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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

White Castle

Not so long ago you had to make a pilgrimage to find a fast food restaurant. In 1970, there were no McDonalds in Manhattan. When I first moved here to attend university, a group of us traveled to the Bronx to have the White Castle experience - eating those little square inexpensive hamburgers (known as sliders - officially Slyders) was the perfect novel activity for a college student. White Castle was an alien experience - something more akin to the suburbs or outer boroughs. It's white porcelain enamel exterior with crenelated roofline resembled a medieval castle (said to be modeled after the Chicago Water Tower.)
The protective romantic attachment that some had surrounding White Castle has all the earmarks of the New York City landmark institution - like egg creams or Coney Island. Perhaps its length of time in the city (there has been a White Castle in Bayside Queens since 1932) and the fact that it predates any other fast food chains here, gives it a false sense of being a New York original like Nedick's or Nathan's. And New Yorker's are used to taking credit for many firsts - so why not White Castle?
But in fact White Castle is a national chain and was started in 1921 in Kansas by partners Walter A. Anderson and cook Billy Ingram. However, the chain has maintained a much lower profile and rate of expansion than other fast food restaurants - to date it has 380 plus locations nationwide compared to 13,000 for McDonald's.
From the New York Times:

Few people seem to realize that White Castle was America's original fast-food chain: its first outlet opened in 1921, 27 years ahead of McDonald's. Indeed, White Castle was the key player in turning the hamburger into America's national meal.

Its little square burgers and turreted restaurants have become something of a pop-culture punch line, stuck somewhere between white-trash chic and ironic kitsch
.

So it was last weekend on our adventure to Jackson Heights that we came across this White Castle at the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and Humboldt in Brooklyn - more photos here. A few mandatory burgers were consumed by my companions as I sampled some French fries. In all, the place was clean and tidy and the staff extremely friendly. A good first White Castle experience for one of our group who was new to the food chain. Our hats are off to the management here ...

4 comments:

naomid said...

There was a White Castle near Flatbush and Church aves in Brooklyn, that was converted by different owners into a Veggie Castle. It served vegetarian/vegan/Carribean food. It was the best fast-food ever but now its closed.

Someone Said said...

Used to go to a tiny one in Hempstead with my grandfather when I was a kid. I live in Columbus now, which is now the chain's corporate headquarters. Must have slyders once or twice a year, for a cleansing experience.

JWsHon said...

I live in CT and from time to time my daughter and I get in the car and drive down to the Bronx JUST for white castle! We get a suit case (or 2) of those delicious little burgers....have a couple on the way home.... and MUNCH all night (and day) on them!
Maybe... Just maybe, its time for another road trip!

Anonymous said...

Susan Sarandon works at one in the movie "White Palace", name changed for copyright.