(04/28/11) (08/02/11) (02/15/12) (02/20/13)
Set on a raised bank along Route 117 in Bolton just off I-495, Slater's is easy to miss if you're not looking carefully. The former Great Brook Farms has changed names but the ownership, relaxed coffeehouse vibe and much of its menu remain intact. It's a cozy space with dim lighting, aged natural wood floors, a fireplace, an obligatory but understated TV, a blackboard menu and an impressive brick pizza oven installed after the name change. The Cookshack smoker that previously sat on the front porch has been moved around the back, but you'll still catch the fragrance of burning wood as you walk in, whether from the smoker or wood fired pizza oven. Beer and wine are now served. There's outdoor seating in warmer months and frequent entertainment on weekend nights.
With the name change to Slater's comes the tagline "It's all good." These are bold words to live up to if taken literally: "I've eaten every menu item at Slater's and let me tell ya, it's all good!" Or defeatist words of acceptance if taken as ghetto or surfer slang: "Not a single thing is ever done right at Slater's, but whatever, it's all good." I have a strong feeling that there are customers on both sides of the equation.
Barbecue consists of babyback rib dinners by the full and half rack, pulled pork and brisket sandwiches, a Cubano with pulled pork and ham, the Smoke Stack sandwich with brisket and sausage, smoked pulled pork or brisket on brick oven pizza, pulled pork quesadillas, pulled pork nachos and sliders stuffed with (you guessed it) pulled pork or brisket. There's no 2- or 3-meat combo. Wings are dry rubbed and oven baked.
Slater's hasn't lost its sandwich shop roots. You'll find meatball, sausage, caprese (mozzarella and tomato), chicken parm, "Crazy Russian" (turkey sandwich known elsewhere as a "Rachel"), cranberry walnut chicken salad and wood fired chicken.
Wood fired pizzas offer fixed combinations and customizable options in two sizes.
The recent addition of Sunday brunch features omelets, ham, fruit, French toast and weekly specials.
I spread four visits over nearly two years, hitting Slater's for early dinners.
Pulled pork sandwich: Served in a bulkie roll, the well coated pulled pork ($8.50 with chips and slaw) from what was then known as Great Brook Farms looked more like a Sloppy Joe. The limp, mushy meat was difficult to contain and bore little of the smoke that I smelled on the way in, but still made for an enjoyable sandwich thanks to the generosity of the serving and its pleasantly pillowy vessel. A year later, a follow-up had the same basic look and feel, but with a little more bite, a little more smoke and better bark definition below the sauce. It's not going to land in my pulled pork sandwich panetheon, but it's a respectable enough rendition and one that I think enough people would like.
Brisket sandwich: I tried two different brisket sandwiches ($8.50 with chips and slaw) about two years apart. The first one was from an early weeknight dinner visit right after the place changed from Great Brook to Slater's. This one had a mid range thickness of slice (closer to chunks), decent bark, minimal if any pink, good tenderness, a lot of steaminess and very minimal flavor. It was as if this brisket received no rub or smoke. The much delayed second stab at the brisket improved in every area except texture and fat content. This time the meat was a little tough and borderline dry, with a fittingly thinned down slice rolled over onto itself. Flavor caught a little more rub and smoke, but it could have (and should have) been a lot more. The one thing I did enjoy about the brisket sandwiches both times was the soft, fresh bulkie roll, but overall we're talking about brisket that would rank in the bottom third.
Ribs: It wasn't until my fourth visit that I tried the ribs ($15.95 for half rack), which are served as individually cut babybacks topped with sauce. But my first "introduction" to ribs came a little sooner than that: I was very impressed and intrigued by a food porn ribs photo on Slater's Facebook page. So much so that I wondered whether it was too good to be true. Then, after seeing another version of the exact same ribs photo on another barbecue joint's Facebook page the same week, I knew it was too good to be true. Still, I figured I'd ask, and to their credit Slater's disclosed that it wasn't their food. It's all good?
These aren't Slater's ribs, but were posted on their Facebook page.
Flash forward about six months and the Slater's ribs in front of me looked nothing like this photo.
But their babybacks did have a few things going for them. The inarguable was that they were separated into individual bones, which not only made them convenient for sharing but meant they were sizable enough to be cut. I'd say they were well above average for meatiness. The arguable thing going for them is tenderness, because that depends on personal preference. In this case, the ribs veered away from the "falling off the bone" standard set by most practitioners of babybacks, which I say is a good thing in most cases. I just think they veered a little too much here, coming in a little stiff. Flavor was decent but uneventful, with rub and smoke both there but clearly dependent upon and overtaken by the assertive sauce. Moistness? Hardly any aside from the sauce, as these had the feel of a reheat.
Pulled pork pizza: I expected the individual sized pizza ($9.25 plus $1.25 for pulled pork) to be fairly small, but it impressed with a 16" diameter. Pulled pork pieces didn't scream barbecue but delivered a meaty punch much like sausage or meatball. As is typical of pulled pork pizza, the sauce was barbecue instead of tomato, lightly applied to yield the spotlight to the crispy-chewy crust. Clearly the star of this pizza, it brought a nice flavor from the dough along with a smoky, woody flavor from the brick oven. I probably wouldn't order another pulled pork pizza (barbecue sauce on pizza isn't my thing), but I'd be eager to try a different one with tomato sauce. Technically, I didn't order a pulled pork pizza but "an individual pizza, add pulled pork," so it should have been tomato sauce all along, but it's all good.
There's none on the table, but sandwiches and ribs both come with extra for adding. It's an interesting sauce, with elements of barbecue, a strong tomatoey feel, plenty of heat and I think a bit of oregano.
Cole slaw: If it wasn't store bought, it still had that store bought style. Crispy, creamy and a nice cooling respite from the spicier sauce, though without much flavor of its own.
Baked beans: A standard preparation much like the canned but just firm enough and just savory enough to suggest homemade.
Cornbread: Served in muffin form, this cakey version was moist, fresh and chewy like a macaroon.
Some dissers have pointed to an identity crisis, which has obvious barbecue ramifications, but one man's lack of focus is another wife's variety.
When ordering on my most recent visit, I asked that the three items arrive staggered in any order convenient for them, just not at the same time. And true to the request, they came out staggered—with a 2 minute span from first item to last. But it's all good.
On that same visit the place was dead, yet we went for well over a half hour after completing the meal without anyone inquiring about refills or offering to bring the check. But it's all good.
The Bottom Line
I'm lukewarm on the food, prefer the pizza to the barbecue and would feel more comfortable if they switched the tagline from "It's all good" to "It's all just okay." Still, I see some upside, and there's something about the space that makes Slater's an inviting stop if you're passing through the area and don't mind a slower pace than you're used to.
Yelp reviews of Slater's
Urbanspoon reviews of Slater's
||'Like' PigTrip BBQ Reviews on Facebook to keep up with all of the reviews and much more content not available on the site.