You want fries with that?
Of course you do, and the choices are many:
Garlic fries, truffle-oil fries, sweet-potato fries, curly fries, waffle fries, crinkle-cut fries, shoestring fries, steak fries, dirty fries, triple-cooked fries, spiral-cut tornado fries on skewers, and those cute little tots.
Fries cooked in duck fat, fries dipped in beer batter, fries heaped with chili or cheese or gravy or jalapeño peppers.
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Fries dunked in peach ketchup or curry ketchup or sour cream or ranch dressing or Thousand Island dressing or honey mustard or aioli or barbecue sauce or flavored Greek yogurt.
Fries splashed with malt vinegar or squirted with Sriracha or …
Somebody stop us! But before you do, are you gonna finish those fries?
Though we talk salads, we eat fries, an integral part of our culinary and cultural landscapes. Nothing is more American than a burger and fries, the foundation of global fast-food empires and an export to the world.
The Belgians and the French still argue passionately over which country first cut potatoes into “batons,” cooked them in fat and added salt. In either case, we’re likely looking at the late 1700s or maybe the early 1800s; no one really knows for sure. In this country, the humble french fry became a superstar via the fast-food chains.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen Japan and Venezuela get panicky over a McDonald’s french-fries shortage caused in part by a labor dispute among ports on America’s West Coast. But here in River City, the french-fry scene has never been more imaginative and diverse.
My fellow restaurant reviewer Blair Anthony Robertson and I see a whole lot of fries in our travels. We consulted to come up with a few we find most intriguing.
We rated them on appearance, texture and flavor, with a possible 10 points in each category for a possible total of 30 points.
Bacon & Butter
5913 Broadway, Sacramento; (916) 346-4445, www.baconandbuttersac.com
Owner-chef Billy Zoellin’s food has style. His combinations of ingredients are vivid, forceful, sometimes unusual and always in balance. His fries, called smashed potatoes, are very Bacon & Butter. They’re served with a side of thick, delicious bacon gravy. Zoellin takes fingerlings, poaches them in saltwater with a blend of herbs, garlic and the ends of green onions. They are “smashed” by hand, rather carefully, so there are not all kinds of little scraps of potato, and then fried in soy oil. “It was an experiment and I threw them in the deep fryer one day. I knew I didn’t want to have perfectly cut fries.”
How much: $8, served with bacon gravy on the side. These potatoes also included as an option with the burger and various other dishes.
300 Lincoln St., Old Town Roseville; (916) 797-3665, www.theboxingdonkey.com
The fries are crispy-creamy, firm and nutty, and well-seasoned with a proprietary mix of spices. The hand-cut Kennebec potatoes go directly from the soaking water (with a good shake) and into hot canola for a single cook. Before they leave the kitchen, Michael Reese adds a ramekin of creamy-spicy “donkey sauce” for dipping. A.P.
How much: $6, but do pair them with deep-fried wild Atlantic cod dipped in a batter of Guinness beer and vodka ($13).
319 Sixth St., West Sacramento; (916) 372-2436, www.broderick1893.com
Co-owner Matt Chong migrated the concept of the Vietnamese bánh mì “street food” sandwich to a mound of skin-on russet potatoes, hand-cut, soaked in water overnight and twice-cooked in rice bran oil. Salty-sweet and crisp, they’re topped with slow-roasted pulled pork and house-brined carrot and daikon radish, then drizzled with a blend of caramelized sugar, fish sauce, citrus and aromatics, finished with jalapeño coins and served with four-alarm dipping sauce. Big and bold, packing a mélange of unusual textures and fascinating tastes, they’re a menu celebrity. A.P.
How much: $8, but team them with the duck burger with fig jam and garlic aioli ($15).
Cafe Plan B
1226 20th St., Sacramento; (916) 447-3300, www.cafeplanb.com
Owner-chef Lionel Lucas brings his Gallic touch to the skinny russet pommes de terre frites, soaked in water, twice-cooked in high smoke-point grapeseed oil and delivered in a wire serving cone. Crisp and delicate, they show panache with a sprinkling of herbs de Provence (rosemary, thyme, lavender, marjoram, oregano, savory) blended with Italian seasonings. A.P.
How much: $4.45, but match them with mussels in six sauces ($14)
6843 Lonetree Blvd., Rocklin; (916) 771-5656, www.thechefstablerocklin.com
Co-owner Erick Johnson was quick to point out that he sources the pre-beer-battered frozen russet fries from a major food distributor. Still, they’re a high-quality product cooked in a combo of canola and soy oils, then seasoned with sea salt and coarse-ground pepper. They have some of the best “crunch factor” around. But what makes them truly special is the toppings – house-made pecan-basil pesto sauce and shredded Swiss cheese. The combination delivers deep flavors and delightful textures. As a lunch pal said when we reviewed Chef’s Table in October: “These fries are killer.”
How much: $7 for a full order, $4 for half. Add a shaved-pastrami Reuben for an extra $12.
2968 Freeport Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 447-3237, www.ilovedadskitchen.com
There are two kinds I enjoy here when I pony up to the bar to have a beer or three. One is simple and old-school – fries with sea salt. The other adds a touch of poutine (a French Canadian “innovation” in which melted cheese curds and gravy are added to fries) by adding blue cheese infused with habanero. The latter look tame, but don’t be fooled. They’re great with a hoppy IPA or pale ale. B.A.R.
How much: $6.50 (large) for the sea salt, $7.50 for the blue cheese habanero.
The Flaming Grill Cafe
2913 El Camino Ave., Sacramento; (916) 359-0840, www.flaminggrillcafe.com
Order the “trio” of fries here. But only if you dare. They are big. They are loaded. They are all over the map with toppings and flavors and textures. And yes, they are delicious. The trio refers to fries that are topped with carne asada, house-made chorizo and bacon and blue cheese. In the center, there is a large dollop of sour cream and slices of fresh jalapeño. Owner Jose Silva says all kinds of customers order these – couples, large groups and, yes, hearty solo eaters willing to enter the food-coma zone. These multifaceted fries work great with IPAs, stouts, maybe even a sour. B.A.R.
How much: $10.99.
926 J St., Sacramento; (916) 492-4450, www.grangesacramento.com
These are the classics – simple, timeless, seemingly unadorned. Executive chef Oliver Ridgeway was aghast when he started at Grange and learned this farm-to-fork stalwart was purchasing pre-cut fries. That stopped straight away. Now, Ridgeway’s kitchen uses Kennebec potatoes, runs them under cold water to get rid of the starch, fries them gently at 300 degrees, lays them out on sheet pans and then freezes them. When an order comes in, the frozen chipped potatoes are fried in rice bran oil at 375 degrees. The result is a gently browned, crisp potato that is tender on the inside. They are garnished with a sprinkling of herbs. They are served with a side of chipotle ketchup and aioli. Being English, Ridgeway always has malt vinegar available by request. B.A.R.
How much: $7 as a side order; they are also served with the burger.
1804 J St., Sacramento; (916) 498-1388, www.streetsoflondon.net
Simply seasoned with salt and pepper, the fries are served with “Street sauce” of house-made mayo infused with crushed red pepper, hot sauce, BBQ sauce, Cajun seasonings, and chopped habanero and jalapeño peppers. Jefe Dawkins hand-cuts Kennebec potatoes and soaks the skin-on spears in water overnight. He blanches them in 225-degree canola oil to cook the inside, then drops them into 350-degree oil for a crisp-up. A.P.
How much: $5, or be wise and get them with beer-battered Icelandic cod ($12 for a full order, $7.50 for half).
2924 Freeport Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 443-5154, www.taylorskitchen.com/
These were a pleasant surprise during a recent visit for dinner – excellent fries that just happened to come with a serving of very good mussels. These classics are served simply in a paper cone reminiscent of what you’d see in Belgium. Chef Richard Telfor poaches russet potatoes in 250-degree oil, then fries them at 350 degrees to order. They’re crisp and lovely to look at, gently seasoned with fine sea salt. B.A.R.
How much: $3 as a side dish; also served with the burger and mussels.