Thursday, December 31, 2009

French Fry Diary 74: Big John’s CheeseSteaks & More, Cherry Hill NJ

Big John’s has been a Cherry Hill NJ icon for three decades, I’ve been aware of them for at least two. Even then, their pixie crinkle-cut French fries were the stuff of legend. Long before I started this French Fry Diary thing, folks who knew I loved fries always asked – Have you tried Big John’s?

For the record, they are also famous for their cheesesteaks and pickle bar, but that’s for someone else’s blog. It is worth mentioning though that when folks talk about cheesesteaks, this place ranks up there with the biggies, and it’s outside of Philadelphia. Yeah, they’re that good.

It’s been a while since I’d been to Big John’s, so when old friends chose it as our holiday meeting place to catch up this year, I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone and review the fries there as I haven’t yet. I hate to say it, but I was disappointed by what I found.

Oh no, don’t get me wrong, the cheesesteaks are still fantastic, and the fries were good, but they certainly were not Big John’s Famous Fries. What I got was standard regular cuts, deep fried, and very good – similar to diner fries only without the Invisicoat. But they were not the famous pixie crinkle cuts that I remember.

The old fries used to be some of the best around, crunchy on the outside and soft and hot on the inside, and served in large portions. I was quite disappointed to find them gone. One less reason to go to Big John’s. What a shame.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Belgian Fries Conquer Abu Dhabi

From The National, by Si Hawkins

United Arab Emirates, December 28, 2009

The Frites of the Matter

It is hard to believe that the humble chip has become so contentious across the globe. A potent symbol of American business success but also a virtual pariah in the United States, it’s been patronised by presidents, played a prominent role in several wars and had its origins called into question. The size, shape, taste, nutritional qualities and even the name are issues that have occupied some of history’s most influential figures. It’s a hot potato.

In the UK, the very concept of the fast-food French fry is anathema to those brought up with slow-moving fish and chip shops. For Brits of a certain age, the sights, sounds and smells of the traditional chippy are to be savoured. But ever since the big US eateries moved into UK high streets several decades ago, the chunky old chip has been struggling manfully against those stiff little fingers from the States. It’s one skirmish that continues to simmer.

As patrons of the Abu Dhabi Intercontinental Hotel’s new Belgian cafe are discovering, however, the battle to be top chip isn’t quite as cut and dried – or cut and fried – as the Anglo-American axis might assume. The finest fries may, in fact, derive from a different European source, where, indeed, they were invented. And it isn’t France.

For the full article, click here.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

French Fry Diary 73: McCormick & Schmick’s, Atlantic City

McCormick & Schmick’s is a relatively upscale seafood restaurant that has popped up in my area in the last decade or so. There’s even one in Cherry Hill now, but this review is of the one in Harrahs in Atlantic City.

We visited the casino the night before Christmas Eve when the hours most of the restaurants were open severely limited our choice as to where to eat. It’s not just the holidays, most of the AC casinos have screwed up hours. I have personally never found anything open when I needed it. I just think this is odd for a city and a business that supposedly runs 24/7. I guess it just includes everything but food.

Anyway we ended up at McCormick & Schmick’s, not a great place for this catastrophically picky eater as the only seafood I like are fried scallops. I have to admit this really wasn’t a problem as I’ve found over the years that seafood restaurants frequently have the best steak and chicken – and such was the case here as well. A delicious filet mignon was served up to perfection. And with it, I got, you guessed it, French fries.

These natural cut, slightly-larger-than-regular cuts came Belgian style in a paper cone, and were very hot. Like there had to be cooling time very hot. The outsides are extra crispy as if they were shock-fried twice rather than just once and inside they are delicious soft and hot. Definitely A plus on these fries. If I had to have a complaint about McCormick & Schmick’s fries, it would be how long we waited for them in a barely busy restaurant – nearly forty-five minutes! Did they go to Idaho for them?

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Monday, December 21, 2009

French Fry Diary 72: Sneaky Airport Fries

A postscript to my recent trip on the Disney Cruise, I came across these ‘fries’ at the Orlando airport waiting for the flight home. I saw The Bride approaching with this cup adorned with fries and got excited and hungry.

But no, base treachery, as Mighty Thor might say, these weren’t fries but pretzel nuggets. What a cruel trick!

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Buffalo Chicken Cheese Fries

Another entry from This Is Why You’re Fat, these are Buffalo Chicken Cheese Fries.

Specifically, these are French fries topped with buffalo chicken pieces covered in hefeweizen beer cheese sauce all topped with crumbled blue cheese and scallions.

What, no bacon?

Wow, what will they think of next?

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

French Fry Diary 71: Topsider Buffet, Disney Magic

The Topsider Buffet is the place for breakfast on board the Disney Magic, a buffet arrangement that has everything you could possibly want – fruits, bagels, toasts, breads, pastries, juices, pancakes and waffles, a cereal bar, an omelet station, and yes, even a potato product. Sadly it was not a good potato product.

Much like the disappointment at Parrot Cay, the hash browns were of the same variety. Of course there’s not as much disappointment this time as Topsider’s is a buffet and Parrot Cay a fancy restaurant, but still… what do I have to do to get good breakfast potatoes on board this ship?

Apparently the answer to that question is to simply wait a day. Day four brought with it roasted potatoes for breakfast at Topsider’s. More dinner style than breakfast style, these stir-fry red potato wedges with onion, parsley and other extras mixed in with a subtle but yummy sauce made breakfast so much more worthwhile than previously. Day five gave us very thick slices of red potatoes in the same configuration. Tasty, but I would have to say the wedge shape worked much better. So they did redeem themselves in the breakfast potato arena, eventually.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More Potato Latkes for Chanukah

Potato Latkes from Judy Zeidler, author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cookbook”


4 Potatoes, peeled
1 lg Onion, grated
1 tb Lemon juice
4 Eggs
3 tb Flour
1 t Salt
Oil or shortening for frying

Grate potatoes fine.
Add all ingredients (except fat).
Heat 1" deep oil or shortening until it is almost smoking.
Drop batter by the tablespoonful and flatten with the back of a spoon.
Cook 3 - 5 min on a side until golden.
Drain on paper towels and serve with sour cream or applesauce.
These may be frozen: in this case, bake them on shiny baking sheets at 450 until crisp, about 5 min.

Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 47 Calories; 1g Fat (11.4% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 21mg Cholesterol; 66mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1/2 Grain(Starch) ; 0 Lean Meat; 0 Fruit; 0 Fat.

Yield: 36 servings

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Monday, December 14, 2009

French Fry Diary 70: Pluto’s Dog House, Disney Magic

On the Disney Cruise ship the Magic, Pluto’s Dog House is a counter service fast fast food place up on the top deck where the pools and lounge chairs are. It’s designed for quick and easy, and for our purposes here, for French fries.

These fries are typical of Disney, specifically the parks – natural regular cuts, and suitably tasty hot and crispy and not soggy or greasy.

The only thing that bothered me is that the counterperson pulled them out of nowhere. It was like poof and here was a plate of fries, and then he added the hot dog that I saw where that was cooked. Not that the mystery origin of the fries affected their taste or goodness, it was just a bit curious.

Just for the record, these are also the same fries one would get at Pinocchio’s Pizzeria that is situated on the other side of the pool. I get why Pluto would have a dog house, but I am still pondering the whys and wherefores that Pinocchio would have a pizzeria. Hmmm… I guess it’s like any number of appliances on “The Flintstones” would say, ”It’s a living.” I guess I thought that being a real boy/former puppet might pay better...

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

French Fry Diary 69: Parrot Cay, Disney Magic

Parrot Cay is the Disney Cruise’s Caribbean themed restaurant, very festive island flavor, decorated with parrots everywhere and even the sounds of parrots and other tropical birds. Island d├ęcor, music and even menu items, this is one of my favorite restaurants on board.

For breakfast, however, this was a disappointment. The same rectangles of processed hash brown that you can buy at your local Shop-Rite at ten for three bucks is what you get, and it’s not even good. These were crispy to a crunchy texture with barely any potato flavor left. It was a good thing the syrup overflow from my pancakes was there or they’d have no taste. Heck, nothing against this type of hash brown, but I could make it better in my microwave, oven or toaster myself. Epic fail. Except for the bacon of course, which was fabulous. But this is French Fry Diary, not Bacon Diary...

When I came for dinner later that day I had some great jerked chicken as an appetizer and grilled beef tenderloins for dinner. Rather than French fries (which is where you thought I was going, didn’t you?) as a side I got the twice-baked potato, which in hindsight was a great idea. Not the usual, which impressed the wait staff who had already tagged me as a catastrophically picky eater, but it was still quite good. The only other night we ate there I also had mashed potatoes, so oh well, we’ll have to try the fries at Parrot Cay another time.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Potato Latkes for Channukah

I'm a lapsed Episcopalian married into a Jewish family. I know my share of the Jewish religion, have attended services on numerous occasions and was even married by a Rabbi. I'm not converting, but I know my way around the Torah. Imagine my shock when I learned after nearly two decades of exposure that there was a holiday that heavily involved the potato! I might have married earlier had I known.

For the first night of Channukah, here’s a recipe for potato latkes (also known as the thinly disguised hash brown) from All Recipes:

Potato Latkes

"A classic potato latke, you can't go wrong with these crispy hot cakes. Serve with applesauce, sour cream and chopped green onions! Happy Hanukkah!"

Original Recipe Yield 10 to 12 latkes


2 cups peeled and shredded potatoes
1 tablespoon grated onion
3 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup peanut oil for frying


1. Place the potatoes in a cheesecloth and wring, extracting as much moisture as possible.
2. In a medium bowl stir the potatoes, onion, eggs, flour and salt together.
3. In a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until hot. Place large spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the hot oil, pressing down on them to form 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick patties. Brown on one side, turn and brown on the other. Let drain on paper towels. Serve hot!

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Friday, December 11, 2009

French Fry Diary 68: Room Service, Disney Magic

This is an amazing thing, and it just doesn’t happen on cruise ships, but mostly at finer hotels. It’s called ‘room service,’ and it’s truly a magical thing. You pick up the phone and then after a few moments, people come right to your door, right to your table by your bed… and they bring you French fries. Yeah, seriously. I told you it was magic.

In the case of the Disney Magic cruise ship, we got a case of the munchies one night on our cruise and made the magic call. In a matter of minutes I was greeted by steak fries, similar to the ones I had at Animator’s Palate. Hot, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The only thing that could have made them better would have been more fries.

And you know, there could have been, they were only a phone call away. Like I told ya, magic.

I’m gonna see if the same thing happens with chocolate, and then bacon, and if it does... I ain’t leaving...

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

French Fry Diary 67: Animator’s Palate, Disney Magic

The Animator’s Palate on both the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder is a thing of both magic and wonder. It’s a restaurant that gives you the sensation of experiencing a Disney animated feature from start to finish, from sketches to full animation – literally from black and white to color.

In fact when you enter Animator’s Palate the entire restaurant is in black and white and set up with props like giant paint brushes holding up a ceiling of artist’s palattes and walls filled with black and white preliminary sketches of various Disney characters and movie scenes. Even the wait staff are wearing black and white.

As you order your meal and enjoy the company of your companions and eventually eat, some of the wall fixtures come to both color and animated life. Finally in a blaze of color the entire restaurant is transformed, including the wait staff, vibrant colors soak every corner of the room as an animated video and music show transpires around you. When it ends, you can enjoy your dessert in the vibrancy of the new atmosphere. It’s a truly wonderful experience.

The themed menu at Animator’s Palate has some great stuff on it, including some penne pasta, veal and salmon, but as anyone who has traveled on the Disney Cruise Line knows – ask and you shall receive. I asked for fries and I got fries. These were steak fries, general variety, probably frozen from a bag, but they were so tasty. Obviously the chefs here on the Magic know their stuff even when it comes to the easy stuff.

And of course, the best thing about eating on the Disney Cruise is that your wait staff follows you from restaurant to restaurant. They get to know what you like, what you don’t like, and how to specialize a meal to you. This is only the first night of the cruise. I suspect by tomorrow, I’ll be happily getting fries with every meal. Vacation is good.

Steak fries, mmmm. Ask and ye shall receive.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

French Fry Diary 66: Lumiere’s, Disney Magic

On my last trip on the Disney Cruise, on board the Disney Wonder, I found some amazing French fries, English chip style, along with a lunch burger at Triton’s. This trip, on board the Disney Magic, I figured I would try the fries at Lumiere’s – the Magic version of Triton’s.

The obvious choice for lunch at Lumiere’s is, duh, the Lumiere Burger. This came with, and was even labeled on the menu as, steak fries. No biggie. Actually I had kinda expected this. Upon request at dinner the night before, I was also brought steak fries. Like I said, no big deal, cuz these were really good steak fries.

Presentation counts. Here I was in a French restaurant, surrounded by French bread, French onion soup, French escargot, and I was having French fries. It works. There’s an old saying that you can’t dress up a pig – you still have a pig in a dress. Sometimes, just sometimes though, you can dress up French fries. Such is the case with Lumiere’s steak fries. And the burger was damned good too.

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