FAST FOOD FAVORITES: The beloved, cheeseburger slider at White Castle
Updated: Jul 28, 2021
Recently, I had to go to the doctors office for my yearly check-up. After two trains and 45 minutes of travel time, I was starving. (Damn my freakin' insurance company for making me travel so far!) As I descend the subway steps at Westchester Square, I take a moment to explore my surroundings. Am I going the right way? I scan the streets carefully contemplating my next move. I see an American flag blowing in the distance. Directly underneath, is a faded blue flag with a familiar logo. I do a double-take and squint, believing my mind is playing tricks on me. Is it . . . no. It can't be. Is that a White Castle flag? Me thinks my hunger manifested this mirage. I rush across the street, and proceed to the end of the block. The familiar merlons above this tiny, white building come into full view, and I realize this is not a hallucination; this is really happening! My favorite childhood haunt is right before me. F**k my doctor! I'm going to White Castle.
It's been years since I ventured inside an actual White Castle building, and I'm giddy with excitement. As I enter the castle, I take a whiff and smell the evocative fragrance of the onions sizzling on the grill. Immediately, I am flooded with childhood memories. My olfactory is in over-drive, and I'm 5 years old again.
I am mesmerized by the beloved, cheeseburger slider White Castle is known for. In 1962, 41 years after opening, White Castle introduced the cheeseburger slider to its menu, and it's been a slam-dunk ever since. I ordered the special deal of 10 sliders for $6.99, along with an order of fries and the delectable, onion rings. Yes, ten sliders is excessive, but I rationalize this will be my lunch, dinner, and breakfast for tomorrow morning. I'm set for the next 24 hours. My order is up, and I grab my goodies and slide into a sanitized booth. I ration three sliders for lunch and only nosh on half of the fries and onion rings, saving a third for tonight's dinner. The iconic, squared, 100% beef sliders are grilled on a bed of finely chopped onions and placed on a fluffy, soft bun that absorbs the luscious flavors of the beef, onions, and melted American cheese, topped with a single slice of pickle and a blotch of catsup. As a child, I was a notorious picky-eater, and this harmonious blend of deliciousness was the only time I would allow myself to eat pickles and onions. My parents knew this all to well, and rather than see me waste away on crackers and cereal (with no milk), White Castle was the sure-fire method of keeping me alive.
Aside from the food, I respected the fact that White Castle didn't have any creepy mascots that terrified me--unlike McDonald's, Burger King, and Chuck-E-Cheese. Who are these children who think that shit is cute? I sure as hell didn't! My underdeveloped brain equated Ronald McDonald to the likes of Pennywise in Stephen King's IT. That plastered on smile was just a ruse to gain your trust, so he can kidnap children and throw you in the basement of the Ronald McDonald House, while you begged for scraps of Chicken McNuggets from a well. Till this day, till this very day, he is the reason for my coulrophobia: Fear of clowns. And what is up with that huge, bobble-headed, creepy king from Burger King? He should have remained animated with normal proportions, like those harmless commercials from the 70's. But no, some marketing genius thought it would be cool to humanize the king with an enlarged head. Remember those creepy commercials from the early 2000's? There were a few of them, but the one I remember vividly was the cayote ugly scenario; wherein some dude wakes up from a black-out, and finds the creepy king laying in bed next to him. Thankfully the company realized how frightening the king was and changed advertising agencies. To quote the Chief Financial Officer at the time, Josh Kobza: "We got rid of the creepy king character that tended to scare away women and children." Thank you Josh! And don't get me started about that disgusting rat from Chuck-E-Cheese. He is in no way comparable to the cute mice in Walt Disney's Cinderella. This is a rodent with fangs waiting to devour you when you least expected it; he is every subway riders nightmare. White Castle didn't need a mascot. The food spoke for itself.
2021 marks the 100th year anniversary of White Castle. The self proclaimed, first, fast-food chain in the world was launched by Billy Ingram, with $700 and a dream. Today, Ingram's great, grand-daughter, Lisa Ingram, is president and CEO, proving the business is still "all in the family." There is a reason why White Castle isn't seen on every corner like the golden arches of McDonalds; they did not want to give up total control, which is why there are no
franchise's. Majority of its revenue is procured from the products sold at your local supermarket. Like El Pollo Loco, White Castle was only available within certain regions of the U.S. For many years while on the west coast, when ever I had a craving for my beloved sliders, I would hit my neighborhood Ralph's and pick-up a batch at the frozen food aisle. Surprisingly, they tasted almost as good as the real deal.
In early May of 2021 White Castle opened it largest location in Orlando, Florida. For three to four hours "cravers" (just as Lady Gaga's fans are known as "little monsters," White Castle followers are known as "cravers") lined up for the drive-thru and dine-in options, to get a taste of the lip-smacking, deliciousness White Castle is known for.
The "crave heard around the world," has blazed a trail on the silver-screen as well as the music industry. In 1977, aside from the discotheque, White Castle was the late-night, hang-out, spot for Tony Manero and his boys in Saturday Night Fever. In 1986, the Beastie Boys payed homage to the square burger on five of its 13 tracks from Licensed to Ill: "I can always make them smile, from White Castle to the Nile." And let us not forget the stoner classic, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004), that dedicated an entire movie on the "crave" that saw two friends venture into Jersey on the hunt for the infamous sliders.
To commemorate its centennial anniversary, White Castle has partnered with Puma for a limited-edition apparel line. The swag shop includes two sneaker options, as well as graphic T's, shorts, and a hoodie with the familiar blue and white palette, with bold, orange accents. Along with the proverbial slice of pizza, fried chicken and apple pie, White Castle is a part of Americana; not just in terms of the cheeseburger, but the institution itself. In 2014 White Castle's original slider was named "The most influential burger of all time," by Time magazine. With the introduction of the Impossible Slider in
2018--a plant based burger by Impossible Foods that tastes and bleeds like real meat--White Castle has solidified its cultish reputation by changing with the times, and giving the public what it wants: Lip smacking sliders with endless options to choose from, at an affordable price. Here's to the "crave heard around the world" and conquering the next 100 years of devoted cravers.