Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lion’s Choice vs. Arby’s

Battle: Roast Beef Sandwich, the final word.

Lion’s Choice
698 Gravois Bluffs Blvd
Fenton, MO

690 South Truman Boulevard
Festus, MO

This was Angel’s idea. A two-meal weekend pitting the two, very similar chains’ offerings against each other.
Lion’s choice is a small chain, only twenty locations total, seventeen in the St. Louis area and three in and around Oklahoma City. There’s a fair amount of local pride with Lion’s Choice. I even went into this with a slight bias toward the hometown underdog. A twenty store David vs. thirty-six hundred store Goliath. I’d been to the Lion several times but not recently. When I worked downtown there was one within easy walking distance and we would dine there a couple of times per month, but that was several years ago. I vowed to try to maintain objectivity, to be honest and fair.

Saturday: Lion’s Choice.
Located below Gravois Bluff, attached to a convenience store. Not a lot of dedicated parking, but enough for the light crowd.  We stepped up to the overhead menu, I decided to keep it simple, to order the standard roast beef sandwich with cheddar cheese. Angel opted for the French Dip, Adam ordered the ‘King’, which basically had a different kind of bun. Adam and I ‘larged’ our orders which meant a bigger cup and more fries, however the amount of meat on the sandwich did not change.
Drinks were self-serve. I chose unsweetened tea in spite of the fact that Adam had tasted it and declared it ‘old and bitter’ before switching to Pepsi. He’s used the line ‘old and bitter’ before, typically when referring to me, so I knew not to take him at his word. Angel filled her cup with pink lemonade.
The tea was indeed a bit old and cloudy, but I’d had worse. I didn’t want anything sweet as that tends to overpower my taste buds, crippling them for the greater task at hand, tasting the actual food. We sat and waited the few minutes it took to slice the meat, which is a Lion’s choice brag. They don’t pre-make sandwiches or even pre-slice the meat.
I filled several tiny paper cups with ketchup and a couple more with the house barbecue sauce. Horseradish was also available, but ignored. There were also onions and pickles available, which I got, as well as some chopped peppers, which I did not.

Angel tested the barbecue sauce. “Tastes just like crap.” She mumbled.  Adam and I stared at her in disgust. “What?” we asked, since Angel is not usually quick to indict something like that. “It tastes just like Kraft Barbecue Sauce.” She looked annoyed. “You said ‘crap’” Adam scolded. “No I didn’t, I said KRAFT!” She looked at me. “I heard ‘crap’ as well.” I replied. This went on for a while, until our order was called.
Angel’s French dip turned out to be a sandwich very much like Adam’s, a small hoagie. The wrappers did not identify which was which and the ‘Au Jus’ (Gesundheit!) was served in a separate lidded bowl. They finally reached a decision and dug in. Mine was served on what appeared to be a standard, run-of-the-mill hamburger bun. The cheese was oozing out the sides nicely.
My sandwich offered forth its cheesy, pickle-y toppings. The beef itself was moist, tender and slightly pink. The bun held up for a short while but began to fall apart about halfway through, the juices released from the steamy beef slowly dismantled the flimsy bread. I thought the cheese, sharp cheddar, might have been a mistake. There was lots of it, normally a good thing, but it was salty, too salty. I barely finished the thing. I would have thought little more of it since I'm salt-sensitive. In fact I didn’t even mention it. But then Angel spoke: “My au jus (Gesundheit!) is too salty.” She said. Adam plucked at his meat. “My beef is too salty.” He added.
Angel and I looked at each other square in the eyes, something we do not often do. She dipped her finger into her au jus (Gesundheit!) and tasted it, then again. “It’s not the sauce.” she pronounced, “It’s the beef!” She tore off an un-dipped portion of the meat and tasted, then nodded her head.
Indeed the salty fries were bland in comparison. Had I noticed it earlier, or had my sandwich been bigger, I probably would have not finished it. By this time however the saltiness was entrenched in my delicate and refined palette, unable to be washed away by a few blasts of old, bitter tea. “I thought it was the cheese.” I told her. “I didn’t mention it because I’m considered overly picky about saltiness.” We sat and shook our heads in shared disappointment. 
That evening Angel’s Facebook status announced: “Went to Lion’s Choice for the first stop on a two-meal comparison, so far they’re in second place.”
The drive home was somber, frustrated and mournful. We’d really hoped that the Lion would be an out-of-the-park home run. “Well at least the sandwiches were small, I can snack later.” She sighed. Angel’s a glass-half-full person.

Sunday: Arby’s:
A shorter drive, Festus, at the edge of the Walmart parking lot. We were eerily quiet. Hope was diminished, disappointment hovered on the horizon. The feeling was similar to that one has when nearing the end of a long drive to visit a dour and bitter relative. Nothing against Arby’s itself, it was just that the bar had been set pretty low.
I ordered a similar sandwich, beef and cheddar cheese, with curly fries. They also offer waffle fries and tater-triangles (Loaded Bites), a technological breakthrough of NASA proportions. Angel ordered the same, both of us accepted the mid-sized sandwich. Adam ordered the three-cheese and bacon ‘Ultimate Angus’ which was served on a hoagie. They both ordered curly fries as well. I repeated the condiment maneuvers, ketchup, barbecue sauce, onions pickles. We poured our drinks, tea and tea, Angel’s was sweetened mine was not. Adam got his Dr. Pepper on. Angel followed me to the condiment counter and poured some horsey sauce into a little cup. Yuck.
The tea was bright and fresh, at least a lot fresher than we’d had the night before. The wait for the food was not long we waited and Angel picked at the pickles. “I like Lion’s Choice’s pickles better.” She announced. “That’s something at least.” I answered. The sandwiches arrived, the wrappers clearly stating which sandwich was which.
I immediately noticed the bun, it was heavier, sturdier than those at the Lion. It was also fancier, with seeds, or onion slivers cooked in. It needed to be a sturdy bun since the ‘mid-size’ meant at least twice as much beef as we'd had the night before. There was no pink on this beef and it lacked the home-style look and drippings. It was a dark brown and thinly deli-sliced. It was also, as Adam immediately noticed, “Not too salty”. The curly fries were simply outstanding.
There was so much meat that I could not finish it. Adam and Angel finished theirs quickly, they refilled their drinks and waited for me. In the meantime we discussed the findings. Adam asked his mother if the barbecue sauce “Tasted like crap”   which started that whole spiraling discussion again.
I gave up, folded my wrappers and added the debris to the growing pile on the tray.

The Verdict:
I convened a team meeting to discuss, objectively, our findings.
“We’re a team?” Adam asked. “I’ve never been on a real team, should we get shirts made?” Angel chimed in.
Sometimes my team is ridiculously difficultto work with.
The only thing that ended up in the plus column for Lion’s Choice turned out to be the pickles. On every other measure, beef quality, portions, buns and even fries and barbecue sauce, Arby’s simply scored better.  
As much as it pains me to say it, Arby’s won by a wide margin.
Lion’s beef was too salty, the portions were timid, the buns flimsy, the tea, old and cloudy.
The decision was quick and unanimous.
The bills for the two similar meals came in about a dollar and a half apart, in the low twenty’s. There was much more food for the buck at Arby’s. Angel made multiple mentions of the portion differences. Though the Lion’s beef looked better, more homey and fresh, the excessive saltiness was simply inexcusable. Lion’s fries were fine on their own, no complaint, but Arby’s were just better.
We went into this thing fully expecting, hoping that the hometown favorite, Lion’s Choice would be the clear winner. Surely the mega-chain Arby’s wouldn’t be able to measure up to a small, popular and local chain. But they did, and not even by the skin of their teeth.
That being said, Arby’s may have won the battle but they don’t exactly get a shiny trophy. Arby’s store was not as clean as Lion’s Choice. It seemed a little grungy. Mostly though Arby’s roast beef was not really great, merely better than Lions Choice. Arby’s meat was very much like you get at the supermarket in the deli section. It lacked that coarse, fall-apart texture and moisture. But OMG Lion’s Choice, the salt!

Disagree with our verdict? Let us know so we can publicly insult your tastes, your family, your choices, your appearance and your other opinions!
Lion's Choice:
Lion's Choice on Urbanspoon
Arby's on Urbanspoon


  1. If you don't like the seasoning salt, ask them to not put it on. It's one of the things that makes Lion's Choice different. I LOVE the seasoning salt.

  2. I also love the seasoning salt. I even like extra, but I know people that ask for light seasoning.

    Arby's meat is bits of beef and a self basting 'solution'. Lion's Choice is real roast beef. No contest.

  3. I have worked as a manager for both chains throughout my food service career and trust me, there is no comparison!

    Arby's uses a "fake" processed chipped beef roast that must be cooked well done to safely serve. It's pretty much the bologna of roast beef. There horseradish is nasty, though I agree the private label bbq is much better than Lion's Choices.

    Lion's Choice uses a "Real" whole muscle roast, very close to the types of cuts used for steaks. It can be served anyway you like it, rare, medium, well done, etc. The seasoning is referred to as the Lion's Choice crack! People love it and all day long request extra on the food and on the side. If you don't like it just ask for light seasoning or no season. The second most popular is the horseradish, much better than Arby's! The average store goes through 3 - 4 gallons per day! There tea, I agree is not the best. It doesn't have to be old to taste bitter, it just is.

  4. LOL, Arby's over Lion's Choice? Fake beef over Real beef? Giant portions of low quality fast food over normal size portions of high quality fast food? I suppose you think McDonald's is better than Five Guys. At this point your critiques can't be taken seriously.

  5. I am a manager at a Lions Choice and noticed you compared your salty to sandwich to the fries, like others said dont get salt on sandwich, ask for some on the side. Our store has them on the front counter. Also Lions choice doesnt salt their fries at all. You made a comment that the large sandwich just had a different bun, there is 1.25 more oz. on it also. Our meals are also set up that if you order your sandwich (reg or king) and then reg or lion sized combo. I hope that you will compare again with these comments in mind and maybe try a different location. I work at a francise and we have many customers who have very specific request.

  6. i am always surprised that anyone would chose arby's over lion's choice. i grew up in st louis and always loved it as a treat to go to that my mom liked...mind you, they was only 1 taco bell, a burger chef, and KFC. I digress...i now live away and have an arbys nearby...though i succomb to their 5 for $5 from time to time...LC is simply better product. the beef is sooo much better...as is the rest of their menu. i predict LC will branch out...if i had the ability i would open a franchise in my area. as a sidenote...yea the salt is delicious and not the healthiest...but all fast food has it added in not added on...compared to what else is going on in proceesed beef, salt is great.

  7. You guys lost all credibility as far as I'm concerned.

  8. Yeah, yall don't know what your talking about!

  9. The whole story was annoying.

  10. Do you work for Arby's?

  11. It is amazing that three people giving critique of a roast beef sandwich, would load the sandwich with so much
    Garbage that you could not taste the beef. Another clue to your critiques intelligence is the fact they based their
    Total review on one experience. You might consider using more experienced and knowledgable people
    To review perspective restaurants.

    1. "so much garbage"
      Condiments, they're called condiments, provided, and in some case made by the restaurants themselves.
      'One experience'? You think we've never been to these places before?

      "You might consider using more experienced and knowledgable people To review perspective restaurants."

      At the upper right hand of this page is a disclaimer it's been there for three years. It clearly states: "I am not a chef or professional food expert. I'm just a guy who likes good, reasonably priced meals and can occasionally find fault. This blog is for entertainment purposes only. If you do not agree, that's your problem, start your own blog."

      Otherwise, thank you for visiting our blog and for taking the time to anonymously comment.

    2. Arby's is emulsified beef which is essentially trimmings that are superheated with a binding solution and pumped into molds to resemble a roast. That's why it was brown. Lion's choice used a top round, cooked to about medium, which is why it was pink. No comparison really. You did get the BBQ Sauce correct however. It is your basic kraft. The seasoning is made on site, and is their original. I won't divuldge the formula though. If you are salt sensitive, Just ask for light seasoning, or none. Problem solved!

  12. I have eaten at Lions Choice twice in the last two weeks (trips to the Chesterfield area for doctor visits) and could not have been more pleased with the quality of food received when compared to any other roast beef I have ever eaten.

    It is an outstanding fresh roast beef and I could only wish was available in Mt. Vernon Illinois.

    Sounds as though you went for tea , BBQ sauce, bacon and a bunch of cheeses.

    "There was so much meat (?) that I could not finish it". I can understand that part of your strange roast beef condiments review, because I could never eat all of that kind of meat either especially if it was not loaded down with salty bacon, cheese and pickles and a huge onion seasoned bun.

  13. Well, I'm addicted to Lion's Choice. I have found there can be differences in locations. Manchester Rd., Olive St. at 270 and Sullivan are great. Need to try other locations. Won't even consider Arby's...no comparison.

  14. Lol It's so funny reading the comments. I agree with the the comments. Lion's Choice wins my vote, BY FAR. Where I live, there is a LC and an Arby's in walking distance from each other. I'm surprised Arby's is still in business considering that I hardly ever see anyone at the Arby's and LC is always crowded. I've been to Arby's multiple times and it's always disgusting and doesn't even compare to LC. Each time I go, there is always something completely repulsive about Arby's : the first time I ever went, there was a homeless guy sleeping on one of the tables with his chihuahua laying on the floor... Not that I'm trying to be judgmental, but I'm sure they shouldn't even let anyone sleep in their restaurant. I don't know if my opinion even matters, but I thought I would share my experience and back up all of the people commenting! Thanks for reading!

  15. I can't believe that you glossed over the enormous difference in meat quality. Lion's choice does lose to Arbys in many categories, but the enormous difference between Arby's highly processed "fresh sliced" (as if slicing cold cuts made them fresh..) beef product and Lion's Choice's freshly roasted beef makes all the difference in the world. The horseradish is much better too. If you don't like beef, and the taste of quality beef, Lion's Choice is not for you. Their other offerings aren't that special. If you do like roast beef, no other fast food chain even compares.

  16. no doubt LC is better. You can actually STRETCH Arby's "meat" like good old silly putty(showing my age). Meat should not stretch for crying out loud!

  17. This is the worst article I've ever read comparing the two lmao

  18. Lol these comments are great. But seriously Arby's? Lions Choice is the best I worked there for five years and NEVER got sick of their food! I now live in Virginia and every time my wife and I visit we have to go to lions choice. Heck it's so good that if I had the money I would confidently open one up out here!

  19. I don't know why, but I always leave Arby's feeling sick to my stomach. I always leave Lion's Choice trying to figure out how to make their seasoning! There us no comparison in my mind. I'd rather have LC any day. Not only is the quality if their food better, but it's clear to me that only hire people who care about their customers. I have always had higher than average interactions with LC employees any time I have been in one of their restaurants.

  20. I grew up in STL and asked for Lion's Choice as my 'birthday' dinner as a kid. Haven't been back in 11 years and to be honest, I forgot about it. Brought my family to STL last weekend for a surprise visit - my brother told me my hotel was next to a Lion's Choice, and immediately my mouth started watering, and we had to stop there before checking in. My 14 year old son found heaven in the Lion's Choice plain roast beef with au jus. Ate there 3 times in 2 days. He didn't care for the sweet tea though. All they need is McDonald's or ChickFilA's sweet tea recipe and they'll go national! :)

  21. It's just the seasoning salt, just ask them to put on lightly I love the stuff - Arby's isn't even real beef, it's particle beef that had been formed into a roast.

  22. Quite interesting to read these comments, which confirm the reasons for my fanatical loyalty to LC. (When I visit St. Louis, I actually pick a hotel next door to the Creve Coeur location.) I make a point (almost) every time to talk with the staff and compliment them on delivering such amazing rb sandwiches -- which is where my focus is. (The sides and sauces are overall of good quality, but that's not why I'm there.)

    Despite my remarks, I will provide the reviewer with a limited "defense." It IS true that the buns do not hold up well to the moisture of the meat, especially if you add au jus and/or sauces. I'd like to see a sturdier bun. Also, LC does overdo it with the salty seasoning. The solution, as mentioned, is to ask for no or light seasoning. But customers have to figure that out, and it may not be obvious (it wasn't to me), even after repeated dining, that the saltiness derives from the added seasoning, not the meat. LC really should cut back on the salt in the seasoning. The dangers from excess dietary sodium are substantial.

  23. The author's first mistake was believing for a moment in time that Arby's and Lion's Choice offer comparable products. They do not. The author's second mistake was posting his opinion online for the world to see. Five years later, this article is still very, very wrong.