128. Krystal–It’s Hip to be Square.

10 Apr

2926707617_c888f07a59_mWhen White Castle burgers made their debut on grocery store shelves a couple of decades back, this Mississippi girl was perplexed. The label said “White Castle” but I’d always known the wee burgers by another name, Krystal. These so-called White Castles featured the same sliver of meat sandwiched between a spongy square bun, complete with the diced onions and dill pickle slices.

White Castle and Krystal. Separated at birth?

White Castle and Krystal. Separated at birth?

Imagine my surprise when I learned that Krystal–a Southern staple since 1932–was a late-blooming imitator of America’s first fast-food burger chain. Apparently, everybody in the Northeast grew up eating White Castles, while those in the South ate Krystals. (I believe folks on the West coast learned about square hamburgers toward the end of the 20th century when they started appearing on appetizer menus as “sliders.” I should mention that this unfortunate name also originated at White Castle.)

My apologies to White Castle fans (who go by the name “cravers”), but my first-hand knowledge about The Original Slider® is limited to the frozen variety I last tasted back in the 90s. Krystals, however, hold a special place in my heart, much like an old friend with whom I cross paths a couple of times a decade.

My first memory of Krystal comes from the 70s when an elderly family friend (whose name I have forgotten) would occasionally pile a bunch of kids in the car and take us for burgers after church. On those days, I felt like I’d won the lottery (although I should substitute the word “bingo” seeing as Baptists consider gambling a sin). Not only did I get to skip out on eating yet another detestable Sunday pot roast, I got stickers! Note to kids today: Back then stickers were as rare as cassettes are today. (Let’s have a moment of silence to mourn the passing of mix tapes.)

70's Krystal stickers=swoon!!

70’s Krystal stickers=swoon!!

Sometime during the 70’s Krystal decided to branch out into fried chicken, but it never really caught on, seeing as the logistics were far too complicated. If you wanted bird, you had to go to an annex around back for it. Not really worth the bother. Before I graduated high school, they’d abandoned this practice and now you can get fried chicken as part of the regular menu. Sort of. They’ve taken away the bone and added a bun. Plus, it’s called “chik’n,” which seems a bit dubious to me, but I’m nothing if not skeptical.

The late 80’s/early 90’s were my peak Krystal-loving years, seeing as I was a college student and Krystal was A. cheap and B. open after the bars close. I must confess, I still believe those to be Krystal’s key selling points.

College kids' dining budget...

College kids’ dining budget…

So how does Krystal’s food taste? I hoped you’d never ask.

For tastebuds influenced by nostalgia and/or alcohol, Krystal burgers can be quite satisfying. The steamed buns offer the ideal pairing of spongy white bread and beef fat. The sliver of meat provides a canvas for Pollack-style spattering of diced onions and mustard embellished with a pickle chip. A slice of American cheese served slightly askew can be had for just a few nickels and dimes more.

Hot-off-the-grill Krystal burgers are best when eaten immediately. Like before your car pulls away from the drive thru. Seriously. If you must wait till you get home, I beseech you to treat the burgers to a quick trip in the microwave. To quote an old friend and Krystal-eating companion, “A cold Krystal is DEATH.”

The only way to eat a Krystal...

The only way to eat a Krystal…

I have fond memories of Krystal’s lemon pie, but they can’t be trusted, seeing as they were formed before I properly developed my dessert palate. It’s not that I’ve become a dessert snob so much as…Ok, yes it is.

Had I not been indoctrinated into Krystal eating as a child, I’m not sure what my opinion of the burgers would be. Certainly, I’ve had better tasting sliders, but they’re just not Krystal’s. The restaurant’s latest slogan sums it up: “Krystal®–Nothin’ Like It.” Unless you count White Castle.

Have you eaten at Krystal? White Castle? Both? How do they compare?

Photo Credits: Krystal Restaurant by Scott Beale, Flickr Creative Commons; Loose Change by Rich Renomeron, Flickr Creative Commons; Hot sign by Jonathon Coleman, Flickr Creative Commons.

21 Responses to “128. Krystal–It’s Hip to be Square.”

  1. April Nall April 10, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    THE SMILEY HEARTS!!!!! I haven’t seen/thought about them in SO many years!!!

    Sent from my iPhone

  2. Michelle Fox April 10, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    After growing up in East TN and then moving to northern NJ a couple of years ago I have dined at both establishments, and I must say in my opinion the burgers are identical. Typically those in the north prefer Krystal while the southerners crave White Castle, I suppose because it is something different from the norm. I gotta give White Castle credit tho, they have more variety in their menu (although, sadly, there are no ‘pups’). The chocolate covered dessert on a stick at White Castle is pretty yummy as well (you can get Brownie or Cheesecake).

    • Kim Holloway May 1, 2013 at 6:32 pm #

      chocolate-covered dessert on a stick? be still my heart!!

  3. Anonymous April 10, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    I will confess I aint never tried a White Castle, but I speculate we (southern folk) could have indeed been first since after all we are last in everything (stay wi me)…includin divulgin (big wird meanin ownin up to) such good thangs as moonshine or Krystal.

    I have eaten a few (1000+) Krystal’s. Momma called um kryschels. We’d get in the van and go to the drive thru and proceed to look at Christmas decorations. Of course we’d have to wipe down the windeers cause of all that steamy goodness. I can smell em now.

    Hate you had to move out west or I’d take you out to get sum right now!

    • Kim Holloway May 1, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

      I haven’t heard the “kryschels” pronunciation in eons. Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Dewena Callis April 10, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    Hands down, Krystal’s. In the 1950s, they were the treat of the month. And it was one Krystal per sister and one order of fries. We thought it was a feast. It still is but I’d think I was being starved if I only got one now.

    • Kim Holloway May 1, 2013 at 6:35 pm #

      Krystal’s are kind of like Lays potato chips: nobody can eat just one!

  5. habner1 April 10, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    I live in a Florida city which has neither therefore when I go on a road trip in any direction an hour is always added in order to do the Krystal thing plus take some for an in the room snack later.

    • Kim Holloway May 1, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

      I admire your dedication!

  6. Joe April 10, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

    I have always been and continue to be a Krystal fan even though I now live in the west and neither they nor White Castle exist here. However, they are still all over the south and when I visit Mississippi, I still get my Krystal cheeseburger fix. I have even gone 2 or 3 terminals out of my way at the Atlanta airport on a layover just to get a Krystal. My favorite joke about the Krystal is a remark made by a friend 30 years probably at 2 or 3 am after the bars closed in Tampa. Why are Krystal fries more expensive than the burgers? Probably because they have more meat in them. But who cares? I still love ’em.

    • Kim Holloway May 1, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

      It’s true, there just isn’t a whole lot of meat there. But the bun IS soaked in grease, so it’s sort of meaty…

  7. Tori Nelson April 11, 2013 at 3:57 am #

    Mostly I’m on a diet so ANYTHING from the hamburger & fries family sounds glorious 🙂

    • Kim Holloway May 1, 2013 at 6:42 pm #

      Dieting can make even a lowly Krystal seem as delicious as filet mignon. Once after a bout of eating fat free saltines (aka cardboard), I indulged in a regular saltine and thought, “DAMN! That’s the best cracker I EVER ate!”

  8. Regena Fickes April 11, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

    Krystals are the hands down winner. Coming from a large southern metropolis {not), we are privilaged to have both establishments within our city limits. ‘Course like you, I grew up when a visit to Krystal was a grand treat. Love your postings. If you ever pass thru Murfreesboro, TN; come pull a chair and set a spell.

    • Kim Holloway May 1, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

      wow! a place with both Krystal and White Castle? Who’d have thunk it?

  9. Mallory Pickering April 11, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    Never cared too much for the burgers, but my husband loves them. I like the chiks much better, actually. And they do have really good Coke there.

    • Kim Holloway May 1, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

      Is it as good as Sonic Coke? Hard to beat that chipped ice!

  10. Elissa Washuta (@misswashuta) April 17, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

    I grew up in NJ. I’ve never actually eaten at White Castle, but when I was a high school senior, a couple of friends of mine would occasionally take off early on Fridays and drive the hour-plus to the nearest White Castle. Having only eaten the frozen White Castle burgers my family bought in bulk at Sam’s Club, I had no idea what my friends’ deal was.

    • Kim Holloway May 1, 2013 at 6:45 pm #

      If they taste anything like the frozen variety, I can’t imagine driving one minute out of the way for them!

  11. Amy April 24, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    Krystal’s! One of my favorite college memories involves a late night run to Krystal’s in an orange two door Chevette. About six of us piled in, got to Krystal, went inside to order, came back out, piled back in the tiny car, backed out of the parking lot, only to realize our big sack of Krystal’s had been left on the car roof. Of course we had backed right over the sack.That didn’t stop us from eating them. They were a little flat, but we were all just poor college students with no money to buy more and just enough beer in us not to care! To this day, I like to flatten them a little before I eat them!

    • Kim Holloway May 1, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

      That’s hilarious!! In my family, we’ve eaten carrot cake after it dropped on the floor, but I’ve never had the misfortune to accidentally run over my food. Love that you now like to flatten them!

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