Gimmicky, unoriginal, doomed to fail. These were a few of the car-seat conclusions uttered en route to Rood Food, a restaurant that obediently devotes itself to sliders. In a long, often tedious-to-the-point-of-tears line of single-purpose concepts, sliders engender about as much culinary anticipation as an all-day cereal cafe.
But color us converts of the highest order. We left that meal with the impression that sliders, at least those served here, deserved a level of respect that until that moment we were unwilling to grant them. If I'm being honest, that viewpoint is precisely why I've avoided the restaurant for the six months it has been open in Lakewood.
The only way this concept rises above the level of novelty is by offering not just delicious food, but by presenting it in a way that transforms it into a convivial, communal experience, much like Korean barbecue without all the splatter. That's the vision owner Brian Ruthsatz had in mind when he pitched the formula to friends, who all told him to expand the menu or suffer the consequences.
"This was always the plan, but everybody I mentioned it to thought I was absolutely crazy," Ruthsatz explains. "Everybody told me that it wouldn't work even though they had no idea what I planned to do with this."
What he planned to do was elevate the slider experience in a few very significant ways. Naturally, the chef-driven fillings are the heart of the matter. But it's the process that sets Rood Food apart from typical slider slingers. Menu items are served family-style in deep bowls, along with brown paper bags full of unsliced buns. At first the arrangement feels contrived, but that misses the mark completely. For starters, the just-baked buns stay warmer and fresher this way. Secondly, it puts the diner in control of the build, free to adjust the portion size as he or she chooses.
Thumb open a bun and you release a poof of aromatic steam redolent of curry or cardamom, the subtle but unmistakable flavors the two varieties possess. Spoon in some smoky, spicy ancho-slicked pulled chicken ($12), layer on some cool, crisp jicama slaw, and you have some very happy eating in your hands. All told there are 14 various options, five of which are vegan. Only two arrive in patty form, a wagyu beef burger and a goat/lamb blend. For that dish ($20), three expertly grilled, seductively gamey sliders are accompanied by tapenade, slick roasted red peppers, and cucumber slaw.
Prices range from $10 to $20, with most landing firmly in the $12 to $14 zone. Those fees net enough meat or vedge to build at least three sandwiches, enough complementary slaw to do likewise, and bottomless bags of rolls to eat to your heart's content. The rolls — those heavenly, airy, flaky, spice-scented rolls —are baked hourly to assure that they're at peak freshness. It's not unreasonable to stick one's nose deep into a bag for some quiet self-care.
Given that all but one filling is served loose, there's the concern that everything will arrive with the same "pulled pork" texture. That's not what we experienced. A shredded 10-hour beef brisket ($14) isn't saucy at all, but neither was it dry. The shredded meat is beefy, tender and assertively flavored. The matching apple and pear slaw added crunch and a tropical top note. We passed on a pair of vegan dishes employing jackfruit in favor of one starring sauteed mushrooms ($12). To my taste, the dish goes overboard on the umami, akin to making a whole meal out of a steak topping. A cinnamon and sour cherry slaw only complicates matters.
There is one lone appetizer, a bowl of wafer-thin, uber-crispy, pleasantly salty yucca chips ($4). Before you cry foul, know that the arrangement is designed to encourage (shrewdly coerce?) diners to save room for pie. And you must. In place of clunky wedges of cloyingly sweet Betty Crocker classics, pastry chef Katie Ruthsatz plates up slices of light-as-clouds caramel-drizzled banana cream ($5.75), whisky-spiked, cookie-crusted chocolate and toffee custard ($5.75) and gooey, brown-buttery Salt and Honey ($5.50), with its addictive yin-yang pull. This pie comes with a small vial of crunchy bee pollen to sprinkle on top.
Ruthsatz put as much thoughtful consideration into the space as he did the food, resulting in an attractive, flexible and fun environment. The two rooms strike completely different attitudes, with one seemingly airlifted from artsy South Beach thanks to hot-pink neon, mid-century modern furniture and a retro camper that doubles as the bar. The rear dining room, in contrast, is a dimly lit den with warm brick walls, tufted leather banquettes and candlelight, perfect for a quiet night of sliders, cocktails and pie. Or just pie.