Tuesday, April 22, 2014

French Fry Diary 577: Charles Chips


I've talked about Charles Chips briefly once or twice before on this blog. They used to be one of my favorite potato chips, especially their barbeque variety. I remember grabbing a snack bag for lunch a few times a week when I worked Pennsauken in the 80s and 90s. At the time I started French Fry Diary however, they were pretty hard to find - only at Cracker Barrel or a mom and pop deli in the same strip mall as Cool Dog Café - and then they vanished altogether.

They're local, out in Pennsylvania, which in my time writing about potato chips, I've learned is where many chips come from. Started in 1942, with the ingenious business model of home delivery in huge cookie tins, they've been doing this for almost three-quarters of a century. The Bride fondly remembers getting those Charles Chips cans just like milk brought by the milkman. However, sadly, just like milk delivery, the chips stopped coming directly to homes in 1974.

The Charles Chips company began to have financial troubles in the 1990s as they were sold several times to various unsuccessful owners who often fell to bankruptcy and other problems. Recipes were changed, distribution suffered, and soon Charles Chips were gone or just about impossible to find. The Scardino family bought the company in 2011 with the intent of online sales and bringing the memorable tins back. So far so good.

Reminiscing recently about milk delivery, and home chip delivery as well, The Bride and I looked Charles Chips up online. We could have gotten three bags - Original, Barbeque, Waffle (rippled) - in a tin for roughly $25 or without for $20. We had no idea what we'd do with the big cookie tin when the chips were finished, so nostalgia aside, we opted for without. And being so close to the factory (in general), there was no shipping fee.

A little less than a week later, our package with. The three nine ounce bags arrived unharmed, marked fragile, and well packed. The bags themselves seemed a bit streamlined from what I remember, but that's okay, I hoped the taste was unchanged. Notably I'd never tried the Waffle chips from Charles before, and their Barbeque was among my favorites. I hoped it was the same.

The Original chips were very simple - potatoes, cottonseed oil, and salt being the only ingredients, so they're all natural and gluten free as it says on the bag. Honestly I remember Charles Chips being a bit bigger and thicker than these. Now they have more of a Lay's feel, but with a much better taste. Honestly though I remember them being great, but these are only just okay.

Next up, I tried the Barbeque chips, and expectations were high, but cautious after my experience with the Original flavor. While these were not the barbeque potato chips from Charles that I remember, these were still quite good. These chips were notably bigger than the ones in the Original bag, and possibly thicker. The flavor was similar to Wise Honey BBQ with just a tad more sweet and honey taste. I liked these quite a bit, but as I said, not the chips I remember at all. I think there's been a recipe change in the intervening years.

The Waffle chips are decidedly thick and excellent for dipping. They are comparable to Lay's Wavy, but better. Yes, it's another Lay's comparison but this one's a good one. I liked these a lot, so it's two out of three, not bad for mail order chips. Maybe next time we will get the tin, and maybe just the Barbeque or the Waffle.

Monday, April 21, 2014

French Fry Diary 576: Long John Silver's Onion Rings


Never let it be said that advertising doesn't work. For weeks now my television viewing has been bombarded by commercials for Long John Silver's and their family sized chicken meal (I'm pretty sure it's over now). I finally broke down, went to the weird Taco Bell and LJS hybrid in West Berlin and got one.

The family meal, on special for $10.99, contains ten pieces of chicken, eight hush puppies, and two sides (I think the offer is over now). Me, being who I am, got fries and onion rings as sides. I've already talked about LJS' fries, both old and new (I do wonder however why it seems I get different fries every time I go there - this past time they were similar to Wendy's new fries), but man oh man, those onion rings.

I'll just say it. These are probably the best fast food onion rings I've had recently, even better than Sonic. If anything they are most similar to those at Raglan Road, only without that spicy kick. These are tender onions, deep-fried, so they are a bit greasy, but with a delicious crispy and crunchy batter.

The best part, mostly because the portions are so big, all of LJS' food reheats well in the oven and in the microwave. The boxes even have instructions. I love these onion rings, recommended.

And remember, French Fry Diary is now on Facebook, come on over and join the fun and the discussion!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

French Fry Diary 575: Raglan Road


Usually every trip to Walt Disney World for me includes a journey to Downtown Disney and Cookes of Dublin, which until recent years has had the best French fries, pardon me, Irish chips I have ever had. Lately though, they haven't been so great. Whether it's because of changes in the cooking process or just general laziness in prep, I don't know, but they ain't what they used to be.

As a change of pace, this trip, we decided to try the big fancy sit-down restaurant attached to Cookes of Dublin called Raglan Road this time. It's the same folks doing both places, but rather than a walk-up counter service, this was a nice sit-down place. We had planned on having a whole group of folks with us, friends and family, but one by one, people dropped out for various reasons. I was beginning to wonder if I should change my deodorant.

At first, as it was just myself, The Bride and her mom, we were thinking of just going to Cookes of Dublin as Raglan Road was so much more expensive, and Cookes was easier. Thinking of the folks who couldn't make it, we bit the bullet, and went to Raglan Road for a full meal and experience - and it was an experience. Absent friends and family don't know what they missed. No regrets.

The restaurant is pretty big, like most places in WDW, it's like a TARDIS, bigger on the inside than it looks outside - a large dining area and bar area, with one big stage and a center stage as well. We had heard there were shows, and bands, but we did not think, being so early (it was five-ish) we would see them. We were wrong.

I got my usual, a plain burger, as well as an order of the chips and an order of the onion rings which I had been told I should definitely try. The burger was very good, and came on a weird roll that had strips of ham? Or onion? Baked and threaded through it, very very tasty. As far as the food goes, it needs to be said. They may be next to each other, and they may be the same operation, same management etcetera - but Raglan Road is not Cookes of Dublin. Raglan Road is vastly superior.

As we were beginning to enjoy our meal, the entertainment began. It was as if Riverdance erupted around us, on the large stage in front of us, and a small center stage spot behind us. Propelled by the music of Creel, the tap group known as Our Darlin' Dancers put on an amazing show. So terrific, and later kids from audience were brought up on stage, shown moves, and danced along. Everyone had a great time especially the two little kids who were dancing next to our table.



Back to our meal, especially the French fries and the onion rings, the stuff you're here to read about. Both the rings and the fries (I mean chips) came in proper paper cones, although other tables had them dumped on to plates, which was also kinda cool. The onion rings were fine in the cone, but the fries were kinda wedged in there pretty tightly. The cheese was like a glue holding them together. Note the shape of the pile once we dumped them onto a plate ourselves.

My friend Dom was dead on about the onion rings. They had the same wonderful batter as the Cookes of Dublin onion rings, with big thick and juicy onions, and a very crunchy exterior. To die for, these were fantastic. However the fries were a bit different from the fare at Cookes. These natural cuts were bigger than usual shoestrings, with good amounts of cheese, garlic, and something that always needs a careful measure - just the right amount of truffle oil. Near perfect fries. Raglan Road more than makes up for Cookes of Dublin's recent decline.

Since it was The Bride's birthday, we also got as a dessert the bread pudding that one of our absent friends had recommended. We didn't order it, it came on its own - that's just how Disney rolls. This was a luscious dessert, and the vanilla and caramel cream over it was sweet heaven. What a wonderful birthday gift. Thank you!

There was a lot of food, so we ended up taking some of it back to our happily microwave equipped hotel. The onion rings were a bit soggy the second time around, but based on my experience, I think these would have been awesome if baked when reheated, rather than nuked. I might say the same about the fries, but for the record, they were an inedible disaster in the nuke. Definitely bake leftovers.

Raglan Road is awesome, one of my favorite restaurants in WDW, and it gets my highest marks. Very highly recommended, and I would definitely come back. As a matter of fact, I look forward to it. Raglan Road rocks.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

French Fry Diary 574: The Farm & Fisherman Tavern + Market


The Bride and I were having an impromptu date night, and were undecided on dinner. What we did decide was to try some place new. So rather than take advantage of old technology like the entertainment coupon book she had or the new tech of our phones and numerous apps, we drove around aimlessly. As we passed the former Cherry Hill landmark Andreotti's Viennese Cafe which has recently been replaced by The Farm & Fisherman Tavern + Market (just down the strip mall from my favorite Japanese restaurant Oh Yoko!), I asked, "how about here?" and we were in.

As it was a Saturday night, they were quite busy and crowded. We were told it would be over an hour wait for a table, but there was a full menu if we sat at the bar - so we settled onto tall chairs and sat there. The place was kinda dark, like Keg & Kitchen dark, but eventually the lights were finally turned on during the long wait for our entrees.

The bar staff was great, friendly, efficient - or at least some of the bartenders were. The one who took our order, and our money, ignored us for the most part. And I think we had more room at the bar than we would have had at the tables they had. The tall barstools did get kinda uncomfortable after a half hour or so, but the chairs were the same at the bar and the tables.

As an appetizer, so our wait was not felt for as long as it was, we got the ten dollar Crushed & Crispy NJ Spuds, with thick cut bacon, sour cream, and tarragon. This was a large plate of potatoes in a variety of types and cuts. There were natural cut fries, potato chunks, sweet potato slices, potato wedges, slices, fingerlings, and small very crisp potato chips - made from purple as well as white potatoes. And there was also a bad tasting sauce, perhaps the sour cream maybe? Whatever it was, I didn't like it. I wanted more of the various potatoes, but that sour cream sauce was very off-putting. Maybe if we come next time I'll order the appetizer without the sauce.

For my entrée, I went traditional Glenn, a plain hamburger, but this wasn't just any hamburger though. I ordered The Colonial Burger for sixteen dollars which was grass fed beef from Wryebrook Farm with a Heritage pork belly blend. This burger was awesome, like a sweet steak. Unfortunately while I was loving my burger, The Bride didn't care for her Reuben at all.

And now the reason you're reading this blog - for the fries. These French fries were great natural cuts, twice fried, crispy with a Spanish fries vibe (maybe cooked in olive oil?) and had parsley and tarragon sprinkled over them. They were very good, thumbs up, highly recommended.

All the food was farm fresh, and more importantly locally farm fresh, so despite the bar setting of the restaurant, there was an atmosphere of good local neighborship, you know? This was expressed in the market section on the other side of the bar, sort of a tiny one aisle supermarket featuring all local items. They had North Fork kettle potato chips, Pennsylvania Dutch birch beer (a piece of my childhood), and Mexican Coke (a little piece of heaven). Hmmm, one of these things just doesn't go with the others. How far is Mexico from New Jersey? That's cool, I looove Mexican Coke.

The Farm & Fisherman Tavern + Market was a bit pricey, and there was quite a wait, busy Saturday night or not. I liked it a lot, but we probably won't be back because of the high prices and the wait. The food, that I had at least, was great.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Shoo Fry


My friend and GAR! Podcast partner Ray Cornwall sent this one to me while he was waiting for his brakes to be fixed at the King of Prussia Mall.

Shoo Fry has since closed that location but plan to open a permanent restaurant in Center City Philadelphia in the Spring/Summer. You can check out their Facebook page here, and their official website here.

The place has quite a concept. You choose a choice of potato cut (classic, curly, wedge, ribbon), then choose a protein, and then any number of sauces, toppings, etc. They also have sliders and milkshakes as well. You can check out their intriguing menu here. I can't wait for their new location to open.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

French Fry Diary 573: Don Pablo's Mexican Kitchen


Don Pablo's is one of The Bride's favorite restaurants, but we don't go together that often because I'm not really much of a Mexican food guy. That said, the few times we've been to Don Pablo's I have been very happy. The chicken is quite good, and they have fries, so I'm happy.

The inside of Don Pablo's is like a Mexican town square... if a neon tequila bar exploded in it, that is. Dos Equis and Corona are kings here, there's a fountain in the middle and the constant overhead music is neon and appropriately flavorful too. None of these are bad things, I kinda like it, but I suppose if I was here for more than a few hours I might go insane. But for a dinner, it's cool.

We were started off with the corn chips and salsa that we always get as an opener. Again, I'm not a salsa guy but the corn chips were good and warm, could've had more seasoning, but I'm guessing that's the point of the salsa. Any chip that is warm is a plus, and these were, pardon the pun, double plussed.

I navigated the menu, which was worriedly different from the last time I was here and I found some mesquite chicken and got fries as well. The food came very quickly, crazy quick, standing applause for customer service quick.

The topping on chicken was hot, very hot, so I scraped it off (I am a picky eater still) but the chicken breast was very tender and good. The natural cut fries that came with were warm and good but surprisingly underseasoned for a Mexican restaurant. They were very good with the mesquite flavoring on the chicken though.

The Bride got something called El Matador, which seemed like it was a little bit of everything. It was a lot of food, for her, and even for me, and I ended up bringing mine home. It reheated well in both the nuke and the oven. Good meal, both at dinner and later. Thumbs up for Don Pablo's.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Random Tater Pic of the Day #141



Natural cut shoestrings from my last trip to the Zinc Café in Medford NJ, still one of my favorite restaurants.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

French Fry Diary 572: Simply Ruffles


I have had varying degrees of success and failure with potato products that start with the word 'simply.' That would be the only reason I was hesitant to try these new Simply Ruffles from Frito Lay.

I like Ruffles a lot, they are the go-to ripple chip for dipping, rippled and relatively thick, they rock. The trouble would be they get tend to get a little greasy if you're eating a lot at once. A healthier style would be great, and that's what Simply Ruffles is, the better alternative.

Simply Ruffles are just potatoes, expeller-pressed sunflower oil, and sea salt. 'Expeller-pressed'? That means the oil is extracted mechanically using high pressure. How that is better or worse, I don't know. These chips are also gluten free, with no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.

Good chips, healthy chips, recommended.