Mini burgers return with growing popularity

Mini burgers are making a comeback in national food chains and local burger joints. The mini burger trend is popping up in restaurants such as Ruby Tuesday, T.G.I. Friday's, and even Taco Bell.

By , Guest blogger

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    T.G.I. Friday's mini burgers. The mini burger trend is making a comeback to restaurants everywhere, such as T.G.I. Friday's.
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Loved then shunned, mini burgers are returning to national-chain menus. This could be the result of record high beef prices or just of the cyclicality of food trends, but the small sweethearts of 2009-10 are back on national-chain menus.

Burger King pioneered the trend in early 2009 with its Burger Shots. Steak ‘n Shake countered with Steakburger Shots (renamed Shooters after a legal dispute) and Jack in the Box introduced Mini Sirloin Burgers. Johnny Rockets, Farmer Boys and others jumped in before the fad exhausted itself. In 2011, Jack in the Box retired its minis, leaving the menu field open to chains’ next big thing: patty melts. Most recently, mini burgers have been disguised as $1 value-menu burgers.

But true mini burgers or sliders are coming back at national brands:

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  • Casual-dining chain Ruby Tuesday added mini burgers in 2009 as part of its ill-fated attempt to upscale its brand image. Now four “Mini Masterpieces” are back, with all the latest flavor clichés: Classic Cheese with Bacon; Turkey & Swiss; Philly Cheesesteak; an Buffalo Chicken with Blue Cheese.
  • At casual dining’s Bar Louie, Beef Brisket Sliders are among the latest limited-time items. These combine sliced beef brisket, peach moonshine barbecue sauce and grilled pear slaw.
  • T.G.I. Friday's has launched its “Handcrafted America Tour” promotion, a multi-city tour by two food sampling trucks showcasing the chain’s latest menu. The trucks serve slider versions of its All-American Burger.
  •  Even Taco Bell is embracing mini nostalgia: GrubGrade reports the chain is testing a $1 Crunchwrap Slider in three styles (Beefy Cheddar, BBQ Chipotle Chicken and BLT).
  •  PYT, the Philadelphia burger joint that delights in crazy burger builds (you may recall its recent Fried Chicken & Beer Burger, which included fried wontons filled with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer) has a mini again. Its Chicken Bacon Eggo Sliders are fried chicken mini burgers with chipotle-maple sauce, applewood-smoked bacon and maple-brushed Mini Eggo toaster waffles as buns.
  •  DMK Burger Bar, one of Chicago’s oldest and best burger joints, has added a late-night menu with six mini grass-fed-beef burgers priced at two for $6. One is topped with chorizo, guacamole, Sonoma Jack cheese, chipotle aïoli, cilantro and onions. Another has chili-rubbed onion stringss, Amish Blue cheese and spicy chipotle ketchup. At just-opened sibling DMK Burger & Fish in neighboring Evanston, Ill., the Monday special is Crabby Patty Sliders for $4.50.

This isn’t to say that mini burgers completely went away from some menus. They remain  core items for mini burgers’ co-founders, White Castle and Krystal. In fact, 82-year-old Krystal just introduced its biggest minis ever: the double-patty Krystal Stacker. At 93-year-old White Castle, coming soon are Sriracha Chicken Sliders.

Minis continue to be found at many small chains and independent burger bars. The New York City-based Bareburger chain’s menu offers three sliders for $9.95 and protein choices include beef, turkey, lamb, wild boar, elk or quinoa-veggie. Sliderbar, which opened in Palo Alto, Calif, at the height of the craze in early 2010, is still going strong, selling Niman Ranch beef minis for $3.50 and up. At Sliders Burgers and Belgian Fries in Syracuse, N.Y., another class of 2010 concept, “build your own sliders” start at $2.09.

Farm Burger in Atlanta cooks up sliders on weekends at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market. Last weekend’s build: grass-fed beef, arugula, grilled strawberries and thyme-basil goat-cheese sauce.

During their exile from dining-room menus, sliders found work on bar menus. Now with the original burger-bar concept evolving into full-bar restaurants, sliders have been rediscovered as great shot accompaniments.  At Spears Bourbon Burgers Beer, which opened May 13 in Wheeling, Ill., the menu has not only full-size burgers but also a selection of sliders. At the Connecticut-based Plan B Burger Bar chain, where bourbons have a prominent role, $3 mini burgers (beef, chicken, veggie or turkey) are a happy-hour special.

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