Monday, August 9, 2010

White Castle: A Burger Fit For Royalty

Watching a recent History Channel doc on the history of the hamburger, I was surprised to learn that low-rent fast food eatery White Castle catapulted the all-American fave to critical mass. The chain was founded in 1921 in Wichita, with early stores designed to mimic the Chicago Water Tower.

Founder Walter A. Anderson invented the hamburger bun, the kitchen assembly line and technology that flattened one pound of beef into 18 of the chain's square mini-burgers. In 1949, five holes were punched into the meat so they don't gotta be flipped.

Back in the mid-1980s, there was a joint called Little Tavern in Georgetown, D.C., where I used to buy burgers "by the bag" when I was bagged after a night of partying. It's been 25 years since I've partaken in the mini-delicacy—til today. There's a White Castle in downtown Brooklyn that I've walked past dozens of times, never considering stepping foot inside.

The BK White Castle was consistently busy, albeit with decor about as sparse and uninviting as any stinky dive. I was gratified that my four little square burgers were fucking juicy, spiced with onion bits and pickle; and the crinkle cut fries were hot and crisp. A bonus: unlimited soda refills, a rarity in NYC. All for $5.64. Sold!

The 422 U.S. White Castle stores—mainly in the Midwest and Tennessee with a smattering in New York—command the fast-food industry's second-highest sales revenues per store, behind McD's, with 13,000 franchises. Now I see why.