Tuesday, March 23, 2010

French Fry Diary 100: Hot Potato Café

I found out about the Hot Potato Café in perhaps one of the more notorious and uncool ways to find out about a restaurant – on Chef Gordon Ransey’s "Kitchen Nightmares" TV series on Fox. The show frequently uncovers at most horrifying and at least disturbing conditions in restaurants before Ramsey helps to turn the place around in his own unique way. Luckily, the Hot Potato Café was only suffering from business woes, and not anything sanitary.

The episode itself wasn’t that bad as Gordon dealt with the three sisters who are owners and the chef niece. It was a decidedly popular episode, having taken place some months before and covered widely in the local press. It was so popular that for days after it aired, the restaurant’s website was unavailable. It’s notable to mention that many folks will hit a restaurant’s website the night it appears on "Kitchen Nightmares" to see if it’s still open. Trust me, the Hot Potato Café is.

Another plus about the Café is that it’s local to the Philadelphia area. That and the name itself, made it a prime destination for French Fry Diary. As a matter of fact, on the episode they appeared in, Ramsey even employed a ‘potato expert,’ Richard Marsh, head chef of Cherry Hill’s Andreotti’s Viennese Café, to help them with their potatoes. Hmmm, something tells me I’ll be going there soon as well.

We decided to make our visit to the Hot Potato Café something special so The Bride and I made reservations for Valentine’s Day night and braved the scary snow-piled streets of Philly to get there. We were between blizzards so this was not as easy as you might think. Still, all in all I think it was well worth it.

Once seated, we were greeted with complimentary Parmesan fries in a metal cup. These were natural cuts with flakes of Parmesan just sprinkled lightly – quite hot and quite tasty. The fries that are packed inside the cup under the top layer are extra special as they are even hotter and the cheese is melted just right. Complimentary fries? Wow, what a wonderful phrase. That is certainly a winning start to any meal as far as I’m concerned.

The drinks came in Mason jar jugs. Nice touch, and you can see mine, full of Coke, next to the complimentary fries. Refills on the drinks were quick and friendly. Our waitress, Erin, was very nice, cooperative and informed - and she made our evening a joy. The décor was interesting and fun. One nice bit was that the restrooms were marked ‘Spuds’ and ‘Sweet Potatoes.’

Our appetizers were the Hot Potato Chips. These were some of the best homemade (or restaurant-made for that matter) that I have ever had. They were the perfect thickness between a scalloped potato slice and an actual potato chip. The cheese however – a tasty Parmesan cheddar sauce – has a sogging effect on the chips, so not cool (that it made them soggy, not the sauce - that was great). These were also topped with scallions and bacon, but nowhere near enough bacon.

While enjoying the appetizers and the complimentaries, we had time to look around a bit more. While some of the décor that Gordon Ramsey had put in was still there, the menu was different – different from his menu, but also different from their original menu. No worries though, the current menu was just great. I ordered a burger, a choice not available on Ramsey’s revamp, and I’m glad it’s here. The placemats were fun, filled with various potato facts and oddities. I knew about a third of them already, vast storehouse of useless knowledge that I am – especially when it comes to the favorite fried food. Yeah, I know, I’m pitiful.

The Fishtown Fries came as both a side order with my burger and in a basket as well. I couldn’t taste the promised Old Bay seasoning at first, but they were very good – once again natural cuts, kinda reminiscent of the Pop Shop. They came with sides of ketchup and cheese. The burger was handformed and also very good. The basket, also much like the Pop Shop, was a large portion – so large we took them home afterward. That was where we found the Old Bay seasoning – not evenly distributed but hot and yummy, and it was a good hot.

Our Valentines night at the Hot Potato Café was a wonderful experience, and we would definitely go back. Again and again. One hundred percent recommended.

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Jezzer said...

I watched the episode when it debuted on TV. At the time, I wondered how much of a market there was for potato-based entrees, so I think it was a wise move to expand the menu. I guess on Valentine's night the cafe was full, so not a good night to calculate the success of the Ramsey makeover.

Glenn Walker said...

Actually, Valentine's Day was a Sunday and HPC says they are only open for 'private parties' on Sundays. I called and got a reservation anyway. There were three tables occupied while we were there - so not a busy night at all.