“I chill at White Castle ’cause it’s the best/
But I’m fly at Fatburger when I’m way out west.”
–The Beastie Boys, “The New Style” (1986)
I’ve always been fascinated by the restaurants that I read about in books, saw in movies and TV shows, and heard referenced in songs, that weren’t anywhere near me in Florida. I’d think about how good that faraway food looked and sounded, and sometimes I’d even read menus and reviews online, even for places I doubted I would ever get to eat at.
The hell year 2020 encouraged a lot of people to seek comfort in nostalgia. For me, that meant getting back into G.I. Joe in a major way, and also taking a deep dive into the back catalog of the legendary Beastie Boys, those fun-loving rap-rockers, quintessential New Yorkers, and fellow Jewish goofballs. I always kinda liked them, going all the way back to elementary school, but during a year where we all worried about getting sick and dying, Mike D, Ad-Rock, and the late, great MCA brought me some much-needed joy and distraction. I played their albums on repeat every time I drove anywhere, giving me ample opportunity to analyze and obsess over the songs. They always made me laugh, and they impressed me with how they improved as musicians and matured as lyricists (and as people) from their debut album License to Ill (1986) all the way to their final album before Adam “MCA” Yauch’s tragic death, Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 (2011).
The Beastie Boys also made a lot of White Castle (https://www.whitecastle.com/) references in their lyrics, especially on License to Ill. They recorded that first album as teenagers before their careers blew up, so they probably ate there all the time. Every time I heard those songs, I craved White Castle’s tiny, greasy, oniony slider burgers, when all we had here in Orlando is its Southern rival/counterpart, Krystal. I unapologetically like Krystal quite a bit, don’t get me wrong, but I knew there would be differences. I’ve never had a chance to visit a White Castle while traveling, and I’ve always avoided the frozen boxes of White Castle sliders you can buy at most grocery stores, as I planned to save myself for the real deal some day.
“And I can always make ’em smile/
From White Castle to the Nile.”
–The Beastie Boys, “Girls” (1986)
Well, in 2021, the 100th anniversary of White Castle, the fast food chain opened its first Florida location since the 1970s right here in Orlando, and it also happened to be the world’s largest White Castle. It first opened on May 3rd, but I didn’t make it there until mid-July, when the opening hype and lines that lasted hours eventually died down, and when I had slightly less going on in my own life. The White Castle is down on the touristy side of town, over half an hour from my job during optimal traffic conditions, and almost an hour from home. I cautiously drove down there on a weekday afternoon, hoping I wouldn’t get stuck waiting an hour or more. And I couldn’t help but smile when I arrived at last and saw this sign, emblazoned with their Latin catchphrase “Desideres ego ergo sum,” or “I Crave, Therefore I Am.”
“Because being bad news is what we’re all about/
We went to White Castle and we got thrown out.”
–The Beastie Boys, “Slow Ride” (1986)
Once I arrived, the drive-through line looked long and didn’t seem to be going anywhere, so I opted to park and eat on the premises. There was a line to order inside that reached outside, but I only had to wait about ten minutes in the sweltering midday July heat and humidity before I made it through the doors into blasting air conditioning. They only had one cashier taking orders at a register, possibly giving a slammed kitchen a chance to catch up with orders, but of course by the time I finally made my way to the front, about half an hour later, they added a second cashier. A few people got fed up with waiting and left, but I am relieved to report that nobody got thrown out.
“Get down with Mike D and it ain’t no hassle/
I got the ladies of the eighties from here to White Castle.”
–The Beastie Boys, “Hold It Now, Hit It” (1986)
After studying the Orlando-specific menu, I knew I wanted sliders, and lots of ’em. I could put away those tiny beef patties steamed with onions, melty cheese, and soft buns. At Krystal I usually eat a dozen at a time when I partake once or twice a year, but this was White Castle, baby. For the past two and a half months, I’ve seen photos of my fellow Orlandoans leaving with Crave Cases ($30.59), blue and white cardboard briefcases that carry 30 sliders, and beset by FOMO, I was excited to get one of those for myself. I was hoping to mix and match many different kinds of sliders, but when I got there, they were adamant that you could only get the regular hamburger or cheeseburger sliders in the Crave Case. So I got one anyway, figuring I would have a ludicrous amount of leftovers, and I could freeze plenty for later.
I half-expected the Crave Case to glow when I opened it, like the MacGuffin briefcase in Pulp Fiction. But nope, instead it just contained 30 cheese sliders, arranged neatly in their little cardboard sleeves. The stuff that dreams are made of… or perhaps nightmares.
“Ad-Rock, AKA sharp cheddar/
My rhymes are better.”
–The Beastie Boys, “Triple Trouble” (2004)
Here’s a close-up of the three types of cheese sliders I ordered. White Castle has three cheese options: jalapeño (left), smoked cheddar (middle), and American (right), so of course I ordered ten of each to fill my Crave Case. I liked them all. I think American cheese is pretty much the perfect cheeseburger cheese. It’s tangy and melts so well. But the other two, the jalapeño and the smoked cheddar, tasted even more processed than the American cheese! Nothing but love, though. This was a long time coming, but they were delicious and worth the wait. I’m glad I never succumbed to the allure of the frozen White Castle sliders you can buy at Publix and even Aldi. I suspect they would have been disappointing compared to the real deal.I should note for the unfamiliar that White Castle sliders only come with steamed onions and a pickle slice. The menu above the registers at the restaurant says ketchup and mustard are available by request, and I do love condiments, but it was important to me on this first-ever pilgrimage to try them the most authentic way possible. I didn’t add ketchup, mustard, or any other condiments to the sliders I ate at the restaurant, and they were still extremely flavorful due to the onions and the melty cheeses.
“I’d like a lettuce, tomato and muenster on rye/
All this cheese is gonna make me cry.”
The Beastie Boys, “Shazam!” (2004)
Since I ordered a lot of other stuff that seemed like it would be more important to eat while it was hot and fresh, I brought the vast majority of the cheese sliders in my Crave Case home. It didn’t fit in my fridge, so I transferred the remaining sliders into some airtight containers, and I snacked on them in the subsequent days. Microwave them on a plate for 45 seconds, and they don’t taste that different from how they did fresh off the flattop grill at the restaurant. I also got a little more creative with condiments at home, but it turned out a little bit of ketchup and plain yellow mustard complemented them best. You really can’t go wrong with the classics!
“White Castle fries only come in one size.”
–The Beastie Boys, “Slow and Low” (1986)
A lot has changed since License to Ill dropped in 1986, as White Castle fries now come in multiple sizes. I ordered the small ($2.59), and due to a mix-up with my order (yes, folks, that’s another Beastie Boys album reference!), I ended up with a free large sack of fries too. These were crispy crinkle-cut fries that were excellent, by fast food standards. I was hardly able to make a dent in them at the restaurant, but I brought them home, and our toaster oven resuscitated them surprisingly well. I shared them with my wife, and we got four servings out of this unexpected windfall of fries. Even she loved them after their trip through the toaster oven, which neither of us were expecting.
“And that’s wrong, y’all, over the long haul/
You can’t cut the mustard when you’re fronting it all.”
The Beastie Boys, “Professor Booty” (1992)
“Well I’m as cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce/
You’ve got the rhyme and reason, but got no cause.”
The Beastie Boys, “So Whatcha Want” (1992)
“I keep that hot sauce hot, not mild and weak/
It’s gonna burn your mouth until you wet your beak.”
The Beastie Boys, “Hey Fuck You” (2004)
At White Castle, you can request a variety of dipping sauces. In addition to a handful of ketchup packets, I ended up with barbecue sauce, honey mustard, and Zesty Zing Sauce, which are all exactly what you expect. The creamy Zing Sauce isn’t hot at all, and just barely qualifies as zesty, if you ask me. I also requested the “Spicy Dusseldorf Mustard,” but they didn’t give me any of those. As a mustard maven, I was disappointed that they cut that mustard from my order. I could have lived without the BBQ sauce, but I wanted to try that spicy Dusseldorf! Oh well.
“Mike D! (YEAH?) With your bad self running things/
(WHAT’S UP?) With your bad breath — Onion rings!”
–The Beastie Boys, “Shake Your Rump” (1989)
According to White Castle’s online menu, the restaurants serve both onion rings and onion chips, but the Orlando location only serves onion chips ($3.79 for a large sack). As an onion ring aficionado, I had to try them, so even though these aren’t rings, I will still denote this review with a RING THE ALARM! tag, like I do whenever I try onion rings or similarly fried onions anywhere. And these “chips” were rad, despite the misleading moniker. They were more like onion petals, like thicker, larger, crunchier, somehow less greasy Bloomin’ Onion pieces, only breaded instead of battered. Thick breading, crunchy, not overly greasy, firm enough to dip and not have them fall apart. Yes, they were very salty, like pretty much everything else I sampled, but I liked them a lot and would definitely order them on a return trip.
There were a few things in my massive order that I didn’t love, but that’s because for the purposes of writing a more complete and exhaustive review, I didn’t just stick to the specialties of the house (or castle, if you will). I don’t know when I’ll make it back out there, so I just ordered everything I could.
“I can do the Freak, the Patty Duke, and the Spank/
Gotta free the funky fish from the funky fish tanks.”
The Beastie Boys, “Finger Lickin’ Good” (1992)
“Don’t forget the tartar sauce, yo, cause it’s sad/
All these crab rappers, they’re rappin’ like crabs.”
The Beastie Boys, “Too Many Rappers” (2011)
This was the panko-crusted fish slider ($2.09), served on the same soft, steamed slider bun with a slice of American cheese. I figured I would try it, because I have some nostalgic love for McDonald’s ol’ Filet-O-Fish, and I think Culver’s has a legitimately GREAT fast food fried fish sandwich. This one wasn’t as good as either of those. I’m relieved that this fish wasn’t funky, but it was a little sad. The Beastie Boys were correct: tartar sauce would have improved it immensely, as it elevates those two superior fried fish sandwiches.
“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?/
I egged the chicken, and then I ate his leg!”
–The Beastie Boys, “Eggman” (1989)
The Chicken Ring slider ($1.89) wasn’t anything special. White Castle serves highly processed white meat Chicken Rings, like their own version of nuggets, but I found this slider with two Chicken Rings and a little slice of American cheese to be bland and tasteless. I wouldn’t bother getting it again. If you happen to like the Chicken Rings, you can also order them as a side, like the fries and onion chips, and not just in one size.
“Now we be grillin’ cheese and flippin’ flapjacks/
With the diamond stylus, yo, we cutting wax.”
The Beastie Boys, “3 the Hard Way” (2004)
“To the heart of the matter, the mic I shatter/
So cold on the mic, I make your teeth chatter/
You climb the corporate ladder/
To make your pockets fatter/
We be flipping styles like pancake batter.”
The Beastie Boys, “Say It” (2011)
White Castle also serves breakfast all day, and I felt obligated to try its versions of breakfast sandwiches. Instead of standard breakfast sliders on the same steamed buns, I opted for two Belgian waffle sliders ($2.69 each): one with bacon, egg, and cheese, and one with sausage, egg, and cheese. These were heavier and greasier than any of the other sliders I ate, and I can’t say I loved them. I think the waffles would have been better if they were a little crispier and a little sweeter to counterbalance the salty meat, egg, and cheese, like McDonald’s McGriddles (which are trashy junk food for sure, but satisfying and delicious). As it was, the waffles were mostly just greasy and doughy.
The sausage was a standard breakfast sausage patty where salt and sage were the main flavors, but I preferred it to the bacon, which didn’t add much. Don’t let me dissuade you from trying these for yourself, stalwart Saboscrivnerinos, but I wouldn’t get them again.
“I’m not walking around, looking to get you cake/
The D is for Diamonds, not for Drake’s.”
The Beastie Boys, “Oh Word?” (2004)
I had to try White Castle’s three desserts on-a-stick: birthday cake on-a-stick, fudge-dipped brownie on-a-stick, and fudge-dipped cheesecake on-a-stick ($1.29 each). I brought these home to share with my wife, because I was too full to touch them at the restaurant.
They were really tiny and cute, but we both thought they were all waaaay too sweet. The cheesecake (bottom right) was by far the best, because it had a slight acidic tang and a moist graham cracker crust. I wouldn’t bother to get the other two again, but at least they were moist and not dry, like I was expecting.
“Check-ch-check-check-check-ch-check it out/
What-wha-what-what-what’s it all about/
Work-wa-work-work-work-wa-work it out/
Let’s turn this motherfucking party out.”
The Beastie Boys, “Ch-Check It Out” (2004)
So after all my years on the planet, I finally made my pilgrimage to one of America’s oldest and most iconic fast food restaurants, a favorite choice of late-night partiers, fictional stoners (and surely some real ones too), and one of my all-time favorite hip hop groups. Did White Castle live up to the decades of hype, especially from my beloved Beastie Boys’ enthusiastic endorsements? It did, absolutely — at least the iconic sliders, the fries, and the onion chips. Everything else, the tangential items, weren’t anything special to me, and I wouldn’t bother with them again, but I don’t regret trying them either. Longtime readers know how much I love trying new things. Even if I don’t always love everything I eat, I live for novelty, especially new eating experiences.
When we first learned White Castle was opening in Orlando, almost two years ago, a lot of the usual online suspects were skeptical and dismissive. It’s just fast food, they said. It’s cheap, greasy, salty, unhealthy, low-quality fast food — nothing to get excited about. Well, I have to agree with all of their statements in the previous sentence, except I argue that it is worth getting excited about. For transplants from up north, especially New York and New Jersey (and we sure have plenty of them here), White Castle brings a nostalgic taste of home to Orlando at last. For born-and-raised Floridians who have never had it before, it might be fast food, and it might be a chain, but at least it’s something new in this area that’s going to be slightly different from everything else here, so let’s let them enjoy it. Plus, it is employing local people! And for people like me who were already inclined to like White Castle due to loving the sliders at Krystal and Miami’s last remaining Royal Castle, and who could probably spit most of the verses from License to Ill, it was a long-overdue culinary experience, literally decades in the making. I don’t know when I’ll return to this White Castle — probably not unless a visiting friend desperately wants to try it — but I’m so happy it’s here now, and so relieved to have finally made it. So check-ch-check-check-check-ch-check it out!