11100 N. Rodney Parham Road, Little Rock AR 72212 (map); 501-224-3344; for all locations visit shortysmalls.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Decent, but underwhelming
Want Fries with That? Yes. Skip the onion straws unless you really like them greasy
Price: The American Hamburger, $6.99; The American Cheeseburger, $7.79
Shorty Small's has been around so darn long, I can't recall it not being in Little Rock. It's been here at least 20 years, long enough to have surfaced at the top of the local restaurant scene and simmered down. Its existence around here just is, for what it's worth.
But why do people continue to go back? I've heard things—about the barbecue and the catfish and the sandwiches and the onion loaf. But I've also heard about the burger. And since this appears to be the year of my burger quest, I had to go check it out.
Shorty Small's used to be a one-horse outfit, but there are now locations outside of Arkansas in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas—its no longer just a Little Rock location representing Arkansas. But they all share the same menu, and that menu boasts of its burger called The American Hamburger.
I went with a small group one day in April. They dallied over menus, but I knew what I was there to get: one medium rare American Hamburger with onion straws. The straws are listed as an extra on the menu for $1.29, I assumed as a side item, but they ended up replacing my french fries. I did get to see the fries, though, since my daughter had them with her catfish kid's meal ($4.29).
I also ordered a chocolate shake ($2.75) with my meal since every single section of the menu begs you to give their milkshakes a try. And I have to say, it was pretty darn good. Better than average, with a great thick but not too thick consistency—straw-standing thick—and plenty of chocolate.
From the outside the burger looked fine all nestled in its bed of deep fried onions, perhaps a little dry. The burger came veggies down, stacked up from the bottom with mustard, lettuce, tomato, purple onion, dill pickle, beef, and mayo, all on an unseeded and untoasted bun.
To assess the inside, I did my customary cut for the camera, then glanced on with concern: The patty was a bit lopsided. It appeared that the cook had erred on the side of raw for the medium rare burger—it was quite gloriously pink inside on one side. This was definitely a hand-pattied burger.
So, how did it rate? It was decent, not bad by any means. The pink bit was warm and I'm guessing that temperature-wise it fit the medium-rare definition. The more than adequate vegetation on the burger made up for a lot that the burger itself is lacking—namely, seasoning. There's a little, but not much to the meat.
And then there were the onion straws. Now, I've had the famed Onion Loaf that Shorty Small's is known for. Problem is, I lack a gall bladder, so enjoying its immensely greasy goodness is just not possible in any quantities. I was under the impression that "onion straws" would be straight or semi-straight bits of onion. Nope. These appear to be the same soft cooked then battered and deep fried onions in that Onion Loaf. Yes, they are tasty. But they come with their own generous soaking of oil and grease that may make them uncomfortable to some.
There are also fries, which Shorty's does pretty well. They're skin-on fries, skinny, salted, and crispy. No faults there.
As we wanted something to wrap up the evening with, our party decided to share an order of Deep Fried Twinkies ($5.99). I was expecting one Twinkie; we got three in a large 10-inch pasta bowl. These aren't your heavily battered State Fair concoctions, though they do taste similar. I guess there's just so much you can do with a Twinkie, taste-wise. These are dipped in a tempura-like batter and deep fried just to the point where the outside is crispy and the inside is gooey. They're dusted with powdered sugar over that and then drizzled with Uncle Saul's Arkansas Berry Sauce, which is apparently a mixture of raspberry and strawberry. I guess I liked it well enough. I managed to eat half of a Twinkie. Fortunately I'd brought others with me to finish it off.
Shorty Small's is a decent theme restaurant. But as far as having The American Hamburger? Only if you consider their burger to be representative of the average. It's not bad, nor outstanding.
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