We recently received an email from Ron Crowell, better known on AHT as Big Woolly Mammoth, about coming across a new purveyor of White Castle burgers on his way to work in southern New Jersey. What's so special about it? It's not a freestanding White Castle, but a shop that sells water ice and hot dogs. ...Hm. He checked out the goods to report back to the AHT community.
Doc's Water Ice
Cooking Method: Microwaved
Want Fries with That? No fries available
Price: Two burgers, $1.99
I travel four miles to and from work twice a day. It's a one road drive and pretty much straight as an arrow. So from the monotony of it all, I tend to zone out to my music while driving and keep my eyes on the cars around me instead of looking at the same signage I have been looking at for the past 14 years.
However, the other day on my way into work I was snapped out of my road coma and noticed a sign by a car wash near my job that wasn't their before. Just to give you a back story, this car wash also conveniently sells water ice and Sabrett hot dogs out of a little space that used to be the Automatic Drive-Through section of the business. They have some picnic tables out front and some umbrellas for the sun. I never gave stopping there that much thought even though I love Sabrett; after all, it's a car wash. Car washes aren't known for their food as far as I know.
This new sign grabbed my eye and forced me to read it. "White Castle Hamburgers sold here!" is what it said. Being the burger lover that I am, I made a mental note to stop and see what that was all about.
On my way to lunch later that day I pulled in to investigate and noticed some actual White Castle signage was hung from the building. A window decal and a vinyl banner proudly flying the WC colors.
I made my way to the window and a server stepped up and asked me what I would like. "You sell White Castle burgers?" I asked. "Yes we do; we sell them in pairs for $1.99," she replied. My next question was the big one: "Are they cooked on a griddle or are they microwaved?" She started to look at me funnily—could have been the camera in my hand or the glazed look in my eye, I'm not sure which.
"They are microwaved sir. We don't have a grill back here yet."
I asked her if that was in the plans and she told me that they are "testing the market to see if it would be viable to bring a White Castle franchise down South Jersey way." I was a bit taken aback. I know White Castle isn't gourmet, but it's a nice little grease-bomb treat for the stomach and the taste buds. While I'm sure White Castle has their meat shipped to them frozen, at least you get the benefit of the workers preparing them on the griddle and cooking in the onions, and see the wonderful ambiance associated with a trip to White Castle.
So, from what I gathered, they are buying boxes of White Castle burgers (probably from the local BJ's) and microwaving them up and reselling them for $1.99 per pair. I think we all know how horrible the microwave is for any type of bread. My expectations weren't high, but I wanted to take one for the team so to speak.
After about three minutes she handed me a little paper basked with two burgers in it. A simple easy transaction, no fuss, no mess. However, I couldn't help feeling like I was involved in something illegal. I wouldn't imagine that White Castle would allow people to test the market with their product unless it was being prepared in strict accordance with White Castle's hamburger preparation policy. And wouldn't a big company like White Castle do their own market testing?
So, on to the burgers. They were standard White Castle burgers as you would expect from the freezer section of your local grocery store, microwaved and steaming hot. She offered me the choice of ketchup and mustard. I elicited even stranger looks from her as I whipped out the trusty camera and snapped off a couple shots of the burgers before I quickly wolfed down the two slyders and said, "No thank you." I didn't expect much and I wasn't disappointed. I thought to myself, "So this is how you bring a White Castle to town?"
If this is what they say it is, I don't know how they're going to generate interest in a franchise coming to town if the product they're serving isn't the way the company is known for doing it. [Update: White Castle doesn't franchise; they're a family-run chain restaurant.] But if this does result in a White castle coming to town, I'll be a happy camper. (At least on drinking nights.) And I guess I'm going to have to rethink my understanding of what a car wash is capable of being to the public.
Until the next burger,
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