Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Are White Manna Hamburgers Worth a Trip to NJ?

I'm not sure, but Packer's sneaker store in Teaneck is. You know when you've been going somewhere for a period of time (Packer's) and have no clue that it's near a place you've wanted to try (White Manna)? When you finally realize this, you're initially excited with how close you are, but then you feel like a dickhead because you've been within striking distance all this time. 2 minutes of research and I figured this out, which makes you feel like a bigger dickhead. Turns out Manna is only a 5 minute drive from Packer's. And it's an easy 5 minutes, right on Cedar, left on River, and you're there.

I had read about Manna's on A Hamburger Today around 2 years ago. I'm always game for a recommended burger and have no problem crossing state lines. It never panned out, and I tucked the info away. Several weeks ago on Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, Guy did a New Jersey diner tour featuring White Manna's. After hearing it was in Hackensack, which is right over the GW, I made it my business to hit it up.

Manna's serves mini burgers, or sliders for the cool cats. I don't have much experience with these. I only ate White Castle once. I'm used to eating bigger burgers where 1 can usually fill you up. According to the show, the owner says they cook up to 1,000 per day. After witnessing the mayhem, I have a feeling it's an even higher count.

After finding it (I missed it the first time and drove for about a mile- it was night time and the lights weren't on), I was greeted with a line out the door. It was cold and I wasn't trying to wait outside. A couple of people left so I slid in. The place is tiny. 10 feet by 10 feet, with the grill and counter taking up the entire middle. The counter seats around 15 people and there are an additional 7-10 total seats in the 2 front corners. It was a zoo and there was no clear line or method of ordering. Just had to ask around and call next. Once I heard orders of 20-30 burgers per party, I knew it was going to take a while. I made the mistake of ordering fries and a drink immediately. The drink was close to empty and the fries were cold by the time I got my burgers. Wait to order everything once you've ordered your burgers.

I was waiting by the grill, so I was able to learn the "White Manna" regimen. There is a pan full of chopped meat the size of meatballs stacked 5 high, close to 100 per pan. Kelly, the seldom smiling burger chef, was constantly grabbing for meat, throwing it on the grill, flattening it to give it the burger shape and repeating. The grill can handle between 60-70 burgers at a time. A regular comes with onions cooked with the burger, sliced pickles, and ketchup. You can request plain without onions and pickles. They ran out of lettuce and tomato by the time I arrived.

I ordered 4 cheeseburgers- 2 plain and 2 with onions and pickles. They are served on potato rolls, giving a sweetness I prefer not having with a burger. The meat was cooked medium, juicy enough to enjoy, but flavor was lacking. A burger should be able to hold its own without any condiments, and this one fell a little short. The fries were nothing special, pre-cut and frozen. I admit that the wait and eating these messy things in the car didn't make for an ideal situation.

I'm glad I made the trek. The customers talk to each other and before you know it you made new friends. Most of the people were first timers, citing Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives as the reason they were there. It was noted that since the show aired, weekends have been uncharacteristically busy. The first person I spoke to was this biker dude, who at first seemed cool and as the wait got longer, turned miserable. His intention was to take-out, but changed his mind and called his wife to come in. After he finished his meal, he put his wife on blast for eating 6 burgers, 2 cheeseburgers, an order of fries, and a milk shake. He kept asking the busboy if that was a lot of food. Too bad everybody in the room could hear. It was a lot of food. But you ordered it for her. Jerk.

As long as I'm going to Packer's, hitting up Manna's is no problem. I don't think I'd venture out there strictly for the burgers. Come spring/summer I'll make it out there again. Hopefully the crowds will have died down and it won't be as much of an adventure.

358 River Street, Hackensack NJ 07601 (at Passaic Street)
Mon.-Sat., 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Burgers cost $1.15 and cheeseburgers were around $1.40.

There is a decent BBQ spot called Cubby's about half a mile down River Street if you're looking for more than burgers.

Peep this video for a little behind the grill action.


Derek said...

Bro that place is like five minutes from my spanish mama's place.

buckemdown said...

Hamburgers are kinda like pizza in the sense that you can never really get a bad one - although you certainly can get a great one. Without any "greatness" to speak of my the almighty Howfresh, I think I'll take your word and skip the trek... for now. I certainly do respect the opinions of my boy Guy (best show on tv right now, as far as I'm concerned) though, so maybe this is a case of a place getting a bit too big for its britches. Maybe when the novelty wears off, we'll take a trip out there... and pick up some really expensive sneakers for D while we're there.

HowFresh said...

Everybody has a different scale to measure what's good and what's not. The price and the quickness (considering there is no line) are pluses. If it was a local haunt, it's one thing, but after gas and tolls it's not really worth it.

I want to go back to make sure my taste buds weren't acting a fool.

buckemdown said...

"I want to go back to make sure my taste buds weren't acting a fool."

I got shotgun.

thekid10705 said...

Fresh, you are on some shit..I love it!!!Props, kid!!!

dfacedxa said...

im a hit that shit up when im out there this weekend. stay fresh

HowFresh said...

Give us your thoughts after you hit it up. They definitely beat the Chip Truck.

Shannon said...

I have to respectfully disagree. I have to say that I think White Manna serves up the best burger I have ever tasted, no exaggeration. The meat, cheese and onions combine to create the perfect tasting burger. The meat is fresh tasting and I love the softness and slight sweetness (though I know you said you weren't into that aspect) of the rolls. Hey, to each his own!

HowFresh said...

Shannon- thanks for the comment. Best burger? If you said best slider I wouldn't argue with you. But as you said, to each his own. Not being a fan of the sweetness puts them at a disadvantage off the bat for me. Come nicer weather I'll definitely make it out there again. Eating them in a cold car didn't create the optimum dining experience.

You ever been to White Diamond in Clark, NJ?

Anonymous said...

buckemdown says on 2/20

"maybe when the novelty wears off'. White Manna has been in Jersey City since the Depression (the USA, read Circa 1930) and by the building design {of the joint) in Hackensack soon thereafter.
So keep waiting for the novelty to wear off, should be any day now.

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Anonymous said...

I'm a local &u White Manna is a LANDMARK! The line is ALWAYS out the door &u has been for years. It's small inside but old school favorite of locals as well as those who travel there. Weekdays, it's filled with attorney's from town, everyone from white collar to what you referred to as a biker dude go there. This is not a novelty that will where off, no matter when you plan to revisit there WILL be a line out the door.