Reality Check

Reviews of fast food burgers and a look at how the real life version compares to the advertised beauty shot.

Reality Check: Crispy Jalapeño Slider, Crispy Jalapeño Chicken, and Sweet Potato Fries at White Castle

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[Photographs: above, White Castle on Facebook; others, Dennis Lee]

White Castle is often a divisive issue between my friends and me. Some of them wave their fists in the air, shouting, "If I ever see a White Castle slider, I'll throw rocks at it!" Then, my other friends whisper, "I love White Castle," as if they just admitted Steve Guttenberg was their favorite actor. For the most part, White Castle and I are, uh, friends that don't see each other very often, and only meet up while we're drunk. Then the next morning, after a long night together, I smell like onions and regret.

Since White Castle recently came out with new Crispy Jalapeño Sliders and Crispy Jalapeño Chicken sandwiches, and, as a bonus, their seasonal sweet potato fries are out too, I had to pay a visit to my old friend. It's like White Castle had triplets and I was obligated to see them.

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The Crispy Jalapeño Slider ($0.99) is a single White Castle square meat patty, cooked the usual way, topped with jalapeño cheese and a little pile of crispy jalapeño bits. The Crispy Jalapeño Chicken ($1.74) is the same thing, except, well, with chicken! It's not surprising that they don't look like their press photos, but hey, I'm sure even Kate Upton has to be held down and spray painted in the face to look good sometimes. Otherwise, they're small and cute as you'd expect, at least from the outside.

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Up close, the slider looks about as put together as an unmade bed. No surprises here.

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The helicopter shot reveals the true inner workings of the jalapeño slider and chicken sandwich. The crispy jalapeño slices remind me of French's Fried Onion bits—they are legitimate pieces of jalapeño, though, rather than French's homogenized squiggly, crunchy Funyun-style bits. After I took my first bite, I was surprised by the true jalapeño flavor; it's unmistakeable, a little bitter and crunchy, alongside the American-style jalapeño cheese (which I'm typically a fan of on the regular jalapeño cheeseburgers). That first bite is packed with flavor: onionated beef, soft melted cheese, squishy onion-steamed bun, and concentrated jalapeño pepper crunch.

But then the heat kicks in, and wow. This is the first fast food burger I've eaten with some legitimate ass-kicking built into it. Either that, or I'm a big man-baby. After a few more bites, the jalapeño pepper flavor hijacks pretty much everything—the beef, the cheese, the bun. In the end, the impression you're left with is almost all bitter jalapeño. I really only enjoyed my first slider. The others felt like a chore, especially with the mounting heat. If anything, the chicken doesn't work so well with the combination. It's your typical fast food chicken nugget, fried, with the same toppings, and it's clear that the toppings were engineered more for beef. I have a few friends that rave about the beef version, so take that for what it's worth.

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White Castle also serves seasonal sweet potato fries ($2.69, medium), but in the interest of science, I thought I'd throw them into the review. You should have seen the look on my face when I saw the proudly artificial Pecan and Toasted Marshmallow dipping syrup that accompanied the fries. Are you serious? I died.

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The fries are pretty limp and flaccid. When you pick up one of the sidewalk grate-shaped discuses, it flops over like Donald Trump's stunning comb over. There's always the chance it was an off day, or I got a batch of older fries. The sweet potato itself was more or less unadulterated and tasted honest.

But that pecan and toasted marshmallow dipping syrup? No. If you have to know the sordid details, it's just tooth-achingly sweet hotcake syrup, like the kind you get with fast food pancakes or French toast, but with a synthetic marshmallow flavor. It's hard to taste the "pecan" in there. Maybe the syrup would be fine on hotcakes, but with sweet potato fries, just...no. The alternative Chipotle Ranch dip is also a letdown; it tastes like acrid artificial smoke with plenty of hot pepper and a touch of tomato paste. If you have to have anything, just stick to ketchup, or maybe mix some ketchup and mayo packets for your own fry sauce.

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So while my guilty love for White Castle still stands, and I'd still come knocking on the door late at night, drunk, and halfway to pantslessness, I'll stick to the regular cheeseburgers and the regular jalapeño cheeseburger sliders. The crispy jalapeño burger version is good for a whirl, but you probably won't call it back and ask it for a real date.

About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.

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