We’re feeling nostalgic at Itinerant Foodies these days—it must be the impending holidays—and it seems to’ve hit a nerve with you lovely readers: Jill’s posts about Steubenville, the surrounding Ohio Valley, and DiCarlo’s Pizza, in particular, have evoked fond reminisces in our comments sections on the blog and on its corresponding Facebook links. Reading about the Ohio folks’ childhood memories had me longing for my own youthful favorites, and, with a few days of downtime in my hometown before the trek up to Pennsylvannia for the family’s Thanksgiving festivities, I knew just the place to hit.
Winchester, Virginia’s, answer to White Castle, the Snow White Grill has been a fixture on the downtown mall since 1949, when it opened as one in a mini-chain of six Shenandoah Valley-area locations. Now the last Grill standing, it’s played host to everyone from Patsy Cline to hordes of hungry high-schoolers. Though the restaurant has changed hands a few times in the intervening years, one thing remains unchanged: the tasty little burgers.
Well before the slider craze struck many a modern-day upscale restaurant, the Snow White Grill was churning out these four-bite wonders—nothing fancy, just a small round of ground beef, a pile of onions, and two slices of dill pickle and one of American cheese, all on a steamed dinner roll.
The new owners have expanded the menu, but it’s unnecessary to read any further than the first three lines; an order of fries is a given, and a milkshake, too, if you’re feeling flush. (Full disclosure: I’m speaking here as someone who’s never tried anything other than the burgers, fries, and shakes.)
Prepared the same way as they have been for as many years as I can remember, and probably for as many years as the sliver of a lunch counter has been in business, the beef patties go straight on the grilltop, where they’re then covered with slices of raw onion and occasionally pressed down upon by a spatula-wielding cook until he determines that they’re ready to flip.
The timing has to be just right—they’ll only be turned once, yielding, when done properly, a perfectly browned exterior crust and a moist, juicy, loosely held-together interior, crowned with tender, softened onions. These guys have it down to a science, and the results are almost always ideal.
Scooped off the grill and onto the pillowy potato roll so quickly that the cheese barely has a chance to melt, it’s a struggle against temptation to add the requisite ketchup and mustard without taking that first bite. Resist, if you can.
Wash it all down with a chocolate milkshake (this is only half a portion, by the way—the rest comes on the side, in the metal mixing cup, for self-administered refills), and take a minute to catch your breath before rolling back out to the brick-paved mall. Think about how nice it is that there are some constants in life, that no matter how many chefs explore fusion cuisine, deconstruction, foams and the like, there are still places to find good, honest, old-school food.
However. I do have one small complaint, one thing that’s been phased out that I wish would make a comeback. The Snow White Grill used to run a great advertising campaign: tiny 2″x3″ spots in the local newspaper featuring head shots of real live diners. It was always a treat to flip through the paper to see if you knew anyone in that day’s ad, and, as evidenced in the clippings below of friends of mine in starring roles, you often did.
Given the current uncertainty surrounding both the newspaper industry and our economic times, a small reminder of happier memories goes a long way. Some things are better left unchanged.
159 N. Loudoun Street