Take a bite out of the best little burgers in the U.S.
White Manna, a throwback to diners of yesteryear, has been serving up its popular sliders since 1946.
It's the small and unassuming places that serve up the biggest surprises. White Manna's sliders aren't exactly large, but after taking a bite of one it's easy to see why they are so popular.
An institution in Hackensack, New Jersey since 1946, White Manna can seat just 20 people and sells little more than burgers, pickles, fries, soda and ice cream. Despite the minimalist approach, it has earned more than a modicum of fame, having been featured on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," "Man vs. Food" and "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations."
The success can in large part be chalked up to owner Ronny Cohen. He has painstakingly preserved White Manna's combination of affordable, fresh food served in an intimate, no-frills setting since buying the place with his brother in 1996, bucking the recent gourmet burger trend that turns the classic sandwich into a fine dining experience.
"We improved [the restaurant] a little bit but people really loved the place how it was," Cohen told From The Grapevine. "We added a new soda machine, but we even kept the old one!"
The story of how Cohen came to own White Manna is an unlikely one. Born and raised in Israel, he moved to New Jersey on a lark in the 1980s after visiting his brother, who lived there. In 1996, the two bought White Manna from the then-owner, who had begun to neglect it.
"We initially bought it as a business venture," Cohen explained, "but soon it became a labor of love as we realized how much it meant to the people of Hackensack."
What differentiates White Manna's hamburger from your average fast food or bar burger is the fresh ingredients. The meat is delivered from a local butcher each morning; the buns are also freshly made; and the onion is chopped onsite as needed. And it's all made to order.
The secret of the slider here is as much about the process of creation as it is the quality of the contents. The meat and onions are cooked together, creating an alliance between the two that's hard to find with other burger-making techniques. Those methods tend to involve sprinkling on nibs of onion or covering the meat with a whole slab of onion.
Cheese, which can be added for just 25 cents, acts to meld the components of the sandwich together into one delicious little homogenous culinary miracle.
Six of the final product are more than enough for a huge appetite, three for one that's average. And then, of course, there are the exceptions.
"Tiny, who wasn't so tiny, once ate 32 sliders at one time. He would come in here three times a week and order on average 18 of them. When he moved to Michigan several years back, a lot of my revenue moved with him," Cohen said of a former patron.
With all the recent media attention, Cohen has all but ignored the opportunities to capitalize on White Manna's newfound fame.
"It certainly hasn't hurt business," he told us, "but I'm not looking for the attention. I'm just happy more people are aware of the place."
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Related Topics: Chefs & Restaurants