Big Expectations; Little Results

Little Big's, Now Open

I finally made it to Little Big’s this past Friday night after an evening spent at West Alabama Ice House with some friends. After having our fill of Shiners and bikers, nothing sounded better on a cool night than to relax on the patio with some hot sliders.

As expected, the place was a madhouse when we arrived at about 8:30.  Parking wasn’t an issue — surprisingly — but the barely-contained chaos inside was.  It was difficult to tell who was in line, who was waiting for their food, who was just milling about drunkenly…but we managed to get our orders in without too much difficulty (although with a lot of yelling; it’s extremely noisy inside the small space).  My three sliders — one beef, one chicken and one mushroom — and butterscotch milkshake came to $10.25.  A bit much for three twee burgers and a shake, but these are supposed to be top-shelf sliders after all.

We took our seats on the patio and began the wait.  The patio itself is every bit as relaxing as anticipated, the smell of freshly-cut wood under the sprawling oak trees, the breeze rustling through the leaves, the hypnotic sights of red-lighted traffic and wild pedestrians wandering up and down Montrose — I could have sat there all night.  Good thing, too, because that’s about how long it will take to get your order out.

Forty-five minutes later, the first name was called.  By this time, we’d run through a sickly sweet frozen sangria and a bland frozen White Russian.  Both were deemed barely drinkable by the group, but we continued to suck on them for lack of anything else to eat or drink.  My butterscotch milkshake was still nowhere to be seen.  When I finally heard my name called, I anxiously ran in to grab my sliders — only to see someone else pick them up from the unattended counter and abscond quickly with them.  Bastard!

The counter attendant came back and I said, “I think someone just ran off with my sliders.”  He looked at me like I was an escaped mental patient — they’re just sliders, lady, take your meds and get the fuck out of my face, read his expression — and went back to handing out the baskets of sliders that came up.  I stood there awkwardly, unsure of what to do next.

“You called my name…” I trailed off.

“What’s your name?”  Gruff and irritated.

“Katie.”

“No, we didn’t.”

I looked back at my friends for confirmation that I wasn’t crazy.  “Yeah, you called her name,” one of them piped up.

“Nope.”

I continued to stand there nonplussed as he called out the names of all my friends who’d ordered after me, and handed out their baskets of sliders.

“No, seriously.  You called my name.  Can I just get the next basket that comes up?”  He ignores me completely.  In the back, the crew is working feverishly to get sliders off the grill and into the baskets.  I start to feel like an asshole, watching them work so hard as I complain.  But it’s been forty-five minutes.  And I’m really hungry.

The next basket comes up on the counter.  It has one of each slider: my exact order.  The attendant has his back turned to me.  So I do what any red-blooded American would do.  I took it and left.  Screw you, counter attendant.  You aren’t doing your job and you’re acting like a prick.  AND I’M REALLY HUNGRY.

Steeled by my freshly-acquired sliders, I go to the register to try and resolve my missing shake issue, only to have my head want to explode when the girl behind the counter snottily tells me: “We called your name for, like, ten minutes.”  I looked back at my friends in disbelief; they’re equally as adamant as I am: “NO, YOU DIDN’T.”  Which is it, Little Big’s?  Calling names and not having food ready?  Or not calling names and having food ready?  Choose a crappy customer service style and stick with it.

The girl throws the shake together quickly and thrusts it over the counter to me.  We are equally irritated with each other by this point.  But at least I have my food.

Outside, the chowdown begins.  Group assessment is that the chicken slider is surprisingly good, maybe even the best of the bunch.  The chicken is tender and juicy, lightly battered and perfectly offset by the sweet yeast roll and sour bite of pickle.  The beef slider is underwhelming.  The beef seems to be overcooked and chewy, with only a few wispy onions as an accompaniment.  The spicy remoulade sauce that I picked up from the condiment bar helps, but I end up not finishing it.  The mushroom slider is good, but the molten cheese inside is undersalted and bland.  Fortunately, the French fries and yeast rolls are out of this world.

The butterscotch shake, on the other hand, is abominable.  It tastes as if someone melted down a batch of Werther’s Originals into a tub of Blue Bunny vanilla ice cream (for those of you who don’t know, Blue Bunny is just about the nastiest ice cream on the market).  It is vile and appalling.  My friends all agree.  It’s undrinkable, as well as the third drink of the night to be deemed horrible.  Clearly, Little Big’s strength does not lie in their drink-making abilities.

I’m reluctant to go back on another Friday night (or Saturday night, for that matter).  I think I’ll go again on a weeknight, when it’s a bit calmer, and give the sliders another shot.  Those cooks were stretched to their limits on Friday, and I think the sliders suffered as a result.  Hopefully it will net a better experience this time around, as I seem to be the only person so far who isn’t blown away by their efforts.  Wish me luck!

19 responses to “Big Expectations; Little Results

  1. Sounds in line with my experience. People want to like it, cause, it is from the people who brought us the wonderful reef, but the system they have going on there is horrendous. Until that gets straightened out, problems like that will continue to occur. And with the interior space they have, I do not see an easy way to fix it.

  2. I suspect if/when I decide to try it, it will be on a midweek day off in mid-afternoon because I’ve read several soso reports on the service and consistency of the food.

  3. I think part of the allure of Little Big’s with the chattering crowd is that people really want them to make a go of it. It’s the kind of trendy place ran by the type of trendy chef that Houstonians feel they need to have to be considered whirled class.

    After all of the hype and hyperbole calms down a bit I’m going to head by there and check them out. The Little Big’s fever reminds me a little bit of the Smashbuger orgasm that some had. All sizzle, no steak.

  4. Dead on the Inside

    I agree with your assessment – except for 1 little thing: I thought the veggie sliders were pretty good. Better than the beef, that’s for sure. I am pretty sure that the beef slider broke my tooth so I’m holding LB’s responsible for that, too. At least the company was fantastic.

  5. Well, I went to Little Big Ming’s (yes, I know it’s not called that, but that’s what I like to call it) at about 11:30pm on a Friday night which seems like a good time to go because the only people there were two drunk girls, the owner, the manager and some other employees that were off work.

    Being a non-meat eater, I was limited to the mushroom sliders that were sadly bland. There was no mayo to be had, only something that appeared to be a nasty 1000 Island Dressing, ketchup and mustard. The fries however were top notch. The buns were very tasty, the stuff between the buns, not so tasty.

    I won’t be going back as the food does not appeal to me.

    And they don’t have those awesome veggie eggrolls anymore! =(

  6. Well, I tend to disagree on the sliders, but I as well think that they suffered because of the crowd. I’ve been several times now, and the ‘shroom sliders are my favorites, with the beef as a close second. I see no point in ordering the chicken slider [mine was bland and uninteresting], and the fries are not enticing at all. I want to like them – they look great and have good texture, but they lack flavor.

    As far as price goes, your order was heavily skewed by the overpriced not-worth-it shake you obtained. Three sliders will run you six bucks, which is comparable to any gourmet burger in town.

  7. I came by around 6 purposely to avoid the zoo and thought the whole thing was fine. Food came out fast, slides were good, fries were great, my chocolate shake was awesome. It was a little expensive, then again I don’t really need 3 sliders when they are as big as they are and it really makes more sense as a snack place.

    Any place that size will be overrun when this many people show up all at once, trendy chef or not.

    I think Little Big’s will be just fine when things settle down, crowds subside and the staff isn’t overwhelmed.

  8. My one visit to Little Big’s was at about 2:30 on a Friday a couple weeks ago. It wasn’t very crowded, which made ordering easy. I waited about 10 minutes for my 2 beef and 1 chicken combo. My beef sliders were juicy despite the absence of any pink in the middle. The chicken reminded me of a really good chik-fil-a sandwhich, especially with the pickle. The fries tasted good, and I liked the big salt crystals that were sprinkled on them.

    Since I live in the neighborhood, I’ll work it into my rotation once the initial hype fades. I even thought about it Friday night at the same time you were there but saw the crowd and kept driving.

    All in all, I think you should give it another shot when it isn’t as busy. There’s so much to like about the concept that I hope they work through the kind of growing pains you experienced.

  9. Ok, if nothing else all the commentary tells me their performance is still pretty inconsistent at this point.

  10. Put me in the Plus column. We had a great meal there of Beef Only sliders – I found them quite juicy and flavorful, the bread was good, and the caramelized onions added the right touch.

    It is still early in their life cycle. Think about how crazy Dolce Vita was when they opened.

    I, too, am lucky enough to live within walking distance. It will be one of our regular spots after the hype dies down.

    I wonder how the cafe in Hermann Park will turn out. It may be easier to deal with since there are fewer people around there.

  11. Wow, I am so very sorry that your experience went so wrong. Believe it or not I appreciate your feedback because no matter how much I would like to be omni-present, that has yet to become an option. I only wish I could better convey how serious we take such things. So the following is neither an excuse nor an explanation. Just one man’s chronicle this recent, ongoing restaurant opening.
    Every opening and development of a new concept, no matter how many I’ve done has the same issues. Until you start taking orders everything is theory. Honestly it took 3 months just to figure out where to hang the mop at Reef.
    Before we thought;
    *They will order 4 X more beef than mushroom
    *Taking names and using a microphone would be more personal, fun.
    *The cashiers can easily make their own drinks
    *350# of beef and 3500 buns is enough for the weekend
    *That pick up window is big enough.
    Once those doors do pry open, inevitably the problematic items will become very clear and you have to quickly identify those issues and correct them as best you can.
    *The mushroom is now in large production
    *The microphone is just confusing Ted-Tim, Mary-Margret, Bryan-Ryan. The pagers that buzz when your order is ready have been ordered
    *3500 buns and 350# of beef didn’t even get us to Sunday
    *Cashiers get too busy to spend the time to make the drinks properly. There is now a dedicated drink station person.
    *Graphic and visual changes are being made to ensure people don’t queue up in front of the pickup window and that window is being enlarged

    All of this truly means nothing to the customer whose experience was as rough as yours.
    It truly sucks when you bust your ass to get it right and it still goes wrong but unfortunately it happens sometimes. All we can do is try to rectify the problem ASAP and hope like hell they come back and give you a chance to redeem yourself.
    It will get better, come Hell or high water. I will promise you that.

    One other thing I would like to clarify; I’ve talked to everyone in the building and no one thinks you’re on meds

    Thanks
    Bryan Caswell

  12. So, I finally got to go today for lunch. I had the 3 beef sliders with fries and a soft drink. To summarize, when I left – the only thing I had was a full stomach and a smile. Didnt know you could get the variety of sliders in one – that’ll be my next order and i really wanted a shake or a drink.

    Like Brubaker said…your shake is what drove your ticket up. In terms of the wait, go to any other decent food stop in Houston at the same time and I’m sure you’ll wait as well – but without the sweet deck to sit on.

    Like Caswell said, they planned the hell out of the place and are ironing out the problems. Nice to know a owner cares as much. No reason to not give the another try.

    I know I will with a shake, a drink and some chicken this time!

  13. I am launching a service now at work and have to go through the very same process. It’s always a clusterfuck no matter what you plan for. All you can do is be ready to throw away all your assumptions as soon as you launch and be really nice to your customers.

  14. I’ve been several times now and as I too have opened several restaurants, so I understand the insanity & clusterfuck that occurs whena place opens. I know Bryan is on it. My one suggestion (as others have chimed in plenty) is fix the whole, “please sign 2 CC slips”), WTF, I’ve never even seen that before. Best of luck and I’ll keep com’in.

  15. I think I went in the first day they were open. I loved the beef. Could have lived without the fries. I hope they get better. And I will not order the shake again, the vanilla was just…not quite right.

    I will have to try them again but will probably stick to midday or weeknights.

  16. The fries and siracha mayo have always been wonderful but the beef sliders have gotten drier on each trip. The first trip they were juicy and loaded with onions, the second trip they were dry and had a few strands of onion, the third trip the sliders were so dry that they were inedible and the onion might as well not have been there. I want them to get this right so I’ve tried different times on different days but things keep getting worse.

  17. I agree with you on the sliders. The bread in all 3 is fantastic. The chicken is the best. The shroom is better than I expected. The burger is a little underwhelming, but not at all bad.

    On a Thursday at 11:15, Little Bigs had a big crowd. But my food came out within 10 minutes.

    Before I got my food, I saw high school student staring at his little slider. He said, “what a rip!” Ultimately, that is the big question: are these tiny sandwiches worth the price? I guess it depends on the time of day, how much you are willing to spend, and how much you care about really, really good bread.

  18. Very bland food. I was expecting some spicy sriracha sauce and all there was a watery sauce that was not spicy. The candied jalapenos just don’t complement a burger well.

  19. Look everybody, when Burger King starts selling Sliders, then the whole concept has truly “jumped the shark”. I’ll admit the beef sliders at Reef are good (sadly the best thing on the menu at a supposed seafood restaurant) but they aren’t worth the money or the headaches endured at the new joint. Save your money, save your temper and have a far superior bite to eat over at Mia’s.

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