“You mean White Castle?”
I can’t blame my friends for sharing the same confusing look. I had never heard of White Rose System until I got my hands on “Hamburger America” by George Motz, frequently dubbed as the bible for burger lovers. Here is a quick history lessons for you folks, my version. Uptown Sinclair’s The Jungle exposed the ugly and dirty side of meat industry in the 20th century so much so that Europe stop importing US beef and FDA was established to standardize some procedures. To promote a better image, White Castle founded the fast food industry with quick services and the first food production line. They also decided to name it White, to fight the stereotype of Ecoli filled beef patties cooked in dark dingy kitchens. As the popularity of White Castle surges, a series of “White” restaurants sprouted all around America with similar characteristics, such as serving small sliders and a décor made with shiny metal and white porcelain to give a slick diner look. White Castle was and is the biggest of this bunch, but there are many other chains, including the White Rose System. Many of these White restaurants have been closed since, but there still exist a White Rose System in New Jersey. And we thought it might be fun to stop by this unheard restaurant.
It turns out that there are more than one operational White Rose System, and we happened to go to the lesser known location. I can’t speak for the more popular locations, but you are most likely not going to stumble upon this one located at Roselle. Situated next to a large bridge and a street away from the main artery road in town, this restaurant is secretly tugged away from plain views of passerby. Had this been built on the main street instead, this restaurant would be a hit right now. The very elegant classic diner actually withstood the test of time. Even though the streets were dark by the time we got there, we saw light emitting from the large windows of the bright shiny restaurant miles away. It took both our breaths away. We thought such restaurants don’t exist anymore.
Even though it was 11pm by the time we got here, there are still plenty of actions going on. We were really lucky because this is the only one among the individually owned White Rose System to operate 24/7, and you can tell the customers appreciate that. The kitchen was busy churning out burgers and our server greeted us at the bar as we were walked in with awe struck faces. She probably knew we weren’t locals, but my camera confirmed that we are first timers – she joked that cameras are not allowed! A couple who were leaving confirmed that we made the right decision to come here, and said their goodbyes to the cook and the server before leaving. This custom continued with the other customers, and the employees seem to know everyone who walks in. (I have a feeling the cook is the owner but I can’t be sure. I thought nobody wants the night shift!) In my mind, I can picture how diners were like the neighborhood’s dining room that you pop in to grab a meal and talk to friends. This place feels like that, continue to bring the locals back to the good ol’ days.
Both DP and I got the same meal, which consists of two sliders with onions and cheese, fries, and milkshake, for a total of $6. The menu is huge, consist of the famous sliders but also other burgers and sandwiches, and even breakfast menu such as pancakes. This is definitely a restaurant that opens all day. The first item that came out is my chocolate milkshake, which looks very liquidy but turns out to be much smoother with a slightly thick texture. The burgers and the fries took a while longer time as they are all made-to-order. The chef stood in front of a 3 feet long stainless steel enclosure the entire time we were there, and all he does was flipping burgers on that sizzling hot griddle. Sometimes, he would sprinkle some onions and maybe press the patty, but otherwise, he just stares intensely at the patties. It might be cold outside, but he looks like he is on fire, ready to rock everybody’s palette.
As I was handled my sliders with fries on a white porcelain bowl, I wondered if they ever get to wash the stove top since they open half a century ago. It feels like the shape and size of these burgers look and taste like they had been all these years. To a modern American, beef and meat in general are easy to come by and some of us add enough to make a pounder burger. These sliders, on the other hand, were designed in the early 1900s, a time when meat are scarce. The bun is thick and meat weighs probably an ounce or two. Many a time, caramelized onions are added to the patty with the intention of substituting meat to keep the cost low, rather than as a flavor enriching ingredient. This tradition continues to survive here as well as White Castle. I’m simply not used to the amount of bun to meat ratio, all I could taste is a lot of bun with little taste of the meat. The patties are all made well done since they are so tiny, but even when the sliders are so small, I could still taste the grease from the steamed soft bun and flattened patties. I definitely welcomed that little bit of oil.
The fries looked like those sold frozen at supermarkets and tasted like any other, but here’s the interesting part. The locals did not order their burgers or fries the default style; everybody seems to add salt and pepper to their fries and customized their burger a little bit to suit to their liking. They probably know it better, but that means I didn’t get to eat the tasty stuff. This frustrated me, but I’m still glad we came here. The service is awesome, the atmosphere is fun and friendly, the food is decent but the place is amazing. It does feel like a family here. There is a working jukebox that looks brand new with Elvis Presley in it, and I think none of the décor has really changed, ever. If not for the food, come here for to see a piece of American history in action. Who knows how long these White Rose Systems going to last, and maybe someday the only place to see these are at a local American history museum, minus the food and the chit-chat.
Address: 201 E. 1st Avenue, Roselle NJ 07203
Visited: February 7th, 2015 at 11pm for supper.
Note: Cash Only. Atm available.
By the way, the other two (or three) White Rose Systems have slightly different names such as White Rose Burger and White Rose Diner, and some of them have been on TV and top 100 list. This one that we went didn’t seem to grab any limelight, but from the pictures I have seen, the food and restaurant all look the same to me. I guess nobody change the formula as long as burgers continue to sell!