If you crave fries in San Francisco, Jasper’s Corner Tap is a natural choice. But your decisions aren’t over yet. Will it be thin, thick, or sweet potato? Do you try the smoked-paprika seasoning or a cheese curd–based poutine, or play it safe with sea salt? There’s an entire menu devoted to customizable fries at your fingertips.
French fries are one of the true crowd-pleasers—a food that friends agree upon, that turns up at both five-star steakhouses and roadside dives, and that is familiar but can also surprise you. They can be cut thick or curly, cooked with or without skins, served Belgian-style in paper cones or in a parchment-lined basket with malt vinegar on the side. No matter how you slice it, the deep-fried spud is king.
So, how do you know a good one? “The best fries are made from fresh-cut potatoes and double-fried, which adds crispness,” says Glenn Walker, who has been posting reviews at frenchfrydiary.blogspot.com since 2004. “I’ve also noticed that more and more restaurants are enhancing the flavor of their fries by frying them in duck fat, seasoning them with truffle oil, and serving them with numerous dipping sauces,” he says.
Miami’s Bourbon Steak is one leader in this trend, dishing out duck fat–coated fries in seasoning and sauce combos such as rosemary herb with a side of spicy ketchup. And at the aptly named Duckfat in Portland, ME, twice-fried fries are accompanied by a choice of eight dips, including enticing flavor combinations like truffle ketchup and Thai chili mayo.
As for the fry’s humble beginnings, some say that, in the U.S., Thomas Jefferson was an early adopter. He was known to entertain guests with “potatoes served in the French manner,” according to essayist Charles Ebeling, a member of the Chicago Literary Club. Drive-in restaurants and fast-food joints that began popping up in the 1940s popularized fries by pairing them with burgers. And it’s become almost impossible to think of one without the other.
Yet there are still purists who keep the focus on the traditional French fry. At Thrasher’s in Ocean City, MD, if you want ketchup, you’d better bring your own.