For years, French fries have held a subordinate role — that of the side order. And for good reason. What’s better than a burger with a side of fries? Or moules mariniere with pommes frites?
Fries will never go out of fashion as a sidekick to any dish. But as chefs become more inventive, they’re elevating the humble potato.
“Everybody loves French fries,” says Charles Soreth, executive chef and partner of Atlantic City’s Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall. “And as chefs, we can have fun with them, whether we use cheese or meat or gravy. It’s all up to your imagination and what kind of flavors you like.”
What makes a good fry?
Idaho potatoes are No. 1, says Mike Hauke, owner of Atlantic City’s Tony Baloney’s, which offers six menu items of jacked-up fries. “Northwestern potatoes have the best consistent nature.”
Soreth agrees. “Idaho potatoes have a little more structure than other kinds of potatoes, and that helps make them more crispy when they’re fried.”
Along with using the right kind of potato, clean oil and the right oil temperature also matter, Hauke says. “Some people don’t change the oil often because they want the flavors in the fryer to build up (imparting more flavor onto the food.) But I’m not a fan of that. We change the oil frequently, and we dip our fries twice at two different temperatures.”
The first dip is in oil heated at 325 degrees for about three minutes. This will cook the fries. The second dip is in oil heated to 350 degrees. This will crisp them. “There’s a nice crust on the fries after the second dip,” Hauke says.
Soreth dips his fries twice as well. And he doesn’t believe in using old oil in the fryer either. “If you use the same oil a couple of times, that’s OK. But if you don’t change the oil frequently, the food will have a burnt taste to it,” he says, noting that he changes the oil in the fryer every day.
So how are chefs transforming the lowly potato? Depending on the menu offering, they’re combining different ingredients to build a great flavor profile.
One of the earliest spots to jazz up a French fry is Chickie’s & Pete’s. Their legendary Crabfries launched in 1979, after two years spent tweaking the recipe. The spuds are loaded up with a combination of Old Bay and other spices traditionally used to season crabs and come served with a side of gooey white cheese sauce for dunking. They have been a menu staple for 40 years and have inspired countless restaurants to step up their fry game.
The Crabby Fries at Tony Baloney’s — a clear nod to Chickie’s & Pete’s Crabfries — are particularly popular right now, Hauke says. “This is a summer-inspired dish. We bring all the flavor of the bayou together. People love crab boils, and this dish just says summer.”
Jumbo lump crab, bayou butter — made with Cajun spices — homemade mozzarella along with fresh garlic and parsley are mixed in with the fries. “We don’t just put the ingredients on top of the fries,” Hauke notes. “We want all the flavors to come together.”
Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall features a seafood-inspired potato app on its menu — Lobster Tater Tots. Fresh Maine lobster, applewood bacon and lobster bisque bathe the taters until the dish is a creamy, savory, lobster-y delight.
Another hot spud at Tennessee Avenue is the Rich Uncle Pennybags Tots, which are made with brisket chili, cheese sauce made with Dogfish Head beer, sour cream and scallions.
Riffing on Mexican food at Tony Baloney’s is the Bastardo Fundito. Homemade chipotle sauces, refried beans made with south-of-the-border spices, roasted corn, string cheese, pickled jalapeno crema and cilantro impart flavor to the fries. These ingredients are mixed with the cooked fries, then baked.
“We integrate all the flavors into the dish, so everyone loves each other,” Hauke says. “You want everything to come together. The Bastardo Fundito is awesome.”
Nacho fries at Tennessee Avenue are the beer pub’s homage to the Mexican-inspired dish. “Instead of tortilla chips, we use French fries, add meat, cheese, sour cream and pico de gallo,” Soreth says. “It goes great with a beer.”
Sh#tfaced, one of the more potty-mouthed items on Hauke’s menu, features homemade honey stout barbecue sauce and two types of cheese: homemade mozzarella and cheddar. The cheese melts and oozes through the fries, which are crowned with nachos and smoked bacon.
“The nachos give it an extra crisp,” Hauke says. “And the bacon and barbeque give it a smoky, savory flavor.”
Celery gives an extra bit of snap to The Winger at Tony Baloney’s. This take on hot wings features bleu cheese, buffalo sauce, homemade mozzarella and celery.
Of the fry dishes at Tony Baloney’s, Hauke says, “We don’t like easy here. We would never pour Cheese Whiz out of a can and put them on our fries. We use good, fresh ingredients. A lot of what we do are labors of love.”
300 Oriental Ave.
Chickie’s & Pete’s
6055 E. Black Horse Pike, Egg Harbor Township
Tennessee Avenue Beer Hall
133 S. Tennessee Ave.
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