It’s taking longer than expected, this renovation, but, “we still feel pretty good about opening before the start of summer,” Tim Taney (pictured) says. “It’s a big project, and we’d like to have all the contractors finish at the same time – but it doesn’t always work out that way.” He’s talking about the Schenectady location of Slidin’ Dirty, the food truck-turned-restaurant that has been such a success in Troy that he and his wife decided to add a second location just down the street from Proctors.
You couldn’t get away from sliders, it seemed, back when he launched the Slidin’ Dirty food truck in 2012. Has the phenomenon peaked? “I think it may have come and gone even before we opened. But that’s OK. We don’t consider ourselves a trendy kind of place. We’re more about serving a unique product, and we want you to have a unique experience. When we’re putting together a menu, we ask ourselves how we can make things different. We’re a burger concept that doesn’t serve french fries.”
We’re speaking at the Troy location, on 1st Street, a space that has the warehouse look of exposed ducts and brickwork, offset by the warm wood of the bar. “We opened here in November 2014, right before Thanksgiving. The space was still boarded up when we first looked at it, so we couldn’t see it working here.” Taney was studying the lease for a space in Albany when he heard again from the Troy landlord. “He asked us to take one more look at his site. This time it was gutted, so we saw these beautiful bricks, and this arch, and decided that this was the space we wanted to be in, and Troy was the city where we wanted to be.”
Is there, as some have suggested, a saturation here? Taney laughs “We don’t see that. We see it continuing. We feel like Troy has a downtown, small-business vibe to it, not one that’s going to peak out. And now we’ve got Bow Tie Cinemas coming in, and we’ve got Troy Kitchen, which is fantastic as an incubator for new businesses, and Tara Kitchen is coming in right around the corner. And there are plenty more spaces! What’s great is that these are all home-grown businesses coming in.”
And he believes that Schenectady also is experiencing a similar renaissance. “You see a lot of momentum there. It could be Troy 2.0. It’s on that same trajectory.”
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Although history has obscured the origin of “slider” as the name for a diminutive burger, White Castle, a nearly century-old fast-food chain, gained fame in the pre-McDonald’s days for its small, square beef-and-bun sandwich. “I think you can credit them with the advent of the slider,” Taney says. “Somebody told me that he doesn’t view us as ‘sliders’ but as ‘mini-burgers,’ because sliders are more of a fast-food thing, you can eat a half a dozen of them, whereas with our concept you can have two of them and a side of mac and cheese and you’ll be full.”
At the heart of the Slidin’ Dirty menu are what’s termed “The Dirty Dozen,” a variety of beef-based sliders that includes the Dirty Ninja, with mushrooms, scallions, and Asian mustard; the cheddar and arugula-topped Old Faithful; the Bacon Blue, to which obvious ingredients are added avocado and horseradish cream, and the Dirty Yankee, which sports pastrami and homemade sauerkraut. There’s even the Dirty Pig, with pulled pork and barbecue sauce.
Seafood sliders are built with shrimp or scallops or crab; tacos include grilled chicken, pulled pork, or marinated shrimp, among other ingredients. In the bar-food realm are poppers (including ones that add mac and cheese), nachos, chicken wings, and a fries alternative called fravos, an original dish of breaded and fried avocado slices.
And then there’s mac and cheese. “We rarely served it when we were just a food truck, but we did win our first Times Union Mac and Cheese Bowl in 2014 working out of that limited space. By the time we won their People’s Choice Award the following year, we were in this kitchen.” Alongside a classic recipe, the menu offers variations with Buffalo-wing seasoning, pastrami and sauerkraut, pulled pork, and avocado salsa and chipotle cream.
“We try not to say that we’re a ‘slider’ concept first and then everything else after,” Taney explains. “We want to be an experience. We’ve done everything we can to make Slidin’ Dirty synonymous with itself: it’s food, it’s good craft beer and craft spirits, embracing what’s local, and having some fun while we do it.”
Taney has spent all of his adult life in foodservice. “My first job was as a waiter at Cracker Barrel in East Greenbush, and I ended up going into the kitchen before I left. After that, I was part of the opening crew at the Bennigan’s that opened up near there, so I got a taste of the management aspect. Then I spent the next decade in higher-ed contract foodservice. I worked for Sodexo and I worked for Chartwells. I was at Siena, and SUNY Albany, and Hudson Valley Community College as food service director, so I learned a lot about a lot. And it wore on me a little bit, that corporate contract environment, trying to appease a client and a corporate boss in a home office several thousand miles away. I was starting to lose that passion I had when I started, so that’s when we decided to grab this old FedEx truck and see what we could do.”
The truck debuted five years ago, and within weeks people were lining up and waiting for what seemed to be way too long for their food. “People said I was insane to do the truck, and they said I was nuts when we opened this place, and now they’re saying I’m nuts to open in Schenectady. I think entrepreneurs are a little bit different – we’re entrepreneurs not by accident. It’s about that risk-taking, it’s about not settling – we don’t know what else to do. We’d go stir-crazy. We need another project. We continue to chase that dream.”
His partner in the Slidin’ Dirty pursuit is his wife, Brooke. “I grew up around here. I went to Columbia High School, and my wife went to Averill Park High School, and now we’re able to run this business where we grew up, which is great. It started as just her and me on the truck, and now we’re going to have fifty employees at the two locations. That’s quite the growth over five years.”
Photo by B.A. Nilsson