Smalls Sliders may change the way you think about bags of little fast-food burgers.
Most of the time, tiny, thin-pattied burgers from Krystal or White Castle — both absent from Baton Rouge — are the kind of grub you grab after a long night or on a road trip. They’re quick and handheld but nothing special.
However, these are craveable little cheeseburgers that you won’t be ashamed of eating.
Smalls opened on Nicholson Drive in September in a restaurant constructed from orange and gray shipping containers, a new concept partly owned by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Walk-On's Sports Bistreaux co-owner Brandon Landry, along with Jacob Dugas and Scott Fargason.
The menu comprises a handful of items — sliders, fries, shakes and soft drinks. By specializing in just a few items, the staff can quickly crank out freshly grilled patties all day and all night. To capitalize on the college crowd, especially those visiting Tigerland just across the road, Smalls is open until 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
When I first tried Smalls on a cloudy Monday, I walked up to the window and ordered a No. 3 combo ($8.99), which included three sliders, fries and a drink. The combo meals' only difference is the number of burgers in the bag.
I grabbed a seat at a picnic table shaded by an umbrella and took in the scene. The shipping containers form a U-shape with bright green artificial turf providing a kitschy, durable surface for the dining area.
Within a couple of minutes, my order was ready at the window. Inside the bag were three burgers in little paper cradles. Their buns, slightly sweet and soft, with tops toasted to a golden brown, are made by Twins Burgers and Sweets in Lafayette. Corners of bright yellow American cheese peeked out over the beef patties. Pickles, mustard and ketchup are the standard dressing at Smalls.
It’s tough not to eat these little burgers quickly. The pickles taste sweet, a little like bread and butter pickles but less tart. Each little burger patty was thin, about a quarter-inch thick, and conservatively seasoned. The combination of flavors actually reminded me of The Company Burger in New Orleans.
The fries, however, were less than memorable. Although freshly prepared and piping hot, they tasted as if they came from a bag in the freezer. Smalls does offer a small container of chile con queso ($1.25), a recipe developed by chef John Folse, as a silky smooth, spicy dip for the fries. It transforms the forgettable fries into a treat.
On my way back to the car, I ordered a chocolate shake ($4.29). It came with a wide straw that refused to collapse as I drained a good portion on my first slurp. The chocolate was potent, and the ice cream well blended and smooth. I barely avoided brain freeze on the drive back to work.
Smalls Sliders appears ready for franchising, with kitchens, bathrooms and offices prebuilt in shipping containers that can be trucked in and set up quickly. Other locations may pop up near college campuses soon, ready to sling sliders all day and night.
I’ll go by anytime I want a quick, quality burger — or four.
4343 Nicholson Drive
10:30 a.m. to midnight Sunday-Wednesday and 10:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday-Saturday
PROS: Tasty burgers, fast service, shakes
CONS: Those out-of-the-freezer-tasting fries