I remember my parents taking me to the drive-in movies when I was a kid, and stopping to get White Castle hamburgers to take with us. I didn’t like the onions, so I would get on my knees in the back seat, use the rear windowsill as a table, and scrape the onions off the burgers and back into the little cardboard boxes.
I was maybe 5 or 6, and naturally I got onions all over the back of the windowsill and in the nooks of the back seat. That car smelled like sliders for a week, and as I recall, my mom was not happy.
White Castles were always a treat in my family and into my teen years (I once ate 24 of them), but I craved them less and less as I grew up. Another fond memory I have, however, is that at any LEO Weekly event in the late 1990s, I could always count on founder and former editor (and now U.S. Congressman) John Yarmuth bringing a couple of sacks of sliders. It was like death and taxes.
And in recent years, I have realized there is really only one time I ever eat — or even want — White Castles, and that’s when I’ve been drinking beer. I thought about it the other day, and I can’t recall a time in the last decade in which I ate a slider with the sun overhead and no beer in my system. It simply doesn’t happen.
And so, for this week’s Taste Bud, I decided to eat some sliders — dead sober, in the afternoon — and offer my thorough review of the experience. (Mom, I promise not to get onions all over your car this time.)
Well, my first impression was of friendly service. My second impression was of slow service. I counted seven employees behind the counter to one customer (me), and still I waited 13 minutes for my order. It throws the whole concept of “fast food” right out the window. And then they packaged them to go when I had ordered them to dine in so as to avoid getting onions all over my car. But I’ll stop there so as not to sound like a whiny, condescending restaurant critic.
I ordered an original slider, like I used to eat when I was a kid; two cheeseburger sliders, which is what I switched to as a teen-ager; and a single jalapeno cheeseburger, which is what I prefer as an adult. Figured I would run the gamut of my White Castle gastrointestinal history.
The burger seemed to be the same exact thing I used to eat as a kid, barring the price point (69 cents these days). It was square, thin, with the bun steamed soft, and topped with onions and a single pickle. I noticed the meat was well off-center from the bun, hanging off on two sides. The pickle was even farther off center.
I took the first bite and got a flavor memory — pretty much the same thing I’ve always known, but had never stopped to analyze before. Honestly, it mostly tasted like onions, but there was also a strange flavor that was almost sourness. And that’s before reaching the pickle. I can’t say if it was coming from the gray-brown meat, but suffice to say it is a flavor like no other.
My biggest complaint was that the onions were cooked down to the point that I didn’t get the little crunch that is present when these things are cooked properly. The burger was also just a tad dryer than it should have been. Must have happened during the 13 minutes the employees were standing around talking.
Up next: the cheeseburgers. They were, as before, exactly what I remember from my teen years. Ah, memories. Prom night. Anyway, what I noticed upon closer examination was that the melted cheese not only helps balance the odd flavor, but also helps add some creamy moisture to the texture.
One complaint was that on the first one, there were two pickles, but they were stacked. So, one half of the cheeseburger was completely pickle free, while the other half was overloaded with dill sourness.
I finished with my adult version of the slider, the jalapeno cheeseburger. Same charred onions, but this one comes with no pickle, which makes sense — I don’t see pepper jack cheese and pickles playing nicely together, in my mouth or in my stomach.
What I like about these is, you get the original flavor, the onions, the soft bun and the weird meat, but you also get a creamier cheese and a nice spice flavor and kick. It’s still my modern choice, but since it is a relatively modern addition to the slider menu, I’m going to give the win here to the cheeseburger slider.
Drunk, they taste like heaven. Dead sober in the afternoon, they taste like my childhood. In a way, they taste like my life. I just hope they don’t smell that way later. (I’m talking about the onions again, OK?)