White Rose System
1301 East Elizabeth Ave, Linden NJ 07036; map); 908-486-9651
Cooking Method: Griddle steamed
Short Order: Classic fresh beef sliders, perfectly prepared.
Want Fries with That? Decent, but not as life-changing as the burgers. Onions rings? Not so good.
Notes: Open Mon. to Sat., 5 a.m. - 4 p.m.
I was beginning to think that White Rose System of Linden, New Jersey, was actually closed for business. I paid four visits to the little Elizabeth Avenue diner, close to the now-closed White Diamond, but every time I visited I found it shuttered. It turns out my timing was just off—I had either gone on Sundays or after 4 p.m. when they are closed. I finally found it open on a Friday morning and was glad I had persevered—the sliders they serve are as fine an example of the breed as you will find.
The restaurant itself should be given landmark status. It dates back to the 1960s and has remained largely untouched.
Rich Belfer has owned White Rose for 17 years, having purchased it from Jack Hemming, the original owner of the Elizabeth Avenue location (which dates back to the late 1960s). Virtually nothing has changed in terms of the hamburgers, and only a few aspects of the restaurant have done so. There is a sign that says that Spanish is spoken to reflect the changing demographic of the area—an unlikely requirement when the restaurant first opened, in an era when it catered to English-speaking factory workers that staffed the now defunct factories of Northern New Jersey. Also, half of the grill had to be replaced a few years back, although the half on which the burgers are cooked dates back almost forty years. Most everything else remains the same.
Fresh chuck is delivered in 1.7-ounce pucks daily from Jaszt Butcher in nearby Roselle. Each patty receives the classic mash technique after being placed on the griddle. Order yours with onions (and you should, as it improves the sandwich significantly), and they will be placed on top of the patty as it cooks. The onions are thinly sliced, rather than chopped, distinguishing them from the onions at the original White Rose System in Highland Park. But then again, they uses a different bun as well. Despite the connection between the three remaining White Rose Systems, there are significant differences between the hamburgers they serve.
Once the patty has a nice crust, it is flipped, and cheese and the bun are stacked on top to steam.
The finished burger is a pure classic, the molten cheese and slightly charred onions providing the perfect accompaniment to the tender beef. Despite being cooked through and having a crisp crust, the beef is juicy and flavorful. A wonderfully generic white squishy bun is steamed through and perfumed with the aroma of onions.
You might want to call ahead when visiting White Rose System if the weather is particularly pleasant—Belfer has been know to close up a little early to go fishing. And who can blame him? White Rose mostly does breakfast and lunch business, as the call for mid-afternoon hamburgers has largely vanished along with the factories.
The hours might be limited, but White Rose in Linden is worth the trip. Belfer serves a great hamburger—a classic taste in equally classic surroundings.