I watched as the kitchen delivered a plate of fries topped with a single, tiny burger to a lanky high-school student. He stared at the slider in disbelief. "That's it?" he asked. "What a rip."
Sliders and sandwich economics
This is not a review. It is a tale of sandwich economics. Still, I should start by saying that Little Bigs sliders taste pretty good. I tried all three kinds.
The first was a burger with onions and sauteed onions. I am no expert on burgers. Little Bigs' 3 oz. beef slider was fine. It was a little dull. But then, I find most burgers a little dull.
The 'shroom slider was more interesting. It consisted of a portobello mushroom with a crispy crust.
Easily the best was easily the chicken slider. Little Bigs calls it "all-natural, hand-breaded spicy chicken." It was indeed spicy and had a very crispy crunch. The flavor and texture of this little sandwich puts Chick-fill-A to shame.
All three sliders were served on delicious yeast rolls. It was primarily the rolls that elevated these them above ordinary fast food.
Yet the most remarkable quality of these sandwiches is their size. Each slider is about four bites. They are undeniably cute. And their tiny size means you can eat all three kinds of sandwiches without getting very full.
Then there is the question of price. A meal at Little Bigs will cost most folks around $10. One slider is $2.08. Three sliders are $5.78. Cheese is extra. Fries (which I did not try) are $1.62. Shakes are $3.70.
So was the high-school student's $2 slider "a rip"? That question took me a whole week to ponder. And I did not find the answer until I went to a Vietnamese sandwich shop.
More sandwich for the $ at Lee's Sandwiches
Lee's Sandwiches is a wildly popular sandwich shop, on Bellaire outside the Beltway. It serves Banh Mi -- Vietnamese sandwiches on French bread. Lee's, part of a California-based chain, is perhaps the largest sandwich shop I have seen. On a Sunday afternoon around 2:00 p.m., it had well over 100 customers.
Lee's grilled pork sandwich is a monster. It comes on a loaf of French bread more than a foot long. The loaf is filled with grilled pork, marinated onions, carrots, and cilantro.
This is not the best Banh Mi in Houston. But it is pretty good. The French bread is fantastic -- crunchy on the outside, soft in the middle. The condiments are tasty and varied. Yet I have had much better grilled Vietnamese pork elsewhere. It was overly fatty, and the marinade was not as flavorful as some Vietnamese pork. Still, the sandwich was respectable.
Lee's giant Banh Mi easily is as much food as 3 Little Bigs Sliders. It costs $2.45. Double meat is an extra $0.75. For Banh Mi in Houston, this sandwich was average price. But compared to the cost of a meal at Little Bigs, it was a bargain.
What explains the price difference?
Why is a meal at Little Bigs so much more expensive? The answer lies in the uniqueness of a tiny sandwich. There is something special about these diminutive sandwiches that captures the imagination. We like them because they are small, cute, squeezeable, bite-sized.
But more importantly, Little Bigs' sliders do not have competition. Lee's competes with dozens of Banh Mi shops in Houston. That keeps the price low. But Little Bigs (as far as I know) serves the only fast-food sliders in Houston. So when Houstonians feel like eating a cute little cheeseburger without going to a fancy restaurant, there is only one place to go.
So I applaud the founders of Little Bigs. They have found an ingenious way to make us pay more for less food. They will make a lot of money -- at least until 20 other slider joints open around town.
UPDATE - It's over already: Hours after this post, I saw a new ad for Burger King sliders. The message? Hot young women adore little sliders because they are so cute and squeezeable.
I'm sure Little Bigs sliders are better than Burger King. But Little Bigs' monopoly of the Houston slider market is over before it began. After all, it wouldn't be fair to allow just one business to capitalize on all the extra money that the American consumer will pay just to get a cute, tiny, little sandwich.