Saturday, June 27, 2009

Burger "systems" - White Diamond

The Burger Battle of the Best continues...The hamburger as we know it today has many origins. In 1900, Louis Lunch in New Haven Connecticut began serving beef patties between white bread; at the 1904 World's Fair, Texan Fletcher Davis began selling them with a slice of raw onion. But they never took on; World War 1 cast disfavor on the German-named Hamburger steak, and Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle turned us off ground beef and sausages. It wasn't until 1921 when White Castle came up with the exposed kitchen and assembly line style "system" to show the cleanliness that its popularity exploded; Nathan would do the the same with frankfurters. As the chain expanded, dozens of other "systems" popped up to sell burgers to hungry Americans.
In New Jersey, a few of them remain, and many stole the "white" moniker from White Castle to compete. We have White Manna and White Mana, of famous rivalry; a White Circle System, a White Rose System. And the White Diamond tucked in a traffic circle in Clark. These Burger Systems all have a "system" of making many burgers quickly. White Castle made holes in their patties so they didn't need flipping; others steam them using pan lids to cover, but most flip the burger once, put the top of the bun on, and then spatula it into the bottom of the bun. This way you can use all the grill real estate at once.
The White Diamond is open 24 hours (in a row, I checked) and they sling their thin patties into poppy seed Kaiser rolls with onions, pickles and ketchup. I got cheese on these, and bacon on one. The burgers steam inside the big rolls when topped on the grill, giving them a moist juicy flavor instead of a grilled one. While I love grilled burgers as much as the next guy, I've come to believe that the grill top and cast iron pan are better tools for cooking them. And the White Diamond system works like a charm.
While burgers this thin can't stand up to ground-to-order sirloin, they actually compete very well with the Shake Shack's brisket burger. They're very thin and I easily downed two. The rolls aren't too gummy, they must have them custom made, and the poppy seeds make for an interesting and unique texture, with the grated onions and crunchy pickle adding to the mix. And they serve it up for $2.80 for the large cheeseburger. $3.50 with bacon, which was good, but ultimately a distraction from a systematic masterpiece of roadfood.
If you get them to go, they are neatly wrapped in wax paper of just the right size, so you can peel it back and eat it with one hand on the wheel. I tested this. The building itself is as unique as the burgers- a silver cube with a lunch counter complete with bar stools in the diner tradition. Ample parking, but the little building is easy to miss- I passed it even with a GPS directing me there. This was the Clark location; apparently there's another in Linden, and Elizabeth. The Linden one will be getting a visit, it looks like it has character. That's something the White Diamond has in spades, along with 62 years of delicious burgers. It's a short hop off Exit 135 on the Garden State Parkway, and worth the detour.

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Jay Amabile said...

I love that place Tommy! Nice, detailed report.

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