If there's one fast-food chain I consciously miss in Columbia, Mo., it's White Castle. Say what you will about the chain, but I always have room for a place where you can get six miniature hamburgers, cheese sticks and a large Hi-C orange at 3:30 in the morning.
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I'm sure there's a charming history behind White Castle. (The Epinions profile page calls it the world's first-ever hamburger chain.) The food itself, though, hardly deserves flowery prose. It's working-man swill, and I love it - the burgers themselves, which can't occupy more than three square inches apiece, come frozen with five holes in them, for fast, uniform cooking. The fries look like those Ore-Ida frozen crinkle potatoes you heat up in the oven, to similar results. But there's some charm to White Castle, some simple appeal to those tiny burgers stacked up in a bag, topped with pickles and onions. And, even though you know they'll do a number on your body later, you eat as many of them as you can stomach.
White Castle, aside from catering to middle-of-the-night munchies, is terribly cheap. The plain burgers are 35 cents or so apiece, although adding on cheese, bacon and extra patties can run you upward of a buck. It's better to just order a buttload of White Castles and skip the fries. The restaurant has more interesting side options. You can get mozzarella sticks, three for 99 cents, or chicken rings, dorm dining hall processed-to-death food that's deep-fried for your convenience.
If you're looking for any real variety, you'll need to look elsewhere. White Castle is the fast food equivalent of a convenience store. You drive through (never dine in - those restaurants are dog-mouth dirty) and assemble a meal from food items you really shouldn't be assembling a meal from. And you'll pay for it later. But you'll be back - they ALL come back - and, if you live outside White Castle's jurisdiction, you may make a point of going every time you come to St. Louis.
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