Tuesday, May 22, 2012

White Castle

1000 Veterans Blvd 
Festus, MO 63028

The Place:
Just rebuilt and re-opened. We’d notice they demolished the old one, and were somewhat surprised to see a newer, shinier one take its place in such a short time. We went on Saturday, the new one had only been open since Monday. 
White Castle is not a franchise chain. White Castle Inc. owns and manages every location. This means they have no one to blame but themselves. White Castle invented almost everything familiar to burger chains today, the bun, the assembly line, down to the distribution networks and paper hats.
As we arrived, both drive-through lanes were packed. There were also lots of cars in the parking lot.
We’d been there before, several years prior. It may have been the first time I’d been to one. I don’t recall specifics, but I do recall this, I was never tempted to go back. I do vaguely recall some significant tummy distress.
To be fair, I’d had their sliders before, quite a few of them, but they were the frozen ones bought from a grocery store. I liked those.
So the new place was brand new, shiny, clean, at least on the outside.
On the inside I immediately noticed that the floor looked like it hadn’t been swept in a month, bothersome since the place had only been open six days. The tables, all of them, were non-bussed. Condiments and wrappers were left lying on them.
Behind the counter, into the kitchen I was impressed by the size of the staff. There were easily fifteen or more, mostly kids, dressed in blue uniforms working away. None of them had a broom or cleaning cloth in their hands.
The Food:
Famous for their ‘sliders’ White Castle has been making burgers since before prohibition, the early 1920’s. They are the first recognized burger chain in the world. The iconic white porcelain tile ‘castles’ were kept highly polished to assuage the fears of ground beef people of the time had, based largely on the book ‘The Jungle’ by Upton Sinclair. This is the book that blew the doors off of the U.S. meat industry.
Today’s method of cooking is, according to Wikipedia: . . . small, frozen square patties (originally supplied by Swift & Company) which are cooked atop a bed of rehydrated onions laid out on a grill. The heat and steam rises up from the grill, through the onions. In 1951, five holes in the patty were added to facilitate quick and thorough cooking. The very thin patties are not flipped throughout this process.”
The bun sits on top of the patty as it cooks, steaming it.
Don''t quite look like the ones on the menu.
I prefer toasted or grilled buns to steamed, simply because steaming, if done incorrectly can lead to a disgusting pasty texture. More on this later.
We ordered, it’s not hard, they only offer a few options. Beside various configurations of burger, they also offer chicken and fish sliders.
Angel and I chose the #1 combo, four sliders (with cheese if you opt for it) fries and a soda. Adam picked the #6, two chicken ring sliders, fries and a drink. We were offered ‘Cheesecake on a stick’ we accepted, since everything’s better when served on a stick.
It’s only fair that I point out that our expectations were pretty low. None of us had particularly fond recollections of the place. And they did nothing to belie those meager expectations.
Yeah, that soggy.
Sliders are served in pairs, boxes open-end to open end. I had trouble getting the sliders out of the box, they had pasted themselves to the cardboard. And I do mean pasted. The buns were almost completely water logged, soggy, pasty. This was hardly appetizing. The look and texture reminded me of all those cop shows where they pull a body out of some disgusting river and describe the condition of the cadaver as having the consistency of wet bread. I’m not just talking a little damp. I tried to photograph this, I’m not sure the pictures do a disgusting enough job.
Mmmm, looks yummy!

Neither Angel nor I were able to eat all four. As they cooled they just got worse. Not just the sickening texture of the bun though, once you got past that the patties themselves were bland and lifeless. The pickle even seemed limp. An elderly man near us was telling people that he’d heard the things were fried in water a day early then reheated. I could find no reason to dispute this allegation.
Adam didn’t have much good to say about the chicken rings either, describing it as ‘bare’.
The crinkle fries were fine. The cheesecake on a stick was pretty good.
Awful, simply awful. The price was just over twenty bucks, pretty expensive for unadulterated crap.
Cheesecake on a stick.
 Angel said in summation: “If it weren’t for the cheesecake it would be one step below Fazoli’s.” Fazoli’s is, beyond question, the place we have liked the very least in all the places we’ve reviewed, therefore White Castle essentially is tied for last place. She added “Blech!” rather emphatically.
Once we left Adam chimed in: “Ha-ha, very funny, now really, where are we going to eat?”
Here’s the deal, work with me on this. Please, please, disagree with me on this. Tell me that you, or someone you know loves White Castle and be prepared to defend it. Please explain to me the two packed drive-through lanes. Please tell me how this place has managed to stay open for ninety years.

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1 comment:

  1. Explain to you the 2 packed drive-thru lines: Well, clearly this location had been closed for several months while they tore down the old building and build the new one. Any time an establishment has a "Grand (re)opening", there is going to be high volume because people are attracted by the new building and/or haven't had their fix in several months. Also, was it a busy time, such as lunch or dinner? That would explain it.
    Why have they been around for 90 years? Obviously they have plenty of people who enjoy their product. It's cheap. It's a favorite of late-nite drunks/stoners. You can order burgers by the case and feed a ton of people. Also, it's not as bad as you're making it out to be. Obviously this restaurant was extremely busy during your visit, thus I'm sure the quality wasn't up to normal standards.