RICHMOND — Eastern Kentucky University music professor Richard Crosby does not fear the steam-grilled patty, fragrant with onions, marbleized with cheese. In fact, he eats from the White Castle menu 300 days a year.
Crosby's essay about his unusual dietary preference recently earned him induction — along with nine other slider enthusiasts — into the White Castle Cravers Hall of Fame. The company established the hall of fame in 2001. Since then, 8,810 people have applied, and 80 have been given the thumbs-up of slider distinction.
His lunch selections do not vary much: Most days he orders a double cheeseburger, basket of fish nibblers and coffee. The fish nibblers are a recent addition suggested by White Castle manager Dale West, who has been known to start Crosby's order the moment the composer, pianist and educator is spotted in the parking lot.
For those who are unfamiliar with Madison County geography, the White Castle is somewhat off the beaten path of fast food outlets that smother the area around Eastern Kentucky University. White Castle is within smelling distance of the Wal-Mart and an unsliceably soft roll's throw from O'Charleys, down past the Pattie A. Clay Regional Medical Center.
Crosby is aware of the, ahem, high culture of being a popular professor and keyboard expert on the one hand and a slider addict on the other (his other great passion is his Corgi, a picture of which he will show you on his iPhone). This is how he explains it: He finds the contrast amusing and the food tasty.
Crosby is, he says, a creature of habit. The White Castle is clean and welcoming and a good quiet place to read a few e-mails while taking in a bit of lunchtime nutrition. Crosby, who had weight-loss surgery in 2006, has a modest lunch by White Castle standards, which then holds him over to dinner sans afternoon snack. Being single, he doesn't cook much, but when he has guests over he likes to fix stick-to-the-ribs dishes such as beef stroganoff or lasagna.
Crosby is not Kentucky's first inductee into the White Castle hall of fame. Perri Hurley of West Liberty was among those inducted last year. This year about 800 people applied and 10 were selected. Among them was a Missouri soldier deployed to Iraq who bought cases of White Castle sliders to eat every day and a Texas resident who earned a first class seat on a flight because she labeled her sliders "Human Organ Transplant Tissue."
Although Crosby generally sticks with his White Castle favorites, he will occasionally switch up his routine and order the jalapeño burger. And Crosby will warm up a few frozen White Castles in a pinch, but he thinks that the microwave slightly degrades the quality of the bun. You have to have the steam grilling to get the bun just right, Crosby said.
To balance out his fast food diet, Crosby works out with cardio exercise and light weights in the EKU gym. He also walks so fast that a reporter has to trip over her heels to keep up.
In addition to being named one of the nation's top White Castle aficionados, Crosby's victory earned him a trip to the Columbus, Ohio, headquarters of White Castle, a plaque, a personalized fleece jacket, and a pin that he was wearing last Monday while teaching classes.
Surprising as it may seem, Crosby is not a fan of Krystal's, the mini-burger chain that once had outlets in Lexington and Richmond. In fact, he "did a little happy dance" when the Richmond outlet closed, he said. He found the burger buns a bit dry and the whole experience of eating there a bit unsettling. He didn't even want to finish his meal, he said.
Crosby doesn't have an elaborate falling-in-love-with-White-Castle story that many college students have that involves a long misspent night, alcohol consumption and the beaconing whiteness of White Castle in the bleary early morning hours.
Instead, he saw the movie Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, which is pretty much the distillation of all those stories, and decided to try the restaurant. He liked it. It became his habit.
Nonetheless, Crosby has spent more time than many pondering the allure of the little pads of meat, the translucent onions, the puffy buns.
"The steam grilling actually does help present the flavor," said the professor.
Call it a remembrance of sliders past.