Little Burgers are an East Coast institution. Out west they have Fatburger, In-N-Out, Bob’s Big Boy; here we have White Castle, and a few other tiny burger “systems” that popped up around the same time in the 50’s. We had a Blue Castle in Passaic, and the all but forgotten char-broil pits along the Route 3-Route 46 corridor, such as the Red Chimney, the Three Acre Grill, the Anthony Wayne; and we still have a White Rose System in Highland Park, the competing White Mana and and White Manna burgers of Jersey City and Hackensack, and the White Diamond down in Linden.
Lil Burgers is in that class- tiny little burgers, but with a meaty grilled beef patty unlike White Castle’s infamous mystery slider. On the main drag of Nutley, my hometown from whence Martha Stewart sprang like a decorating demon in a cloud of brimstone and potpourri, it’s a little gem of a burger joint that is worth braving the Guido and skater punk crowd of Franklin Avenue to get to.
The owner, Tony, told me they use fresh meat every day- and you can taste it. They taste like home grilled, and are served on Hawaiian sweet rolls, with cheese, pickle and ketchup if you desire. It gives them a homemade taste, and while it takes longer than a fast-food place, it is definitely worth the wait.
The crew is friendly and fast, and the place is cafeteria style but still cozy. The walls are decorated with aerial photos of the area, from well-known landmarks like Giants Stadium, to forgotten icons of the local past like the legendary ITT Tower, torn down in the late 90’s.
The menu also includes sweet potato fries, shrimp, hot dogs, chicken, and cheese steak sandwiches. The fries were good- especially the sweet ones. I was expecting more toppings, or a “slider” type restaurant with a lot of trendy little expensive sandwiches, but this is the real deal- little burgers grilled to perfection, on the simplicity of the sweet soft gummy rolls. No mango-pepper aioli or peppadew chutneys here. Part of me wanted to see a pork roll burger but they’re smaller than a cooked slice of Taylor ham, just barely. And they’re tasty enough on their own.
So, brave the wilds of Nutley. Watch out for popped collars and pointy hair, and BMW M3’s and Mustang GT’s as they cruise the ave. Your best bet is to park in the municipal lot behind the Nutley Diner, and walk through the alley. When we were there it was a shady haven for skaters in the hot sun. On the way home you should pick up some fresh pasta at Garruto’s, or home-made mozzarella. There’s an Applegate Farms ice cream shop around the corner, where the Baskin-Robbins used to be, if you saved room for dessert. Just mind your P’s and Q’s, the police don’t take kindly to you out-of-towners.