Not long ago I had the good fortune to eat at the White Manna Hamburger Restaurant located in Hackensack, New Jersey together with my daughter and her husband. On a rather gray Thursday, after I convinced them that a two hour ride, mostly on I-95, was going to be worth it, they agreed to the quest for another a great burger.
The White Manna is a small, wonderfully vintage diner with a red and white exterior that includes a combination of plate glass and glass block windows with red caulk, a peculiar scalloped wainscot, and a large neon sign in faded red paint on the roof. There is a large red and blue “OPEN” sign in one of the windows. That's my son-in-law and me standing to the left of the restaurant.
It’s a place I want to enter.
There is no vestibule, and after entering the smell of frying beef, hot onions, and people surrounds. A surprisingly small flat plate griddle enclosed on three sides by glass to protect it from the cold winter air entering with each patron, separates a “U” shaped counter with stools for no more than a dozen. Ledges with stools line the walls for more seating.
Thursdays are apparently slow at the White Manna, because while the counter is full and about eight people are tightly crowded in front of the glass enclosed grill either placing or waiting for orders there are still a few seats at the ledges. My daughter takes out her camera and starts to take pictures.
Apparently, to the regulars this is not unusual, because a couple them ask where we are from, and explain that they eat there several times a week, but never on the weekends because the place is too busy. I am standing next to a fellow who is enjoying a plate of six cheese burgers with fries. He tells me that he had a quadruple bypass not long ago, and that eating at White Manna once a week is worth the risk to his health.
I watch as the cook positions spheres of beef, each about the size of a golf ball, in neat rows on the hot steel of the griddle. Each ball is very quickly squished, not completely flat, with the back of a spatula, and a liberal amount of previously sautéed onions, and a slice of cheese – but only if ordered, is placed on top of the sizzling patty. The bottom of a fresh potato bun proportionally sized to the patty is set, cut side down, on the melting cheese, with the other half of the bun placed on the top. The process allows the combined aroma of frying beef and steaming onions to infuse the bun from the inside out.
The combination of juicy patty, sweet soft onions, gooey melted cheese, soft steamed bun, and in my case a pinwheel of yellow mustard, is hamburger paradise. After eating a total of thirteen burgers between us, we drive a few blocks to a real soda fountain (I am not kidding.) for a dish of ice cream.
So, if you are ever in Hackensack, NJ, or even within a hundred miles, be sure to stop at White Manna Hamburgers for a plate of their unique burgers – disappointment will not be your fate.