Updated: Jan 8
And to tell the story I would like to introduce a special guest writer, my Dad!!!
Like me, my Dad is an avid home cook and all round foodie, actually come to think of it, he is a better home cook than me with an astounding talent for using unique ingredients to create delicious recipes and amazing flavours. He has not only travelled the length of India to learn authentic Indian cooking in local family homes, but you will often find him regularly reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows and emailing recipes to me!
Take it away Dad...
One of the few guilty pleasures I have is watching Diners, Drive In's and Dives (DDD). It is an American TV show on the food channel here in the UK. The show takes you on a journey around the USA visiting said Diners, and of course Drive In's and Dives. They review and taste food with a view to experience the quirky, fun and unusual. It's host Guy Fieri is a larger than life character and really adds to the programs attraction.
This fantastic show has been so popular that they have even produced an App to enable its fans to locate all the featured restaurants across the country. Yes, of course I have downloaded this App to my phone (and yes, I don't mind that some people may think I'm a bit sad for doing so, ha ha ha ).
Recently I was lucky enough to find myself back in New Jersey where my two brother-in-laws live, which also presented the ideal opportunity to visit another DDD! As luck would have it we were only a few miles away from White Manna burger joint, a diner that has also featured on Anthony Bourdain's show 'No Reservations.' White Manna has been around since 1939, serving award winning sliders; a mini burger that can be eaten in just two or three bites. But what's even more fun is that the building itself can only hold around fifteen customers, so it is not unheard of that the queue ends up right out into the carpark.
Accompanying me on this visit was my wife Gail and my brother-in-law Steven. He has actually lived in the New York/New Jersey area for the last thirty five years but had never been to White Manna, so I couldn't wait to see his reaction to this experience.
We parked up and walked in the door where we were immediately met with an accusing finger and a loud “what do you want?”. I knew from this point on we were in for a treat!
But what I really loved seeing was that mischievous and cheeky twinkle in the eye of the chef, he was literally standing in front of the hotplate taking all of the customers orders. We apologetically asked for only one burger each with one portion of fries, this drew a sneer of contempt from the chef which led to “is that all you want?". Once the order was placed, we were ushered to one side so the chef could serve more customers. From my vantage point I could see the hotplate, there must have been about twenty burgers cooking at any one time and looking around most people had ordered an average of three per person. The banter continued with the customers which became a floor show in itself, highlights included how The Jets were doing and what did we think of Trump!
Behind the chef you could see his Mum cooking the fries and his Uncle serving the cola, I would have paid money just to stand in there and watch.
In the words of Guy Fieri this was the 'real deal'.
We had now been waiting for around ten minutes for our food, had he forgotten us?, oh no he had not. With the same accusing finger he pointed at me saying “three burgers one fries”, this was then thrust our way on paper plates. This small plate of meat was absolutely delicious, and made all the more tasty because we had seen the food being cooked right in front of our eyes. The burgers had everything we have come to expect from a decent American hamburger.
While in conversation with other customers my brother-in-law confessed that he had never been to this diner before and that the only reason for the visit was because of me. This brought another derogatory and comedic remark from the chef, and from several other customers too. As penance, my brother-in-law was made to promise in front of everyone that he would return.
Moments later a fire truck pulled up outside. Five burley firemen arrived and the chefs refused to take their individual orders, they were told to put one order in for all five of them at the same time. With a swift count the order was complete and the firemen's spokesperson shouted out "twenty five burgers, five fries and five cokes". The three of us stood there in disbelief.
On leaving we were asked what we had eaten so we could settle the bill, and at $1.50 per burger our total bill came to $8.00. What fantastic value.
White Manna is not for the faint hearted tourist, but if you want to experience a slice of authentic New Jersey life and fantastic burgers then this is a must visit.
By Peter Chown
*This is my Dads first ever restaurant review and what a fantastic one it is. I think he should become a regular contributor... Dad, get writing ;)
358 River Street Hackensack, NJ 07601
Mon-Wed 8am-9pm Thu-Sat 8am–11:30pm Sun 10am–5:30pm
Photos from White Manna website