White Manna is a New Jersey diner that serves one of the most iconic burgers in that food's history. Like White Castle (national) and White Hut (West Springfield MA), its name implied purity in an age when ground meat wasn't such a trusted commodity. Decades ago White Manna pumped out burgers efficiently and cheaply to the factory workers in the area. When times changed and a McDonald's arrived across the street, White Manna survived—a testament of American loyalty and good taste, even among New Jerseyans. Today, the joint is still sparkling clean, with a space age feel that probably looked very futuristic to those who were among its first patrons. All of the seating is on stools, either facing the griddle (best option) or the windows.
The burgers served here are sliders, qualifying on the basis of cooking method (griddle; onions aplenty) as much as size.
The breakfast menu.
The housing is the familiar Martin's potato roll, and it works perfectly, but I'm not so sure it's the right choice here. For such a historic burger, the use of a more modern potato bun is somewhat anachronistic. But religion aside, this bun was soft and bouncy fresh.
It's a simple affair, this beef: griddled with care but not elevated through special grinds, special cuts, special blends or techniques. There's no doneness option on such a small size burger, but they come out around medium, with excellent moisture, the slightest of crusts and a soft, almost fall-apart texture throughout. The patty feels better than it tastes, but it tastes light years better than any fast food options and all but the most glamorous of the new breed.
The onions are long, stringy, slightly blacked and simultaneously droopy and crispy, which is nice. Here, they truly are more of a topping than at White Castle, where onions are both topping and cooking method, flavoring the patty from below with constant onion steam. The cheese gets a good melt and interweaves its drippy self with the onions in pure randomness that would make Jackson Pollock envious.
The Fries (and Such)
Ordinary crinklecuts come out well before the burgers. They're crisp and they're competently prepared to maximize the textural contrast between exterior and interior, but much of that preparation took place at an industrial food plant before they were frozen and shipped.
The owner, who manned the griddle for White Manna's appearances on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (Food Network) and Burger Land (Travel Channel), was not on hand.
The Bottom Line
I'm not going to deny it: I expected to be wowed, or at least humbled, and I was neither. That doesn't mean I have any less respect for White Manna, which cranked out burgers with pride during a time when a burger was just a burger. And sometimes that's okay: my burgers were enjoyable for their simplicity, for their execution and for their link to burgers past.
Definitely go, but definitely hold your expectations in check.
Other Opinion/ Info
Yelp reviews of White Manna
Urbanspoon reviews of White Manna
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