Friday, September 16, 2016

French Fry Diary 719: Hampton Inn, Lakeland FL


One of the great things (or not so great things, depending on your outlook) is the complimentary breakfast providing at some chain hotels. Sometimes it's just some old breakfast cereal and coffee, sometimes an actual working kitchen and kitchen staff, but mostly it's somewhere in between. In between is what we had at the Lakeland Hampton Inn in Lakeland FL while we were house hunting recently.

Oh sure, there was cereal, and a variety of bready things with toasters available, but the real star was the waffle making station, for which there was a long line. Hidden away in a corner of the kitchen area though was a covered hot plate with omelets and breakfast potatoes. I was happy.

The breakfast potatoes were redskin chunks with peppers and onions mixed in. They were quite hot with a spicy and buttery taste, made just right, a little crisp but with a soft but firm center. I got two servings they were so good. I feel like I found the pot of gold under the rainbow. Great breakfast to start a full day of house hunting, hopefully I'll find a house as good as these potatoes.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

French Fry Diary 718: Waffle House


On our most recent trip to Florida house hunting we had to stop for breakfast, and rather than something easy and predictable like McDonald's or Chick-fil-a, we opted for somewhere we'd (or I'd) never been before, and a staple of our new chosen place to live - Waffle House.

My expectation was something franchise-y in line with maybe Denny's or IHoP, but that's not what Waffle House is like at all. It was really more diner-ish than anything else, and filled to the brim with southern charm and hospitality. I loved it.

The menu showed an interesting take on hashbrowns (how they spelled 'em on the menu), disc-shaped, almost as if by cookie cutter or burger maker, but that's not what we got however, and honestly, while I was intrigued by the menu pics, I was not disappointed in what was served.

These were shredded potatoes, well cooked, but still moist and soft within. I got them plain, while The Bride got them with melted cheese. I have to admit they did need something, I at least salted mine. It's a good thing they have a variety of hashbrowns toppings like sautéed onions, chunked ham, diced tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, mushrooms, chili, and gravy. Or in the vernacular - smothered, covered, chunked, diced, peppered, capped, topped, or country.

I also got ham, but before I could order, I had to ask - what is the difference between city ham and country ham? Our waitress Stacy, full of wonderful truck stop charm, broke it down for us. City ham is sweet and country ham is salty. I got the city ham, which was awesome, and washed it all down with some Mister Pibb, mmmm…

The Bride also got a waffle, because really, you can't go to Waffle House and not get a waffle. And I loved ordering with Stacy, it was a great negotiation as what could work as a special or a meal deal. "Just tell me what you want, hone, we'll make it work." I loved it. We will definitely be going back to Waffle House.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Random Tater Pic of the Day #251



As I mentioned when I covered the SJWG surprise party at The Vault, friend and fellow writer Vince Sparks got me a very thoughtful and special gift - a French Fry Pen, to 'make my writing sizzle.' I love it!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

French Fry Diary 717: Manny's Original Chophouse


This is my new favorite restaurant. No ifs, ands, or buts, Manny's Original Chophouse is it. Recommended by our realtor Rusty on our first house hunting foray into Lakeland Florida, I fell in love quickly. We had been looking for a place comparable to The Pub (that's what we were in the mood for), but soon realized how much better Manny's was than The Pub. Welcome to Florida.

There's 'call ahead,' and we did, but we were seated right away on our first visit (as with our second and third as well). The waitress wrote her name in crayon, along with her manager's name, on the paper tablecloth on top of the real tablecloth so we wouldn't forget it if we needed it.

First came the bread. Fresh baked hamburger rolls are what they looked like with buttered tops and they were hot and wonderful. We could have eaten them like that and been happy, but they came with ramekins of both regular butter and sugar cinnamon butter. Adding the butters made these better than any sticky bun I have ever had, wow, melt in my mouth wonderful.

And the appetizers did not end there, then came the onion rings. We got the half-order, which was enormous. I can't imagine what the full order is like. These were super-thick sweet onions, lightly breaded with crushed fine Panko, a heavenly onion ring. Truly, these were the best onion rings I have ever had, ever. And on all three visits, the bread and the rings were superior every time. Consistent perfection. Even before the entrees came, we were full, and Manny's was our new favorite restaurant.

I got the grilled chicken smothered in Manny's BBQ sauce on rice, with hot natural cut fries. The fries were okay, and delicious in the sauce, but the second and third times I opted for the baked potato, which was huge and mouthwatering with butter. I found my potato target there, as well as the amazing onion rings. The Bride has tried the steak pieces and the fajitas and the garlic smashed potatoes. On future visits I can't wait to try the steaks and the teriyaki chicken.

Manny's family is from Greece, and they have several restaurants in the central Florida area. We've tried two of them and look forward to eating at the rest. I cannot recommend this place enough. For friends and family, when you come visit us in our new home, we'll be taking you to Manny's so you can see, and taste, for yourselves. This place is that good.

Monday, August 29, 2016

French Fry Diary 716: The French Fry Dipping Sauce Poll Results


A long time ago, before I got sick in December, I started a poll here on the blog about what your favorite dipping sauce for your French fries was. In truth, I did it twice. The first time I was chastised for leaving certain dipping options off the list, so I revamped it, but I did keep count of the votes from the first poll and have added them in to the final tally. So now, the answer to the question - What is your favorite dipping sauce for your French Fries?


Overwhelmingly, the biggest vote-getter, with almost half the votes, was ketchup. So, now that we got the unimaginative folks out of the way, we can concentrate on the more interesting choices. But before we do that, let's eliminate those that nobody picked - sour cream and marinara. Both were made as suggestions to add to the second poll, but neither volunteer agreed that they liked them, so there you go.

Oddities that only a few folks voted for in the "other" option included specifics like T.G.I. Friday's Jack Daniels BBQ sauce and Roy Rogers BBQ sauce, both favorites of mine, as well as bourbon mayo or remoulade. I also like the peach bourbon sauce at Red Lobster, which got a vote as well. It seems that no matter how you slice it (or stir it), alcohol is popular in dipping sauces. Taking up the single vote end of the spectrum were also mustard, wasabi, tartar sauce, sriracha, butter, Arby's 'horsey' sauce, and just plain ol' hot sauce.

The next highest vote-getters were aioli and steak sauce, followed by ranch, another of my faves, sweet and sour, and the combined vote for peanut butter and peanut sauce. Next highest performers with 10% each of the vote are two more of my favorites - ice cream and teriyaki sauce. Then come honey, a frequently mentioned Asian treat, and curry, which I have every time I visit the British Chip Shop. Then came mayo and honey mustard, yuck.

The big guns, besides traditional ketchup of course, were cheese - The Bride's favorite, which comes in many varieties (perhaps fodder for a future poll), and my favorite, milkshake. The latter has recently come out of the closet as a strong contender for dipping. Second place went to UK fave vinegar and my personal favorite (tied with shake), barbeque sauce, and I would go along with those who specifically mentioned Jack Daniels and bourbon varieties.

So, do you agree? Did I miss your favorite and you'd like to get a late vote in? Feel free to comment below, I'd love to hear what you're dipping your fries in!

Friday, August 26, 2016

French Fry Diary 715: The Vault


After South Jersey Writers' Group meetings we would sometimes all go out to a bar/restaurant for shoptalk and friendly chat. One place we had gone a couple times, but ironically I'd never tried the fries, was The Vault in Runnemede NJ. That said, I never thought I'd be surprised there, but I was.

Lured there by The Bride to have dinner with a couple I did not particularly like, I was pleased to find my friend, fellow writer, and President of the SJWG, Krista out front. I thought this was a happy coincidence until we went inside. Yeah, they got me, I was sooo surprised. With my upcoming move to Florida, the South Jersey Writers had planned a going away party. I can't believe so many folks got together to do this for me. I love these people.

I was so happy to see Amy, Jessica, Marie, Sarah, Gail, Erika and her husband, Janice, Kahlil, Shelley, Vince, Cassandra, Ewart, Jord, Tom, Bill and his wife, Gregg, Jennifer, Patti, even my brother-in-law Bruce, and friend and FFD contributor Marni were there. What a wonderful surprise! And if I forgot anyone, my apologies, but there were a lot of you there!

And there were cards, and Marie got me a wonderful Captain America mug, which I hope I won't get harassed for, and along with a very sweet and thoughtful note, Vince got me a little something I'll feature here on FFD very soon.

And then there were also fries (bet you thought I forgot this was French Fry Diary, didn't you?). I had ordered a serving of the crab fries. While not Chickie's & Pete's, these regular cuts were very hot and spicy, and covered in Old Bay seasoning. Delicious, and even better when crisped in the oven once I was home. Mmmm…

Special thank you to Krista, and everyone else in the South Jersey Writers' Group. I am going to miss you all so much.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

French Fry Diary 714: Burger 21


Burger 21, a chain with most of their restaurants in the Florida area, is now in New Jersey. They currently occupy the same place as The Doghouse in the Voorhees Town Center, opening there about two years back. Burger 21 offers a gluten free menu featuring burgers, shakes, and fries with a variety of dipping sauces, including sweet stuff for their sweet potato fries. All of their fries are cooked in soybean oil. I had been to the NJ location a few times and the quality of the food and service were wildly inconsistent so I was hesitant to write a review that would be on target.

Upon visiting Lakeland Florida house hunting, The Bride and I went to a Burger 21 there, and found it to be quite a pleasant experience. It was nice to see a familiar place in Florida where many things are much different, a good sign especially in the ninety-degree heat. I got a great thick burger on a grilled buttered roll and it was delicious. But it was the fries that were the stars.

The fries were frozen shoestrings deep fried, and were very good hot, but got cold fairly quickly. Not to worry, they were eaten quickly. As I said, the ones in New Jersey were inconsistent both in size and style, but these were near perfect. The Bride got cheese and ale as a side, and many other sauces were available at their amazing sauce bar, such as ranch, ketchup (both Thai and regular), ragin' Cajun, barbeque, mustard (regular and honey), chipotle mayo, apple cider, and toasted marshmallow.

To top it all off, the waitress who took our order was very friendly, and we found we had "Doctor Who" in common. She made a joke about our house hunting and to look for a home that was bigger on the inside. We took it as a good omen for that day of looking at homes. And we'd definitely come back to Burger 21, in Florida.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Random Tater Pic of the Day #249



From our recent Disney Fantasy trip, this is lunch at Cabanas, the top deck buffet on board. Not just some sweet juicy ham, but the two potato stars of the Disney Cruise Line - the roasted red potatoes and the steak fries. Mmmm...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

French Fry Diary 713: The Sunroom at Borgata


Usually when going to the Borgata in Atlantic City, it's mandatory to visit Fatburger in The Cafeteria (now the vastly inferior by all indications Marketplace Eatery, but since the Borgata has seen fit to remove Fatburger, there might not be any reason to visit any more. There is still the Sunroom however, the last restaurant standing when it comes to good fries at the Borgata.

The Bride and I have visited the Sunroom three times in the past and have always enjoyed ourselves. This restaurant, whose menu was designed by Food Network favorite Geoffrey Zakarian, is unique in the hotel casino, a oasis mirage in a desert of glitzy decadence. There is a giant water wall, trees with lights, skylights, and the constant sound of running water (though not enough to make one have to use the restroom). If you look up, it's like you're in a jungle, A+ for atmosphere, though it can be a bit dark, but apparently all the good restaurants are.

Looking at the menu, the truffled fries with Parmesan were $10 and the classic fries were only $8. Wow, these better be good fries. There were also tiny little ketchup bottles, as if regular sized ketchup bottles had a baby, and the Coke was served in small aluminum bottles for $4 each, the aluminum supposedly keeping the cold in. The Bride got the Water Club Sirloin Burger, which she liked, and I got the dry aged steak skewers with tamarind, which were awesome - but you're here for the fries, the main event.

The Bride got the classic while I went for the truffle fries. They came in a brown paper cone, very elegant display. These fries were fresh cut regular cuts and were not really greasy, but soggy and limp. I think they might have been much better with one more shock fry as they needed a serious crisp to them. There was a heavy but even dusting with large granules of Parmesan, not too much but a lot, giving a good cheesy taste. Each fry was dusted, even as I dug deeper into the cone. There might also be a bit too much truffle oil - it has be used sparingly.

These fries would be amazing and close to perfect if I took them home and reheated them in an oven for three to five minutes - just enough to crisp them. And despite the positive reaction I got from many folks after I Tweeted a then-live image of these fries as we were dining at the Sunroom, these were far from perfect. Yeah, they look good, but they need a little work.

They were very good while hot, even if over-cheesed and over-truffled, and the portion-size was huge. I would definitely get them again, and definitely come back to the Sunroom, especially now that Fatburger is gone. Damn you, Borgata.