £12.95

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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JB’s Classic (Double), JB’s American Diner

I was hungry. Really, really hungry. After spending most of Sunday hungover and nibbling feebly at whatever was put in front of me, and a meagre ham and cheese sandwich comprising lunch, I knew I was going all out at JB’s American Diner as we made the short walk to the coast to sit down for Monday night nosh. I’m not much of a spice man, so their Cross The Border (with coriander salsa and jalapenos) ruled itself out. As too did the Blue’s (sic) Brothers burger; I have to be in a very particular mood for blue cheese. I also think grilled pineapple in a burger is the work of the Devil, so the Honolulu never stood a chance.

I’d have to keep it simple, then. Step forward the JB’s Classic – staying true to its name with beef burger, lettuce, tomato and red onion, with fries and a completely redundant side salad thrown in for the price. I knew that wouldn’t be enough though; and JB’s knew that too, thoughtfully giving me the option of adding cheese and bacon (at 60p per item) and, the motherlode, doubling the patty for an extra £2.15. It was on, like Donkey Kong.

Side-stepping the tempting shakes – I’d succumbed on my previous visit here a number of years ago, and barely dented my food – I plumped for a Dr. Pepper. My fiancé ordered a Diet Coke and the falafel burger, but I took about as much interest in that as I would watching the proverbial paint dry. With the orders placed, and stomachs rumbling like volcanos, we were at leisure to check out the decor. JB’s American Diner does a pretty good job of recreating the formative days of the American burger joint, resplendent in red leather, polished chrome and a floor of black-and-white checks. A life-size statue of a US highway cop greets you on your way in, and every inch of every wall (and even the ceiling) is covered in pictures of stars you might expect (Elvis) and those that are a little more puzzling (Jessica Biel).

To cut a long story short, if it’s even remotely Americana-related or burger-related, it’s up on the wall. Complete with non-stop, chirpy hits from the 50s and 60s, JB’s has the kind of environment that is cool and quirky for the customers, whilst simultaneously guaranteed to drive its permanent staff slowly insane.

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atmos_JBsDiner

The Burger

The waitress mumbled something about a ‘monster’ as she gave me my plate. I couldn’t tell whether she was describing the burger, or me, for ordering such a thing. She was accurate either way – a doubled-up burger at JB’s Diner is an indulgent, gluttonous thing. I knew I’d erred the instant it was put down in front of me; I would be no match for this towering beast. The first bite was just sheer beef, punctuated only briefly by that raw red onion lurking underneath the patty duo. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of raw red onion, but I know it’s a standard burger item so I let its inclusion slide. The added cheese and bacon were undetectable, however, hidden underneath that explosion of meat flavour caused by two very dense patties. There weren’t any complexities of flavour from the beef either; no hint of seasoning, no chargrilled notes, no texture to speak of. Just dense and moist, and all-consuming. Towards the edges of the burger, the cheese (melted and hardened again, by this point) and bacon finally got a look in.

If you go for a doubled JB’s Classic yourself, feel free to skip them as you’d hardly notice their absence anyway. Perhaps they play a more prominent role if you’re saner than I am and choose just the single patty. Finally, I’ll eat my hat if this isn’t a supermarket-bought seeded bap out of a pack of six. The slight charring on the inside edges wasn’t enough for the bottom half to disintegrate into a soggy mess, pitching the whole she-bang into disarray over the plate long before I’d finished it.

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The JB's Classic

cutthrough_JBsDiner

The Sides

To give JB’s American Diner its due, they do give incredible value for money. If the burger wasn’t enough to finish me on its own, the heaped mound of fries on the side certainly would have done the job. Light and crispy, they were unmemorable but plentiful, forming the bulk of the meal. The side salad, as predicted, stayed untouched. When I’m eating a burger, I know I’m being unhealthy (especially with this bad boy), so why bother trying to mitigate the fact? More surprising were the Jumbo Onion Rings, found on the Appetisers menu, but which we requested alongside our meals. They’re a little steep at £3.75, but are definitely as advertised; six jumbo battered rings, shot through with green splinters of thyme, and actually a very tasty side dish.

onionRings_JBsDiner

Summary

I left a third of my chips and about four bites of my burger, lowering my cutlery a broken man. We briefly flirted with the idea of ordering a dessert to split between us – I had my eyes on either the Mississippi Mud Cake or the Chicago Cheesecake – but we came to our senses before taking the plunge. The waitress didn’t seem surprised. I’m sure I’m not the first customer to be downed by one of their double-sized behemoths. As we paid the bill, which was very, very reasonable, considering the amount of food we’d been served, I realised I was completely sated, but not entirely satisfied.

JB’s American Diner scratches a nostalgic itch for a time I never knew, only pieced together by fragments of old movies and books, and then cranks it up to number 11, cramming every ounce of Americana it can into the mix, whether it fits that 50s diner theme or not. There’s something a little soulless about it that I can’t quite explain, whilst at the same time being an enjoyable, decadent way to spend a few hours. I can recommend it quite easily, but (as cemented by the uncomfortable bloatedness I felt for the rest of the evening), I won’t be in a hurry to go back. Unless it’s for that cheesecake, of course.

Price: £6.95 (+ £1.20 for cheese and bacon, and £2.15 for doubling the patties)

Rating: 3 out of 5