White Castle is a touchstone of popular fast-food culture, from the top spot of Time’s list of influential burgers to Harold and Kumar’s hazy quest for the elusive slider.
The chain’s legendary slider, first introduced in 1921, was the industry’s proto-signature burger, leading the way for countless other fast-food empires to take root.
Yet we, two fast-food fanatics, had never visited this iconic chain. So, like Harold and Kumar before us, we decided to storm the Castle and see for ourselves why this chain has been named the home of most craveable burger in America by a recent survey reported by Restaurant Business.
What we found was like no other fast-food chain experience before.
We saw the gleaming crenelations of the White Castle in Phillipsburg, NJ, and were struck by its distinct majesty in the midst of a sea of Walmarts and Wawas. The windows and interior were decorated lovingly for Valentine's Day.
We ordered a diverse representation of the menu, from the classics to the more modern culinary takes. Sliders are cheap due to their diminutive nature, with this heaping tray costing only $AU15 -- including tax.
As with any chain, the french fries must be tried. However, White Castle's fries did not stand out amongst the madding crowd. As crinkle-cut classics go, they were passable but forgettable.
But they aren't known for the fries -- they're known for the sliders. Unlike other fast-food chains, White Castle steam grills the tiny square patties with diced onions, giving the burgers an onion laden aroma. It's a flavour with no parallel. For onion haters, this is anathema; for onion lovers, a tiny, beautiful thing. Trust us.
If there's one flaw of the sliders, it's their spartan construction. With only patty, onion, and pickle, there's only so much to the slider. Enter: the double cheese slider.
With the simple addition of another patty, two slices of comfortingly vibrant American cheese, and a middle bun, the slider is instantly elevated. The cheese adds richness and depth to the onion-centric sandwich, and feels more substantial both in hand and appetite.
Where White Castle falls is its deviation from the classics. The veggie slider is 'chock full of carrots, string beans, zucchini, peas, broccoli and spinach,' yet these vegetables are indistinguishable within the suspect patty. It's mystery meat -- but all mystery, no meat.
We also decided to sample the breakfast menu, which White Castle serves all day -- a bold move introduced at roughly the same time as McDonald's announced their all-day option in late 2015. The egg and cheese slider, the simplest of sandwiches, was also the plainest in taste. Though the egg is clearly fried fresh, the sandwich is weak.
A step up is the sausage, egg, and cheese slider. The sausage is the pro-forma fast-food standard, but perhaps a tad more peppery. It doesn't underwhelm, but it fails to overwhelm.
The bacon version, surprisingly, was a fast-food standout. It brought the flavour lacking in the plain egg and cheese, and the quality of the bacon surpassed that of the sausage. We could see ourselves going through a handful of these in the morning... or late at night.
The breakfast waffle sliders were the best of times and the worst times. The plain egg and cheese version was as bland as expected, despite an incredibly fragrant waffle. Yet, our hopes were raised by the waffle itself, which pairs perfectly with salty, outstanding bacon. Here, one must order carefully -- but if one does, there will be great reward.
We hit highs and we hit lows at White Castle, the shining fast-food castle on the hill. While the veggie slider threatened to leave an indelible mark on our culinary quest, the sheer and simple power of the classic sliders cast a beacon hope through the fog.
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