Serving Tiny Burgers Since 1921
I had my first White Castle burger in 1975 when I moved to St. Louis. Locals made a big deal about the greasy little burgers that they called "Belly Bombers". Nobody talked about the Castle's history of being the country's first fast food chain.
Posing at the Castle
When Don and I visited St. Louis last April, we had to make a stop. We can buy frozen White Castle burgers in Texas, but not hot ones. The Ingram family still owns the company, since it opened in 1921.
They made the decision early on to expand carefully, staying near the company's resoursces... no franchising. There are only a few states, mostly in the midwest, that have the fast food diner. That makes finding one pretty exciting.
White Castle in the Movies & Science
This silly movie about the search for the tasty burgers, confirmed the image of the White Castle as being the top choice for late night munchies... after a night of partying.
But sometimes the little burgers can be a very serious thing. When Don was a young chemical engineer, working in St. Louis, he and couple fellow workers did a very serious experiment, inspired by a White Castle outing.
Hypothesis: No self respecting mold would ever grow on a White Castle burger.
The 3 scientists carefully placed one belly bomber in a jar and attempted to remove the oxygen by purging with nitrogen. The mold did indeed refuse to grow, at least for a number of months.
White Palace... White Knight?
About 30 years ago, White Castle was the inspiration for a book and movie starring Susan Sarandon. The plot was a love story that began at a White Castle in St. Louis. However the fast food chain refused the author or film studio the rights to their name, so the title was White Palace. Scenes were shot at a cute little downtown diner, now called White Knight. The diner was unable to get the rights from the film studio to name their diner White Palace, after their brief fame.
Lots of name hoarding!
Ordering Our White Castle Feast
So back to our dining experience... The interior looked a little less shady than I remembered. Don and I still stood out as tourists when we sat down waiting for our order.
I wish they still had these old sacks. There's something about a white sack, that seems so appropriate... and wholesome and bakery-like.
"BUY 'EM BY THE SACK" Good logo!
Here's the new bag, with grease stains.
There's a new slogan.
"Anything on the Menu Anytime We're Open"
That's a good slogan for a place that's open 24-hours.
About the Food
So the food was as greasy as I remembered. The bun absorbed a lot of that oniony grease.
I should have removed the bun to reveal the nice two-and-a-half-inch square burger with its 5 punched holes. Supposedly the holes help the meat cook evenly, without flipping.
You don't order one burger. In fact there was a disgusting table nearby that had not been cleared. There was a mountain of at least 30 boxes and only 4 chairs. I decided not to take a photo.
Don and Burger
That square burger in Don's hand looked even smaller in person, but it felt a lot bigger in the stomach.
Not only are the burgers known for being greasy, they're known for how they're grilled with chopped onions and served with one pickle. So simple and tasty... at least that's the thought. There's a good reason they call them belly-bombers. I couldn't eat 2.
I'm first to admit, I crave the experience not the food at White Castle!
Don and I spent a couple nights in Williamsburg last July. We didn't stay at the lovely Williamsburg Inn, but we hoped to at least have a meal there.
When we found out jackets were required in the evening, we figured we would aim for breakfast.
The Inn was adjacent to the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area, which dates back to the 1600's.
That makes Williamsburg Inn just a baby, at almost 80 years. The inn was actually built by John D. Rockefeller Junior. He played a part in the preservation of the historic community.
Southern Country Estate
The place really did look more like an old home than a hotel. The neoclassical exterior, with whitewashed brick and ionic columns had a formal, grand style.
Two doormen opened the beautiful brass doors as we headed inside.
The sitting area by the lobby desk felt almost rigidly formal, with chandeliers, drapes and portraits. But there was a man seated in shorts and the staff seemed friendly, so on we went.
The decor reminded me of my Aunt Mary's home. I was always in awe of her lovely house, but I never felt truly comfortable. Don and I wandered in search of the dining room.
In 2001 there was a complete renovation at the inn, so everything did look very fresh and lovely in the sunken dining room. We were greeted warmly and asked our names. I wondered why, because there didn't seem to be a wait.
Our table with a view of the grounds was lovely... even with some golf course renovations going on. White cloth and a white rose... and a bell for service?
Actually that was not a bell. That was a very fancy little butter holder with lid. I kind of adored it.
Our server was Cecil and he was delightful. He called us Mr. and Mrs. Zienty, so I guess that's why we were asked about our names. He was dressed in a suit and tie and seemed overly polite at first.
Then I just had to pull out my 1954 Ford Motor Cookbook to ask Cecil if they still served "Williamsburg Orange Wine Cake". He took a look at the book with illustration and recipe and I wish I could have snapped a photo of his expression. His eyes widened and he let out a not so formal laugh!
He was sad to inform me, they no longer serve that cake. So I made another choice.
Breakfast is Served
Ordinarily I feel uncomfortable in a setting that once served only the rich. And looking around, I'm pretty sure the other diners were inn guests. In fact many greeted the staff like old friends.
They had either been staying a long time, or they come back often. But Cecil and our busboy and hostess, were all gracious and made us feel at home.
I had the closest thing I could find to the cookbook recipe... Orange Waffles with Raspberries and Blackberries!
Don went for Corned Beef Hash with Asparagus Toast and Eggs. He's picky about corned beef, so it was nice to see him happy. This was a big treat after our usual traveling breakfast of granola bars!
It was nice having the restaurant relaxed and quiet. We had more time with Cecil and he talked about growing up in Jamaica.
He thought it had been about 39 years since he'd been back. He missed it. We tipped well... hoping he can put that towards his travel savings.
Since we learned that the Regency Dining Room was added in more recent years, we tried to find the original dining room. I think this is it.
We found a few other reminders of how the inn must have looked in 1937. The stairway was the original, I'm pretty sure. And I don't think they install water fountains like that anymore. I tried to imagine Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visiting the inn, the year I was born. They must have liked it plenty, since they returned in 2007.
Walking Off Breakfast
What a treat to relax and dine at breakfast, then spend the day walking it off in Colonial Williamsburg. Nice way to extend our dining adventure!
I learned about this place from my sister's blog, but it also seemed to be getting some Yelp attention when we visited last January.
The tiny place was off the beaten tourist path, so we never would have stumbled across it. We heard there was often a wait, so we arrived about 9 on Saturday morning.
I have a feeling the cold weather may have also slowed down the crowds, a bit.
Warm and Cozy Inside
My blurry photo shows how packed the place was by 9. There was quite a bit of serious eating going on.
And quite a few picking up carry outs, as well. There was a lot of movement behind that counter!
There were only about 4 tables and 4 booths, so we were lucky to be seated. Our table was near where the food action was taking place.
About 9 employees bustled around near the sizzling grill, cooking, carrying or hollering out orders. The coffee tasted good on a cold morning, but there was only powered creamer. That's okay. Our meal made up for that!
Biscuits and Gravy
I ordered the biscuits and gravy, since that's what everyone raves about! What a surprise to have these heavenly biscuits with a brown, sausage gravy!
The non-creamy gravy, with sausage and savory seasonings made me feel I was enjoying a little Thanksgiving, actually. Works for me!
Shrimp and Grits
Don is not a grits kind of guy, but how could he resist. Narobia's gets one of the best ratings for soul food, so he couldn't go wrong.
I loved the bites I stole... lots of grilled onion and green pepper, along with shrimp! I just wish the place hadn't been so busy so I could have asked a question or 2. I sure didn't want to slow the place down!
By the time we finished our meal and gave our table over to others, a light snow was falling.
It was a fun moment when all the customers and some staff looked out to see the big flakes. I didn't exactly capture the snow in the photo, but it felt like the perfect winter morning for a big breakfast.
Night 3 in Savannah
Last January, Don and I spent 3 days exploring old Savannah. Our last day was drizzly, but it only added to the character of the waterfront and buildings, like the Savannah Cotton Exchange.
By evening, we were in a wandering mood. One of those times neither one of us could make a good decision.
The weather grew chilly and few were around the touristy City Market area.
The giant ice cream cones didn't lure us in as much as the copper kettle hanging over the door. The idea of candy actually cooking, sounded warm.
Don posed with the colorful candy and we bought some pralines and other goodies and then, we wandered more.
Crystal Beer Parlor
We shivered in the dreary weather and headed towards this old brick building on West Jones.
We had 2 good reasons to give the Crystal Parlor a try. First of all, it was within walking distance of our small hotel. That's a huge plus. And we were told it was a place where locals hang out and that can be a good thing.
Gerken Family Grocery Store
In the early 1900's this was a family run grocery store, with the family living upstairs. It wasn't until 1933 that the Mannings bought the place and turned it into the Crystal Beer Parlor.
It's rumored that the Parlor operated a speakeasy during prohibition. That may or may not be true, but we do know the place was well loved by locals, who came for 10-cent beers and 30-cent grilled burgers!
It was a Friday when we arrived, so things were already hopping.
Obviously a lot of people had come straight from work. It felt a little like the bar in Cheers.
Don and I were able to grab 2 seats at the bar.
The red vinyl booths were all taken and the long wooden bar felt welcoming enough.
Beer at the Bar
Don made use of the fact we were at a beer parlor. Most of the people around us were drinking beer, but there was quite a bit of feasting, too.
The hamburgers looked wonderful. I learned later, that many consider them the best in Savannah.
I love a bar or restaurant with lots of old photos. One image reminded me of my brother's old cartoon drawings and it gave me a very silly reason to strike up a conversation with the ponytailed man sitting beside me.
After he left, a nurse took his seat and we talked about her life in Maine and what it was like to move to the south 15 years ago. It was nice that people were talking with each other and not staring at cell phones for a change.
I went on a little exploring mission after a while and found the Monroe Room, with lots of old photos. Monroe Whitlock and "Smitty" Smith were well loved servers at The Parlor for over 45 years.
What does that tell you when a restaurant names a room after an employee? And I also loved this photo of lyricist, Johnny Mercer with the young boy... who looks very much like Don as a kid.
Savannah is very proud of their Native Son, Johnny. We found his image on park benches and plaques here and there. I'm guessing he was a fan of Crystal Parlor back in the day.
I'm feeling really bad now, that we didn't end up trying one of those burgers or some She Crab Soup. We failed on our last night to have any real dining adventure, but we did find good atmosphere.
Here is the impressive wooden door where we entered Boar's Head Tavern, last January.
The building was just a minute walk from our hotel, which was also in a restored cotton warehouse on the Savannah Riverfront.
From Low to High
We walked by the corner restaurant a number of times during our stay.
The stone path from the river, took us right by the green and white awning each time we headed towards the main road above the bluff.
It was hard not to think of deli meats with a name like Boar's Head, but we were eager to give the place a try.
The place may have been a tavern since the fifties, but the brick walls and beamed ceilings brought back the feel of the cotton warehouse days, many years before.
I was glad to see there was a boar mounted on the wall. There was a reason for the name... besides deli meats.
It was too dark to see the view of the river out the windows, but we were entertained by our bartender and the other guests instead.
The couple beside us, told us about recently seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland and some other travel stories. We had nothing to top that, so we asked our bartender about some history. As she cupped her hands around a mug of tea, she actually did have quite a bit of history to share.
A Drink and History
Our bartender fixed Don this retro looking drink and told us about Chef Philip Branan, who bought Boar's Head some years back
She explained how the building (a portion of it was built in 1780) used to be owned by many different businesses, which can get pretty complicated. Chef Philip started his career working in Savannah restaurants at age 15. Evidently he was trained at The Culinary Institute in NY, before returning to his roots in Savannah.
One of 3 Rooms
The tavern dining room had a view of the kitchen, but I didn't get a good glimpse of the chef.
It was an odd arrangement with tables and captain's chairs that could have come from a 1970's Red Lobster. And then there was the chandelier hanging from exposed beams.
The back room was the coziest, but a large party was filling it for a while.
After they departed, we got to roam around and study the view of the river and ballast stone and brick walls.
Don found some decor he liked.
Lots of reminders of the ships that once carried the cotton away from Savannah.
So we got to find out if the food was as good as we'd heard. It actually was pretty amazing.
Our very sweet server, Daniel gave us lots of suggestions. We ended up with chicken Caesar salad, incredibly rich spinach salad and the most amazing platter of grilled mushrooms.
Great Food & Curious Atmosphere
I will always, remember the excellent food and the somewhat quirky atmosphere. I'm actually glad it hasn't been spiffed up with trendy tables to accent the stone and brick. I'm glad it felt low key and comfortable... of course we were there off season.
Mostly I'm glad we traveled the stone path to reach the stairway to the street ... or we might not have come across the cozy place! Gotta love Old Savannah!
The Dining Blog
This is a blog about Dining Adventures. Sometimes, I talk about food. Below, you can read how this started.
On July 4th 2011, I set a goal to try 50 culturally diverse restaurants in one year! (I knew that was possible, living in the Houston area) I spent the year pulling in friends and family to join me, on some unusual dining adventures. I met some curious people, tried some scary foods and explored places and cultures I never would have otherwise. Even though I met my goal, I learned too much to end my adventures in dining. I have continued blogging about memorable dining adventures of all kinds, near and far... and all the discoveries and funny things I've learned along the way!
Locations and types of dining adventures, are listed further down.