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Did someone say White Castle?

December 4, 2016

I’ve been seeing commercials lately for new seasonal menu items at White Castle. Turkey burgers topped with spicy Dusseldorf mustard (I googled it and it’s like Grey Poupon), or sweet apple butter or tangy bistro sauce (apparently it’s like Grey Poupon only with mayonnaise mixed in). Considering I had my first White Castle with my dad probably 55 years ago, the place has always meant hamburgers for me so the commercial struck me as strange. In fact it’s always struck me as a little strange to hear about White Castles that aren’t hamburgers. Turkey burgers or fish burgers or chicken breast burgers or especially the veggie burger they unveiled a few years ago. All strange.

Stranger for me than those non-hamburger menu offerings is the name “Sliders”. Back when I was a kid the word was more or less a derogatory term and I don’t know why White Castle embraces it. The nickname didn’t bring to mind a pleasant sight: the combination of fatty hamburger and greasy fried onions would, on occasion, cause them to “slide” out the next day of you-know-where the next morning or, for the more unfortunate, later that night.

Despite that occasional unpleasant side effect I used to eat White Castles all the time. Back when I was a kid I think they were something like 15 cents each and my friends and I would invariably end every evening at “The Castle”. Our restaurant of choice was the White Castle on Grant Street and Nicollet in downtown Minneapolis. I’d share how many I used to eat back then but to confess that would be embarrassing! OK, since I’m all about full disclosure, let’s just say that if I were to eat in December 2016 at White Castle what I ate in the 1970’s at White Castle then, factoring in for inflation, with their current price I’d need to have a wallet stuffed with . . . no, I can’t do it, it’s too embarrassing!

But I will talk about one of my favorite White Castle memories. It was November 28, 1974. Thanksgiving. My parents were down in Florida on vacation and it was fall semester at the U of MN and so I stayed at home. The wrestling matches were downtown at the Minneapolis Auditorium, a block and a half from White Castle, and I’d be meeting my friends there for the opening bell. I didn’t have anywhere to spend Thanksgiving; I may have been invited to spend it with some family member or other, I don’t remember, but if I was, I refused. And if I wasn’t, that was OK, too. I left home early that afternoon and took the bus downtown and walked around. Up and down Hennepin Avenue and the Nicollet Mall and the linking side streets – enjoying the quiet and calm of the always busy and generally shady and somewhat risky “Block E”  section of Hennepin Avenue and with the lack of cars and limited busses, the overall solitude of the streets. There were other people around on Hennepin, although not very many, and while I shared nothing in common with them I felt a connection to them.

I ended up at White Castle a couple of hours before the wrestling matches so I sat there smoking and drinking coffee and eating, not hamburgers, but in honor of Thanksgiving, turkey burgers (without some variety of Grey Poupon mustard or sweet apple butter). It was a great time and when it was time to meet my friends I walked the block and a half over to the auditorium. If you’re a pro-wrestling fan I apologize for not being able to tell you who was on the card that night but I think it’d be a safe bet to say that Bobby Heenan and The Crusher where around somewhere. Don’t ask me who won; it’s enough that I remember White Castle hamburgers and Hennepin Avenue’s Block E and a Thanksgiving dinner, spent alone but forever unforgettable, 42 years ago.

So I don’t get “sliders”. To me, these little tasty beef and onion nuggets will always be plain old White Castles to me and never “sliders”. I admit it’s a cute and catchy nickname – and that pretty much every restaurant across the country has adopted their own version of “sliders” to their menus – but it’s not a nickname I’ve ever used or ever will use.

A lot of years have passed since my dad bought me my first White Castle, and at some point in time I stopped eating meat so it’s been a fair number of years since I’ve had one, but regardless of marketing, they’ll always be White Castles to me. And while they’re not the healthiest things in the world, I’ll always remember them as little four-bite pieces of succulent, mouthwatering, oniony  gold. And I find it sad to think that everyone associated with White Castle’s advertising teams weren’t around 40 years ago when a fast food hamburger wasn’t anything but a White Castle. And sadder still to think that those advertising folks might not even be older than 40.

Now I need to go think of something to have for dinner.

More brief thoughts on White Castle are here.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 4, 2016 6:52 pm

    I hate White Castle! Back in the day when everything closed early, no 24 hour Denny’s or 7-11 (they closed at 11pm) WC was the only place to eat after closing down the bars. Or, if you worked nights you ate WC or brought your own lunch. The smell still makes me gag. But, I’m glad you have good memories. Everyone in Chicago calls them sliders.
    P.s. I think you can eat them, I don’t believe they are real meat Michael!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Judy Hogan permalink
    December 6, 2016 12:25 am

    Love White Castles! We uaed to get them at the Castle on East Hennepin, after an evening at Uncle Sam’s. Alas, I can no longer eat them, with my esophageal issues. Sometimes, we can get them at the movies in the Riverside Casino in Laughlin, as Don Laughlin is from Minnesota. Dangit! Now I’m craving them.


    • Michael B. Fishman permalink*
      December 6, 2016 6:03 am

      You might benefit from one of their scented candles. They don’t really smell like White Castles, but they have something about them that makes you sort of believe they smell like White Castles. I can’t remember the last time I heard Uncle Sam’s!


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