In 8 P.M. On Wednesday, the White Castle in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in the shadow of the elevated tracks of the L train, closed for a private party. Eric Wareheim, from the comedy duo Tim & Eric and Aziz Ansari's "Master of None", was the host, greeting the guests at the door, wearing a sharp blue suit with a starched white shirt, unzipped with pride in the trunk. Questlove, his exclusive peak hidden in his Afro, was spinning records, warming up for a live performance promised by Ghostface Killah. Chef Danny Bowien, from Mission China, wandered around looking fun.
The occasion for the festivities was the launch of a new menu item from White Castle: slide controls made by Impossible Foods, the Silicon Valley startup, founded by a Stanford biochemist. who has developed a hundred percent plant-based hamburger substitute that mimics the molecular structure of meat, even approximating the way a true hamburger "bleeds." (The ingredients include wheat, coconut oil, potato protein and soy). Especially for the event, circulated trays of pale and crispy potato chips, onion rings that cooled quickly and slide controls wrapped in wax paper impaled with paper flags that said "Impossible", as if each one had been conquered by a miniature by Neil Armstrong.
White Castle is not the first restaurant to offer impossible hamburgers: you can find them in more than a thousand establishments in the USA. UU., Even in chains like Fatburger, Bareburger and Wahlburger, but it's the first big fast food chain that serves them, and somehow the least likely to be a pioneer. Founded in Wichita, Kansas, in 1921, White Castle is credited with being the first fast food chain in the country, and its hamburgers are small, square, ultra-simple and sold for only eighty-one cents each, $ 6, 99 per person. a sack of ten, or $ 19.99 for a "Crave Case" of thirty, are iconic. The brand has a strong follow-up of followers (significantly enhanced, no doubt, by the comedy stoner 2004 "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle"), and the pre-assembled and frozen sliders are sold almost anywhere where food is found frozen, but White Castle, somehow, forgotten by time, and not in a particularly charming way. It's a much smaller operation than competitors like McDonald's and Burger King, with less than five hundred outposts, all with pale, doughy facades that show the brand's obsolete logo. And previously he did not seem interested in reinventing himself with progressive tricks like "healthy option" options, although he does offer a common veggie burger, "packed with carrots, zucchini, peas, broccoli, spinach and more!" (Kim Bartley, marketing director of White Castle, said Forbes that partnering with Impossible is "one more way to satisfy the evolving hunger that vegetable protein customers have."
When I tried it The first time An impossible burger, a few years ago, at Momofuku Nishi, the Italian-Korean restaurant of David Chang in Chelsea, I was impressed, if not completely convinced, it looked like a hamburger, even its half-rare pink interior, and it smelled like hamburger, He even tasted like a hamburger, at least in texture, but in a fancy restaurant like Chang's, where he would surely have made a meat patty, with a clean taste, grass, freshly ground local meat, the Impossible burger was felt slightly hollow, without its burgery essence The White Castle slider, however, which debuted on Thursday at 140 locations in New York, New Jersey and Illinois, was surprisingly satisfying I was covered with a yellow slice of what was supposed to be smoked cheddar cheese, and sandwiched with a splash of ketchup, some cooked onions, and a couple of gherkin coins in the signature white bun. Unlike its meat equivalent, it was round instead of square, comparatively strong and slightly crumbly, in the manner of a fairly loose pie. Its edges were crisp and caramelized. Unlike Nishi's version, it was, in true fast-food burger form, well-made, although I noticed a pink hue in the center. I knew vaguely mushrooms, but mainly salt and fat.
A tray of regular sliders materialized, and I grabbed one of them as well. The meat, on the other hand, was as compressed as a slab of mortadella, or a slice of meatloaf when shaved, and as gray as the sidewalk in everything, which does not mean it did not taste good. He did it, especially after half Tiki cocktail, garnished with edible flowers in a White Castle paper soda cup. It gave me that primordial satisfaction that the cauterized animal fat tends to have. But if I presented the option of a hamburger made with cheap meat-probably inhumanly raised, definitely bad for the environment-or a plant-based alternative that knew so close to reality, I would go for the Impossible burger.
Around half past nine, Wareheim grabbed the microphone for comments from White Castle and the executives of Impossible Foods. David Lee, Impossible & # 39; s C.F.O. and COO, he told the crowd, "Every burger you ate, in front of a cow burger, saves the world ninety-five percent of the earth" -someone shouted his approval- "seventy-five percent of the water "-more long, louder shriek-" and produces an eighth, one-eighth, of the greenhouse gases. " This last number caused a "pussy, yes," followed by a spooky scream. "So you can have a delicious hamburger without cholesterol and have a good time." When Ghostface began his session, a middle-aged man dressed in white whites from Chef White Castle: Phillip Bach, head chef of White Castle. and director of product innovation, he peeked out from the kitchen and anxiously fulfilled the rapper's request for a call and response: "When I say," Wu said, "Tang! & # 39; Wu! " "Tang!" "Wu!" "Tang!"
The next day, at lunchtime, I took the train PATH to Jersey City, to another White Castle, among a group of Indian restaurants and shops groceries near Journal Square, to see the launch in action. I expected some kind of fanfare: free samples, maybe, or at least a big banner or poster. But, scanning the menu on the glass counter, I began to worry: the slider was not even on the list. I went to an ATM. "Do you have the impossible hamburger?" I asked for. "Oh, yes," he said, and gave me some promotional brochures. I asked if many people had been ordering it, and she nodded, without conviction. When we heard, a middle-aged woman who stopped by the window of the truck intervened, "I got it!"
"I read about this, when I was in the lab," the woman, whose name was Fran, told me, pulling out her Impossible slider from her paper sleeve and gesturing as she spoke. She lived in another part of Jersey, but was in the area for a podiatrist's appointment, and had come to White Castle as a nostalgic gift; She had been eating in the chain since she was a child, she told me, when a meat slider costs only twelve cents. She had assumed that an Impossible hamburger would be expensive and hard to find, and she was surprised and delighted to discover it at White Castle, and for only $ 1.99. "I do not like to eat a lot of meat," he said. "I like organic foods, as much as I can afford it." He took a bite of the slider. "It's good, it's soft, with vegetarian burgers, they're usually a little more firm than this, but this is very tasty." She took a few more bites. "It's delicious," he decided.
After Fran left, the podiatrist, I sat down and watched the lunch crowd come and go. A construction worker ordered "sixteen hamburgers, no onions, six without cheese." A woman wearing a hairnet and a blue apron opted for chicken sliders. Nobody mentioned the Impossible slider. Then a large man with a gray ponytail approached the counter and studied the menu. "I have not been here for so long that I've forgotten what you have!" He said. The cashier saw an opening: "We have the Impossible burger, if you want to try something new!" "What?" The man asked. "The impossible hamburger!" Said the cashier, without further explanation. "Impossible hamburger!" The man said, laughing. "I'll tell you what, I'll keep what I know." He ordered a combo, the No. 1: French fries, a soda and four original sliders of beef.