WHITE CASTLE MADE ME A FOODIE
If I can think back far enough I think the first culinary experience was at a White Castle in North Bergen, New Jersey, it was sometime in the late 1970s. Uknown to me, that its been around nearly 100 years now. And, they are the ones (even before McDonald’s) who made the first fast food burger.
I know it would seem odd. But growing up Italian great food was “normal” to me. We rarely ate fast food, in fact, the only time we had it was when we went to the Jersey Shore. My parents would buy Gino’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken because it would keep well on the 1.5 hour drive “down the shore”. Why didn’t we buy food there? Because food was triple the price on the boardwalk, and in the 1970s you would never find a fast food restaurant on the boardwalk, unlike today.
So, when my father took me with him to work one day, he was visiting clients in Jersey City. He was a salesman and drove from place to place in all these North Jersey cities. Finally it was lunch time. I was waiting in the car listening to Danny Stiles who only played music from the 1940s at that time. He was all excited to tell me we were going to White Castle. I asked what that was. I guess I was about 9 at the time, and my father’s face was all lit up and said the best burger in the world. This was completely surreal to me.
You only got White Castles one way, and I, like my mother, at that time, was completely unadventurous. I barely liked ketchup, let alone something steamed in and with onions with ketchup and pickles. I was very cautious. I was even more in awe that my father ordered 4 of them. Four I wondered in shock? I guess he was going to eat 3 and the 4th one for me. But then he asked how many I wanted. I just said I would have one. “ONE?” he said, no, you have to order at least two. “I don’t think I can eat two”, not knowing how small and thin they were. I remember sitting in the passenger side, and found it odd that they put it in just cardboard when even McDonalds put it in wax paper first. I slowly pulled it from the box and my father was already asking what I thought as he was on his second one. I looked at him and lifted the bun, and saw all the diced onions and scrapped them off. I hesitantly took a bite, but the steamed onions really added a new left of flavor, it wasn’t like anything I ever tasted. I rarely eat fast food unless forced to or nearly starving and need something in a hurry. However, White Castle remain my favorite fast food to this day. Even still, if I have them once a year, its a lot. Mostly because of their locations, none are really close or convenient to me, and once I get my fix, once a year is about enough.
So now they have sweet potato waffle fries. So I broke tradition to try them, and the Ranch Chipotle is spicy and delicious, they almost upstage the burgers, which, over time, have not held up the way I remember them. And as with anything, you wonder if the quality has deteriorated, or your memory, or both. I think its both, I think they are using less/cheaper ingredients and something that seemed fantastic back then 25 years ago, perhaps was, but our tastes have evolved.
But this was not the first food my father got me hooked on. Soon came real pastrami from a Jewish Deli, then Steamers from the Jersey Shore, and even Chinese and Polynesian food. Since my mother never cared for such “exotic things” I was his new partner in crime. Again, growing up Italian and only eating Italian food and pasta for the first 10 years of my life, once I knew there was other cultures and food out there, I was starting to become a foodie before the ripe old age of 11.