Last Friday I traveled to Linden, New Jersey, and it is with heavy heart that I can confirm that White Diamond is closed. A sign hanging in the window states just that. The hopeful might wish that this is just for the day, or perhaps for a short vacation, but unfortunately there are two "4 rent" signs in the windows. Poking around the back of the small diner revealed a barren kitchen, stripped of most essential appliances and bereft of any foodstuffs. This is a tragic loss for the hamburger aficionado, as White Diamond was one of the last remaining vestiges of the golden age of the slider and was quite possibly the genre's highest expression.
The last time I ate there, just a few short weeks ago, the hamburger I had was quite simply the most memorable of my life. I ventured down with hamburger expert Josh Ozersky in his newly acquired Audi, the Teutonic engine growling impatiently as we weaved through the stuttering suburban traffic, the supple suspension smoothing the pitted turnpike. "This is just like being on the autobahn!" He proudly exclaimed. "Not Quite" I thought to myself, the last time I was in an Audi it was on the autobahn and I was speeding, unimpeded, towards Freiburg to eat schnitzel, heading to Linden for burgers did not have quite the same feel. But the journey was more rewarding and at the time we didn't even realize how fleeting our prize was, you can still get schnitzel in Freiburg.
On that brilliant June day we pulled in to a virtually empty parking lot and plopped ourselves down on the faded blue stools inside the worn structure. We marveled at how griddleman Jose Soto mashed down small cubes of beef to form a craggy, unevenly shaped patty, adding minced onion and just a smidgen of onion juice to moisten the beef, dusting it with salt and pepper. Steam billowed from the patty, the mixture of onion and beef juice perfuming the air with a hearty, enticing aroma. Soto then ignored the patty, leaving it to sputter angrily on the griddle for so long that you might have, as I did, think that it was surely overcooked. He was not idle while exercising tough love on the patty, he was readying slices of American cheese to fit the diminutive burger. He then flipped the patty laying a slice of cheese and slivers of pickle on to the top and crowning it with the softest of generic white buns. The patty continued to sizzle, the cheese drooped and sagged before becoming completely molten, the pickles wilted but retained some snap. The bun became softer and airier, like the clouds that hung in the impossibly blue sky that day. With the flick of the wrist Soto scooped up the patty stack and shuffled it to assemble the burger in its correct order - bun pickle cheese patty bun.
American Zen. The humblest of ingredients combined to make something far greater than might be imagined. "Boy, you understated things" Ozersky muttered through bites of cheeseburgers, referring to the my earlier review. "You are right" I acknowledged, the burgers we ate together were just sensational. Better even than the ones that I reviewed.
Of course someone may end up renting the White Diamond location and reestablish it as a hamburger restaurant. It might even be pretty good. But I doubt it will be better. The method and technique, the supply of ingredients, the chain of knowledge - handed down from owner to owner and from griddleman to griddleman is lost - the continuity broken, the essential way of doing things lost forever. Ozersky wrote about White Diamond after our last visit over at Rachel Ray's blog calling it a "hamburger Eden" How prophetic - paradise lost.