When work called my boyfriend out of town this Valentine's Day, I decided to nip the moping in the bud and embrace my newfound freedom. What better way to shed all pretense of candlelight and chocolates than to make a reservation with one of my girlfriends at White Castle?
Turns out I was wrong on both fronts—candles and chocolates made an appearance at our local White Castle. As did table service, tablecloths (of the red plastic variety), heart-shaped candies, and extremely shiny "flowers." Oh, excuse me, did I say White Castle? I meant to say the Love Castle.
Yes, there is in fact a Valentine's Day menu. And yes, mine was last year's copy, containing multiple "exclusive" offers that were apparently no longer available. But worry not, such minor hiccups posed no threat to this intrepid duo! An updated print-out soon emerged from the back, offering four different "Share A Meal" options ($10) and a number of limited-release specials.
I should probably mention that I'm often accused, somewhat fairly, of burger snobbery by my more fast food-inclined friends. Eager to earn some burger street cred, I was determined to try these curious "original sliders" and like them, damnit. At less than a dollar apiece, suffice it to say that I had more than ample opportunity to cultivate my affection. After some healthy debate, we ordered Share A Meal "B"—five jalapeño sliders, five original sliders, and two medium fries—and splurged on extra cheese for all the burgers and our fries. For good measure, we rounded out the selection with some Mac N Cheese Nibblers ($1.79 for five) and a bacon cheeseburger ($1.28).
My companion is a zealous champion of the chain's square sliders. She also happens to be a "vegetarian." Her only exception? That's right, White Castle. Given her...unique...relationship with the chain, I asked her to share some thoughts.
Fortunately for Niki, this was not my first time spending Valentine's day at a White Castle. The event has grown exponentially in popularity since I was last there two years ago. The woman filling the role of hostess for the evening did not seem delighted when I showed up 10 minutes late to my reservation—yes, you have to make a reservation. A small chat demonstrating my intimidating prowess of White Castle, acquired during my college years, not only secured our table, but saw it upgraded to a roomy booth.
The hostess doubled as our waitress, and she and her colleague Tyrone were extremely attentive, rapidly turning around our order and checking in with us just the right amount of times without being intrusive. They even went so far as to agree to consider my demands for music on future Valentine's days.
The food itself was...White Castle. I don't find it as offensive as most, but I can't say I've really eaten there in the past year (I am 26 now and have at least a little bit of pride, even at 2 a.m. on booze-soaked weekends). Thankfully, not much has changed—the burgers are shockingly palatable and consist of mostly bread and condiments. When I deadpanned to Niki that the burger patties were 90 percent soy her "really??!" wasn't as incredulous as it was accepting. I attempted to look up what actually goes into the patties, but when my research led me to this 22 page PDF, I decided that, like science and the Illuminati, it is best if some things remain a mystery to me.
One new thing I tried that I definitely did not mind were their mac 'n' cheese bites, which basically taste like balls of deep-fried Kraft—not too bad if you are, as I am, a longtime fan of Kraft's Easy Mac. I preferred them with a side of the marinara sauce, which mostly overpowered the taste of the bites. So maybe I really just liked the bites as a vehicle for the marinara sauce. With their powers combined, it was a really salty bite. I have a love-hate relationship with salt (hate capers, love sea salt brownies), but this Valentine's Day was obviously all about the love.
All said, it was a far less foreign experience than I'd expected. The burgers are shockingly flimsy, but they went down smoothly enough for us to pretty much crush the entire order. And unlike my dining partner, I left feeling phenomenal. Clearly my body has a lot of lessons to learn.
About the author: Niki Achitoff-Gray is the editor of Slice and a part-time student at the Institute of Culinary Education. She's pretty big into pizza. Also, she like offal. A lot.
About the author: Niki Achitoff-Gray is the associate editor of Serious Eats and a recent graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She's pretty big into oysters, offal, and most edible things. You can follow her on Twitter at @eatandcry.