White Rose System
154 Woodbridge Avenue, Highland Park NJ 08904; map); 732-777-1881; whiterosehamburgers.com
Cooking Method: Griddle steamed
Short Order: Classic slider preparation applied to larger than standard patty and using a somewhat unorthodox roll provides a pleasing hamburger experience
Want Fries with That? Yes please—crispy and golden with a clean taste
Price: Single cheeseburger, $2.65; double, $4.40; fries, $1.05
Unlike the separate White Mana and White Manna, and the remaining White Diamond restaurants, the three White Rose System slider emporiums of Northern New Jersey were never technically part of a single chain that fragmented into disparate entities. The three restaurants were always independently operated, but by members of a single family, hence the use of the same name. The original location in Highland Park was founded by brothers Robert and Jack Hemmings and their cousin Jim Hemmings back in the 1950s. In 1972 the trio parted, with Jim retaining the original location and Jack and Bob opening their own restaurants in Linden and Roselle Park, respectively. I will report on the latter two locations in the near future, but I decided to start at the beginning and pay a visit to the Highland Park location.
Everything about White Rose System screams classic sliders—the griddle where buns steam on top of the cooking patties, the liberal application of onions, the neat rows of vinyl-capped stools, and even the inclusion of the word "system" in the name—everything but the burgers, that is. Despite being prepared using the classic slider technique, the patties are actually much larger than the usual two ounces, and the bun is a soft variant on a Kaiser roll rather than the commonly used generic white bun or potato roll.
Available as either a single or a double with various additions—cheese, bacon, chili, or California-style (lettuce and tomato)—all burgers come with onions. Even if you order it without onions (which I am not sure they will even do), I bet you would still taste them, as they litter the griddle and their aroma permeates the whole room. In fact, it is a bit tough to actually taste the beef through all the onion, which coat the patty in a thick blanket. Scrapping them away revealed beef that was evidently fresh, but apart from that was rather undistinguished.
The bread, despite being a rather unorthodox choice for the cooking method used, was pretty good. It did not have that tough, slightly cardboard-like surface that can plague Kaiser rolls, and it was generally much softer and slightly denser than might be expected. The cheese, which is layered on the patty with the bun on top as it cooks, does not melt as much as it does on smaller burgers and never really forms that gooey mass that is such a part of the classic slider experience. But the sandwich attains a pleasing synergy—or at least the double does, as the single patty gets a bit lost in the bun.
While I prefer smaller sliders on white buns I can appreciate the White Rose System's variation on the theme. The place has so much history that it should be designated as a landmark at this point, as should most all of the slider restaurants and vintage diners that dot the New Jersey landscape. They may be antiquated, anachronisms even, but they are important parts of our history—aside from providing good food at a decent price, their continued existence speaks well of our culture.