White Rose System
201 E 1st Ave Roselle, NJ 07203 (map); 908-241-9639
Cooking Method: Griddle steamed.
Short Order: Classic slider perfectly prepared.
Want Fries with That? Sure, why not? They're golden crinkle cut.
Price: Single, $1:30; with cheese, $1.60; Double, $2.60; with cheese, $2.90
Notes: Open 24/7
If a car can be considered a classic after 25 years, I think the same standard should be applied to hamburgers. Just as a motor vehicle can be deeply evocative of a particular period in our history, so too can a burger, allowing us to literally taste the past. At least, if the burger has remained unchanged in terms of preparation and ingredients, something that is becoming increasingly more difficult to find.
The recent shuttering of White Diamond in Linden, New Jersey, not to mention the similar fate that befell Joe Junior on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, brought the fragility of some of our most cherished old time hamburger institutions into stark relief. I have made it my mission to visit as many classic places as possible, starting with the remaining slider emporiums of Northern New Jersey.
This week I visited the White Rose System in Roselle that dates back to 1973, but whose roots date back to the original White Rose System in Highland Park established in the 1950s.
Things have remained virtually unchanged at White Rose System since the 1970s, at least as far as the hamburgers are concerned. Founder Bob Hemmings owned the restaurant until about three years ago when current owner George Koumoulos took it over. While he added soups and other homemade food to the original menu, hamburgers are still the main focus and the most popular items. The beef is fresh, never frozen, and is supplied by the same butcher that has been used since time immemorial.
White Rose System in Roselle upholds another tradition that a lot of the slider restaurants that remain in business abandoned long ago: It is open 24/7. It may be far from my home in New York City, probably too far to drive on a midnight whim, but I still love the fact that such a place exists.
The service is a throwback as well—your order is barely scribbled down before it begins to appear. The fries come almost immediately, and the burgers soon after that.
Said fries are crinkle cut, which is always a plus in my book. I like them because the added surface area from the corrugation gives you more crunch per bite. Order them well done and you will not be disappointed.
But of course, the hamburgers are the main draw here and they do not disappoint either. At least, the small burgers don't. As with other slider spots (White Diamond, the other White Roses, et al.), they offer larger burgers served on kaiser rolls, but I far prefer the small patty size on a generic white bun. It is the original way of doing things and I think the only real reason to visit these places.
Admittedly, the beef-to-bun ratio on the single patty is a bit skewed in favor of the bread, at least in the contemporary vision of the hamburger—I am sure at one time it was considered perfectly acceptable. You can order a double for a better ratio, but I sort of like the simplicity of the plain hamburger that I ordered. It tasted—well, it tasted like history. It is what a factory worker tasted when he took his lunch break from one of the countless factories (now closed) that proliferated in New Jersey when it was the manufacturing epicenter of the Northeast. It is what adolescents teens ate, piled into a '57 Chevy, on the way to the City. It is the taste of mid-century America—the taste of "classic."
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