Slice’s Bar & Grill, on Pennsylvania Avenue, near the old Oscar Mayer factory site, has a reputation for making one of the best bar burgers in town.
It’s well deserved, and the North Side bar has a sign on the wall showing that its meat is from Jenifer Street Market. That’s critical for customers who care about where their food comes from.
Slice’s cheeseburger is available in ½-pound and ¼-pound versions, and at a time when prices are going up in many places, the menu shows burger prices crossed out and reduced: from $8.25 to $7.25 for the ½-pounder and from $7 to $6 for the ¼-pounder.
When I came in for lunch on a recent Friday, owner James “Slice” Krause was grilling burgers behind the bar, calmly handling a steady stream of dine-in and takeout orders.
Krause later told me that early in the pandemic meat prices went up dramatically and he reprinted his menus to reflect that. Prices settled down, but didn’t come all the way back, he said. When they became more manageable, he lowered his burger prices.
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Slice’s prices may go up again soon, Krause said. “Some of our stuff is going through the roof. Chicken is going nuts right now.”
The burger was quite good, but wasn’t my favorite. The meat was high quality, as advertised, and the toasted bun didn’t dominate, which I appreciated. I chose pepper jack cheese and it was applied thick enough so it didn’t disappear into the meat like it does on some cheeseburgers.
It came with leaf lettuce, a slice of red tomato and grilled onions. Customers can also order onions raw. A pickle spear came on the side and I cut it up and put it inside the bun along with ketchup and mustard.
The burger didn’t include a side, so I ordered the potato salad ($3), which Krause said is made by his girlfriend, Terra O’Brien. It’s good, but doesn’t taste homemade.
The chicken salad croissant ($5.75) was better, although I later learned the salad itself comes from a distributor. It’s a tad sweet, maybe from chopped sweet pickles. It had the right amount of mayo and the croissant was perfectly grilled.
As a side, I got a half order of french fries ($2.50), which were medium thick and unsalted. They come from a supplier and looked ordinary, but tasted fantastic.
The burrito pizza puff ($3) was the perfect snack. The menu accurately describes it as a “giant pillow of happiness.” Its golden, deep-fried flaky shell yielded to cheese, tomato sauce and ground sausage. It’s unclear why “burrito” is in the name and Krause said that’s just what it says on the box.
The chili ($3.75/$4.25) is referred to on the menu as “Slice’s secret recipe,” and the cup looked more like a bowl. Could it win a chili cook-off? No, but the flavor was fine. There were just too many beans for my taste.
A few weeks earlier, I showed up at Slice’s for its Friday fish fry, which also has some renown. Every seat was taken by 6 p.m., and my group didn’t want to wait, so we went elsewhere.
During my recent lunch I asked whether the fish fry was served then. The capable bartender who handled the lunch rush solo, said while the evening fish is beer battered (there’s also baked cod), what’s available by day is a four-piece order that comes to them battered. Krause said for the fish fry dinner he makes the batter himself.
Instead, for lunch, I tried to order the walleye fingers from the appetizer menu, but the bartender said they’re having trouble getting them. “I’m pretty sure we’ll never get them back,” Krause said. “They’ve been out for two years.”
Slice’s is also known for its goulash, which Krause makes every Thursday for his lunch special.
Krause has owned the place for 26 years, initially with Robert Bellamy when it was called Slice-N-Bullits.
Bellamy left in 2007, and Krause shortened the name to Slice’s. Before they owned their own place, Krause and Bellamy worked at the Caribou Tavern on East Johnson Street, where Bellamy was known as “Bullit.”
Krause, 53, was putting a knife back into its sheath, missed the sheath and the knife went through his hand, cutting some nerves. He was 22 then and didn’t go to the hospital, he said. He just taped it up.
“But every time somebody came in, it was, ‘What happened to your hand? What happened to your hand? What happened to your hand?’” he said. “One guy started calling me (Slice) and everybody else did.”
He said his hand healed in about two weeks, but he still can’t feel the side of one finger.
Krause works lunch Monday through Friday and cooks Sunday breakfast, but is training someone else for that shift, he said. His bartenders cook at dinner, except for on Fridays when he handles the fish fry.
While getting certain products during the pandemic has been “hit and miss” every week, Krause said business stayed steady. Bartenders lost hours when there was no drinking inside, but Slice’s did a lot of takeout.
“We had a lot of support,” he said. “We have a lot of loyal, old-time customers, so they took care of us.”
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Read restaurant news at go.madison.com/restaurantnews.
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