Battle: Roast Beef Sandwich, the final word.
698 Gravois Bluffs Blvd
690 South Truman Boulevard
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.
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.
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!