September 14th, 2009

Little Bigs: The Electric Slider

In 6 Words: Nostalgic, Shakes, Sliders, Gherkin, Bebop, Oldies

It seems that everyone is willing to pay the price for nostalgia these days. With remakes of favorite childhood cartoons coming to the big screen in live-action and computer generated form, fashion continually trying to tap into style from ages long gone and music seemingly evolving (or devolving) into simpler harmonies; the past is all around us. Even the logo for The Loop Scoop touches on the calculated finesse of art deco. One of the emodiments of the reversion in Houston is just north of the intersection of Westheimer and Montrose. Little Biggs takes us back to a time of bebop and the juke-box riddled diner replete with sliders, shakes and black-and-white checkered tile.

Before the big-name fast food chains began to market their “new” mini-burgers to the public, one of Houston’s own opened its doors to the slider-craving demographic. There’s no need on this day to go and line the pockets of the corporate lemmings of Burger in the Box. Instead, I tell a friend just of a vacation to the Caribbean to meet me Little Biggs at 6:30 to take a big bite out of the small sandwiches. It will be his first time. I would tell you how many times I’ve been by the joint but I don’t want people calling for me to visit the doctor for a check of the ol’ cholesterol.

Traveling north on Montrose from the museum district I pass through the well-seasoned intersection of Montrose and Westheimer just as the rush hour traffic has receded. Behind the Mediterranean restaurant, Aladdin, are the first signs of 50’s turned contemporary. The available parking begins behind Aladdin and continues via a small and perilous paved connection to the lot behind Prive.

Those that remember know the location as the old stomping grounds of Ming’s Cafe, once upon a time a staple Chinese restaurant of Montrose. Little Bigs is doing all in its power to replace the good and bad memories of Ming’s. The simple black and white color scheme of the building is the first obvious difference. They have also fenced in a large portion of the small parking lot for picnic tables, a large party tent shielding more than half of the tables from potential rain.

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It is pretty early in the evening as I pull into the parking lot. Only about half the spaces are occupied making it easy to find parking in the pot-hole ridden lot. I make a quick call to my friend to see if he’s already here, his car is indistinguishable. It turns out I’ve kept him waiting as I look up to see him waving unenthusiastically from one of the picnic tables in view from the lot.

Both being rather hungry we skip most of the pleasantries and head straight for the door: He for the “Entrance” and I for the “Exit.” This is a mistake that causes great amusement in my companion as I stumble to explain that it doesn’t really matter right now because of the lack of a line and the two doors are practically side-by-side.  However, I relent and close my half-opened gateway to follow the loose guidelines of Little Bigs. As I walk in the restaurant and across the black and white checkered floor the cashier is already laughing at me for my folly.

The menu hangs from the ceiling behind the cash registers, simple with white and red lettering on a black board. Slider, shakes, drinks, fries… Lemonade. It all seems like a blast from a past that I can only recall from movies having never lived through the era myself. Really, the only thing that seems out of place is the expanse of a wine list that Little Bigs provides. Reasonably priced wine at a slider joint? This is not necessarily the combination that I would have expected, but to each their own.

An even more unique combination is the slider offerings, of which there are three: Beef, chicken and mushroom. For the newcomers it’s always best to try one of each. Even for some of more of the seasoned vets who haven’t made up their minds on their favorite yet the three flavored kaleidoscope is the only way to go. Sometimes the ability to choose causes the customer to freeze in their tracks, but if you can have any slider and eat it too there is no reason to fret.

I step up to the plate, order the requisite array of tiny sandwiches add a drink and a basket of the “4-Minute Fries” to my meal. The cashier hands me a plastic number to be displayed on one of the wire stands that stick up like antennas at intervals along all the tables. My companion follows suit in true “I’ll have what he’s having style.” We turn to the drink fountain to fill our clear plastic cups with bubbling beverages and head to the back of the restaurant to sit at the last of the tall, counter-like tables that striate the inside.

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A jukebox stands in the back corner of the restaurant, proud and full of oldies, albiet a couple decades not old enough to match the fifties vibe. Steve Miller croons the tunes for now as we sit down to display our numbers for our servers, as we wait on our early dinner. My friend catches me up on stories of Rastafarians, James Bond beaches and battle wounds accrued during his nine-day stay in Jamaica. All I can do is laugh as he tries to remember a timeline for his recap.

The food is served right away. The fries come as advertised: Delicious and in less than four minutes. They are golden, borderline brown and decorated with a confetti of large grained sea salt. There are nearly enough to constitute an entire meal, but in the next basket placed in front of me come the true stars of the show. The sliders sit in the basket, all in a row on paper begging to picked up. They might lack the diameter of the typical burger, but they are nearly as tall as the average backyard barbeque fare.

My friend recommends taking the food outside to enjoy the surprisingly mild late-summer afternoon. With no objections from my end we attempt to handle the difficult logistics of moving two baskets, teeming with food, a full drink and other assorted items that have found their way on to our narrow table top. There are more than a few options for seating outside with only a couple of the tables occupied as we pick the one closest to the exit (which I helpfully point out to my friend is in fact the “entrance” we walked in earlier).

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Finally, getting down to the business at hand, we dive into our baskets of food. Working my way from left to right, the sliders are in order of beef, chicken and mushroom, all seemingly overflowing with flavor. The burger comes with a slice of cheese and a smattering of sauteed onions. The chicken sits on top of two on a pillow of sweet, gherkin pickles. The fried mushroom slider has no garnish, the surprise inside between the two portobello halves.

Each is delicious in its own right. The beef is juicy and perfectly cooked through. The flavors of onion, cheese and burger play well together. As for the chicken, I have never been a “pickle guy” but the sweet of the mandolin sliced, gherkins are nothing but a sublime addition to the small, fried piece of poultry. Little Bigs is the only place that I’ve ever had a mushroom “burger” and it will most likely be the only place I ever do. The cheesy filling comes oozing out at various points of escape as I bite into the impeccable slider.

The meal seems over in a flash yet both of us lean back from the picnic table to give room to our expanding bellies. Small portions, the sliders are not. They not only pack a serious punch of flavor combination, they also provide plenty in the way of substantial sustenance.

We part from the table taking our baskets towards the trashcan where a busboy meets us to take the empty containers and take back his job. After a short post-dinner conversation in the parking lot trying in vain to schedule another dinner, coffee or drink my counterpart and I shake hands and part ways convinced that the other’s calendar is the obstacle in friendship. However, I don’t think either of us would have a problem moving a couple things around to eat at Little Bigs sometime soon.

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Where – Montrose (2703 Montrose Blvd, Houston, Texas 77006) View Map
[Coming Soon to Hermann Park]
What – Shakes, Sliders, Cabernet Sauvignons
Wear – Whatever’s In Your Wardrobe
Who – Foodies, Fast Foodies, Hungry Scenesters After Hitting the Bars
How Much – Small Sliders, Small Price
When – 11:ooAM-11:00PM Sun-Thurs; 11:00AM-3:00AM Fri- Sat
Webhttp://littlebigshouston.com

— Paul

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