Tuesday, September 27, 2011

White Castle: what I crave

A way off-topic rant that has no business being on this particular food blog. Apologies. We will return to our regularly scheduled Italo food-focused programming just as soon as the new meds kick in.*

The blue in the upper right corner of the photo is a garment. Blue jeans, actually. They are mine and I am wearing them. The white foreground, a flimsy paper napkin, is held in place by the index finger — also mine — visible at the top left.

The setting is Atlantic Avenue, at the corner of Shepherd, in the borough of Brooklyn, New York, in the summer of 2011. It is the interior of my automobile, the driver's seat, which I am occupying.

A car or a truck's cabin is the ideal place to consume the main subject of this frame: the White Castle hamburger. I enjoyed six of the tasty burgers this day, but many times I have eaten far, far more than that.

Where I come from, "Buy'em by the sack" isn't a slogan, it's a mandate.

I grew up just around the corner from a White Castle, in fact the very one that I visited this summer. Well, not the very one. As with many of the restaurant chain's older stores, this one was rebuilt from the asphalt up some years back, to better accommodate traffic flow for the oh-so-crucial drive-thru trade.

White Castle has always been the most convenient of places to fall into and satisfy your craving, no matter when it might strike. For as long as I can remember the restaurants have been open 24 hours a day, including holidays (yes, the Thanksgiving stuffing is good; I've had it). The only day that the stores are not open is Christmas.

Of course, it's only convenient if you happen to live near one of the 400 or so White Castle restaurants in the U.S., which I no longer do. I have to travel through five states before reaching a store. The nearest locations to my current home are in New York and New Jersey, more than 300 miles away.

This seems to me an unnecessarily cruel and unusual siting strategy for a restaurant company that I have been so loyal to and for so long.

Doesn't it?

I mean, would it kill these jokers to throw a store up someplace in the New England states? We have electricity up here, you know. Indoor plumbing too.

The way I figure, they owe me at least that much. I haven't just spent sacks full of money in their restaurants over the years. What about the ways in which I have fiercely defended their product against those who are so quick to malign it. Doesn't that count for something?

It takes courage to be a White Castle enthusiast, you know. Never has a fast food been more ridiculed than this one has. "Belly bomber" is the most common term used to denigrate the two-bite-and-you're-done little square hamburgers. "Greasers" is another. "Sliders," a term embraced by the company itself, is yet another, however it appears not to carry with it an air of negativity or shame.

That's right, I said shame. You should see the way some people look at me when they find out that I eat at White Castle. You would think that I had just swallowed whole their little darling child's adorable pet golden hamster, Freckles.

You know what, I really don't give a crap what anybody thinks. I'd put a White Castle (the plain single is the only one I eat, by the way) up against any hamburger, any one at all. Yeah, that's right, even those Five Guys characters that everybody is so all hopped up over these days, the ones who are growing like weeds in the gutter.

Get a grip, would you. The burger isn't that good.

As for so many other bastions of burger blandness, the clown's place or the king's or any number of other mediocre restaurant "concepts," as they are known? Hell, Freckles probably tastes better than most of them. (Sorry. The new meds*, remember?)

White Castles are anything but bland. Considering the way they are cooked, how could they be? First the hot grill is covered in finely chopped soft onions and water, which are then topped with little square hamburgers, each with five holes punched into them. (The holes allow steam to pass through the burger; this ensures quick cooking without flipping the patty.) On top of the patty goes the bun, which becomes infused with the steam coming from the onions and the beef as they cook. A dab of ketchup, slice of pickle, and you've got yourself one soft, moist, flavor-rich handful of tasty goddamn goodness — for around 75 cents!

Served in the blue, white and (lately) orange box that I love so very much.

If only the company's knuckleheaded siting team would allow me to love them just a bit closer to home.

[*Shyster Jersey lawyer friend insists that I state publicly that "the new meds" are a literary device only, a fiction designed to justify this unusually out-of-place story's appearance on this particular blog. I am not now, nor have I been treated with prescription pharmaceuticals of a mood-enhancing nature. Not yet anyway.]


Thomas Henry Strenk said...

"White Castles are anything but bland"???
All I could taste was pickle, ketchup and warm grease!

Mister Meatball said...

Yeah, what's your point?

Kate. said...

Meatball, I am going to Brooklyn in 3 weeks, so I just added this to the list of things to do! Thanks- love W.C. and you're right, 5 Guys isn't that good. But it does in a pinch.

Jeannie said...

I love the first picture, looks really as good as you described it:)must be good if you can down 6 in one sitting! Or is that how you normally eat?

Dante said...

Steam grilled beef served behind bullet-proof glass. Love those.

Anonymous said...

I ain't letting you anywhere near my kid's canary!

Maybe some meds wouldn't be such a bad idea?

forefrontfash said...

i lived across from one in the bronx during my college days. there is nothing i love more than a tiny square burger and crinkle fries.

ditto on the bullet proof drive thru.

Fred said...

White Castle, white schmastle. How do you prepare Freckles?

Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

Please sit down for this important yet wonderful TRUE announcement (I'm sure jealousy will prevail): I was a "celebrity judge" for White Castle Hamburger's Fifth Annual Cravetime Recipe contest, held at their headquarters in Columbus, OH. I have the engraved wine glass to prove it. (Yes, we also selected a blind-taste--in brown paper bags, of course--wine to accompany Sliders. The rule: the wine had to be under $10/bottle because, hey, Sliders!)

I've made the dressing for decades; own several WC things like mugs and winter hats and shirts and ... I eat Thanksgiving breakfast there with friends.

My hubby and I have TWICE made reservations (yes, you read that correctly) for their Valentine's dinner, complete with menus, table service and candlelight.

We have three WC establishments within three miles of our house. If you come anywhere near Chicago, let me know and we'll go Slider hopping. Seriously.

Mister Meatball said...

You people are killin me!!!

Anonymous said...

Every king needs a Castle.You guys are lucky to have one nearby;))

Malcolm said...

What a brave post, and a great love letter to tiny steamed burgers. I've had White Castle on the brain lately. I used to eat a four-pack for BREAKFAST (hold the fries), before work, when I lived in NYC.

Finally, breaking down, I ate four of the frozen kind for lunch today. But we both know those just aren't the same.

White Castle said...

Hey Mister Meatball, thanks for giving the White Castle Slider your seal of approval. It's always great to hear from someone who appreciates the Slider in all its glory.

On expansion, it is a painful topic, but we need to talk about it. White Castle maintains an unwavering loyalty to its personnel. It’s a stable organization and they want to keep it that way. This happy flaw demands that the restaurants stay close to the meat plants and bakeries in the Midwest/Northeast that supply the goodness you know and love.

Expansion happens slowly, not unlike evolution. If/when profits increase, White Castle gradually grows. If you skip a step in evolution, bad things happen. Ask the sasquatch.

Here’s a better question: why would you choose to live in an area that lacks convenient White Castle access? Search your soul.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

White Castle hamburgers are sadly an endangered species, Mr. M! Eat as many of them as you can before they are extinct!

Anonymous said...

Call me when someone revives Wetson's...

Stacey Snacks said...

Growing up we called them "rat burgers" and we would drive to Verona (NJ) late at night to get them.
We only have one White Castle left, and my husband has to sneak them!
PS I like 5 Guys, but what do I know?