White Castle is known for a lot of things, but serving delicious and nutritious food is not one of them. But when word made it to the Orbiting HQ that the oldest fast food chain in the United States was now dishing up Impossible Burgers, we decided we needed to investigate.
The White Castle-Impossible Burger partnership is an unlikely one, to be sure. The former is perhaps best known for being the last step in finalizing a massive hangover as well as the intended destination of a hungry duo seeking late-night sustenance. The latter is a plant-based burger that “bleeds,” sears, and even purports to taste like a beef-based burger. Earlier this year, a few of my colleagues ventured out to a DC-area burger joint to taste-test the Impossible Burger. The reviews were mixed, with the highest praise coming from Tim Lee, who called it a “convincing imitation” of the real thing.
For the uninitiated, a slider from White Castle is a tiny slab of beef with five holes. It’s steamed on a griddle with a bunch of minced onions and served inside of what looks like a dinner roll. The burgers are tiny—you can get 18 sliders from a single pound of ground beef. (I once ate 19 in a single sitting to win a contest in college.) Under certain conditions—or a suitably altered state of mind—they can be delicious. But a visit to Whiteys can also result in gastrointestinal regret for some. I have a proverbial cast-iron stomach, and I get a White Castle craving about once a year, so I volunteered to see what the Impossible Slider is all about.
The suburban Chicago White Castle I dined at trumpeted the arrival of the Impossible Burger with a large poster in a window. As I walked inside, I was greeted by the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of White Castle. It was a bit jarring to be there before midnight, but I collected myself and walked up to the counter to place my order: three Impossible Sliders (one without cheese), two regular sliders (the control burgers), fries, and a medium Fanta Lime. I found an empty booth and sat down to await my fate.
White Castle cooks the Impossible Slider on a separate grill. Unlike the beef burgers, which are shipped to the stores frozen in hole-punched patty form, the Impossible Burger shows up fresh. Each Impossible Slider is individually made and flattened out with a spatula. It is then cooked on a 300-degree grill; the grill for meat sliders is set to 230 degrees. The familiar holes are missing from the Impossible Slider, and it’s made much thicker than its ex-cow counterparts in order to hold together during the cooking process, according to Niles, Illinois White Castle General Manager Tahita Hale.
My order arrived in the usual boxes on a paper plate. The packaging was familiar, but what was inside was not. The Impossible Slider is significantly thicker than a normal White Castle burger, and it actually looked burger-like than a slider—White Castle habitués know what I’m talking about. Lifting the bun from the cheese-less Impossible Slider revealed a lumpy mass with a pickle on top and a bit of pink toward the center. I replaced the top of the bun and took a bite.
It tasted… fairly burger-like. Unlike the Impossible Burgers my colleagues had in DC a couple of months ago, my slider was moist and had a texture that offered a passable impression of a beef burger. With the smoked cheddar, the Impossible Slider was even better. I suspect that the more trimmings and condiments on your Impossible Slider, the more it will mask the differences between it and a normal burger.
What it taste like was a slider. A White Castle burger has its own character, a taste of beef and onions with slight hints of regret. The parts of the bun in contact with the burger soften a bit and take on a bit of the meat and onion flavor to create something greater than the sum of its parts. In contrast, the bun on the Impossible Burger remained dry, tasting of white bread and little else.
The Impossible Burger is priced at $1.99, compared to 95¢ for a cheeseburger and 77¢ for a slider. They are currently only available at White Castles in Chicagoland, New York, and New Jersey, so if you’re dying for an excuse to visit Whiteys and don’t live in one of those areas, you’ll need to go elsewhere for your plant-based burger alternative. Is it worth the trip? If you’re a vegetarian who has always wondered what it would be like to eat at White Castle, go for it. It’s prepared properly, and it tastes like an Impossible Burger should. It’s worth checking out if you’re just Impossible-curious. But if you’re craving the One True Slider, skip the Impossible Slider and get a sackful of the old standby. You won’t be disappointed… for a couple of hours, at least.