Thursday, June 30, 2011

French Fry Diary 242: Carrabba's Italian Grill

I know, Carrabba's Italian Grill is not the usual kind of place for French Fry Diary, but I found potatoes anyway. I'm good like that. Wonderful atmosphere and great customer service made what is usually not my kind of place into somewhere I might return to.

For appetizers they had hot Italian bread along with a dipping plate of olive oil and various seasonings including Rosemary and red pepper, delicious. We had had something similar to this at a favorite restaurant of friends in Maryland. We have since tried to reproduce it at home with some success, but I'm glad we have found it again so close to home.

Adventurous sort I am, and pasta being far too exotic for this catastrophically picky eater, I ordered the ribeye steak and garlic mashed potatoes. Carrabba's has an open air grill so the steak looked and tasted like it had been on the barbeque. Yum, barbeque steak is just what the doctor ordered for a Father's Day when not actually barbecuing. This was indeed the best steak I have had in quite a while. Perfect.

The mashed potatoes were a bit too watery and creamy for me but had chunks of garlic, turnip and bacon (I think). I couldn't finish, and I think I would gave preferred a thicker mash. Still it was a good pairing for the ribeye. All in all, mashed potatoes aside, this was a wonderful experience, and even though they don't seem to actually have French fries (short of a kids plate), we will return.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

French Fry Diary 241: Freedom Fries

Here's the gist. America went to war in Iraq, and it was a very unpopular war. Among the many countries that opposed this, one of the most vocal was France. In response, many American citizens started calling French fries by a new name - "Freedom fries." That's all there is to it. President Bush did not mandate this, none of the major fast food companies did this, and let's face it, this was not the first time France had behaved arrogantly and we made fun of them for it.

And bottom line, no matter how much they whine about it, the French didn't create the French fry, the Belgians did. It's just a name, and it doesn't matter. Come on, there's no dog in a hot dog and nobody has a problem with that, right?

Why am I irritated by this all of a sudden? I just saw a movie called Freedom Fries: And Other Stupidity We'll Have to Explain to Our Grandchildren. I say movie, because even though it tries very hard to look like a documentary, but it's basically an opinion piece by writer/director/producer Carl Christman. It's not about French fries, despite the title. Christman has a problem with President Bush, and made a movie to express his opinion - which is wonderful, because I am all for expressing your opinion, but for some reason he felt the need to sully the name of the favorite fried food to do it.

He's not as bad as Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock, but he does only want to present his opinion, and everyone else's is stupid. Carl Christman seems to be as anti-French fries as much as he is against Bush, the war, the government, God, bumper stickers, Disney World, protest (unless he agrees with the cause), money, buying American, buying anything for that matter, etc. - it goes on and on. Just about the only thing he's not against is bitching - cuz he does a lot of that. Oh yeah, and France. He seems to like France a lot.

The other thing that bugs me about this movie (more than it not really being about French fries) is that when he does show fries, they are from McDonald's (and I'm willing to bet he's anti-Mickey D's too), but McDonald's never changed the name of their product to "Freedom Fries," so why imply that they did? Shame, shame, more research and more fries I think are in order for Mr. Christman.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

French Fry Diary 240: Cool Dog Cafe's New Dipping Sauces

Just when you think a good thing can't get any better, it does. The folks at the Cool Dog Café in Cherry Hill are always thinking of ways to make their already great food and service better. If they're not making terrific weekly specials, they are making leaps and bounds with their fabulous fries.

Thus week, it's the latter, as they have added some spectacular dipping sauces for their "Belgian Frites." Here in the States, it's all about ketchup and maybe barbeque sauce for French fries. The British like their malt vinegar (which Cool Dog has on their tables, by the way), but in Europe, it's all about the dipping sauces, mostly of a mayo base, and about the varieties.

Now Cool Dog is trying to bring a little bit of that European magic to Cherry Hill. They've introduced four unique, homemade, mayo-based sauces: Dijon mayo, curry mayo, Mexi-ketchup and kaboom sauce. We got brave and ordered the curry mayo. This had an interesting taste that contrasted the fries and you can really feel the curry. The in-laws got the Dijon mayo, which was very mustardy, as it should be. While they were good, we decided we preferred ketchup and malt vinegar. Not a knock, just a preference.

After hearing from owner Ira what was in the other two sauces, I wish we had tried them. I did come back on another trip to try the kaboom sauce. Wow. Let's just say the kaboom sauce has a long fuse. At first taste, it's pretty good, an excellent dipping sauce. A few seconds go by and the sizzle starts - ka-boom. Oh yeah, that's some kind of special hot. Only for the brave who like that kind of stuff, it's good, but just too hot for me.

I'm still waiting for them to add the Jack Daniels glaze to the dipping sauces or other barbeque flavors - then I'm on board. In meantime these are still very good, get on over to the Cool Dog and try 'em out.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Random Tater Pic of the Day #7

Cartman and Kyle eating McDonalds French Fries in a hot tub full of KFC gravy. It's from the "Crack Baby Athletic Association" episode of "South Park."

"It's called poutine."

I'm not making any comments.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

French Fry Diary 239: Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Marlton NJ

A couple months ago, the devil came to town. They announced they were opening a Five Guys Burgers and Fries right across the street. Previously Five Guys had been a once in a while treat, now with a restaurant so close, how would I be able to resist. It's worse for The Bride. This store opened up two doors down from her Jenny Craig. Why would a Five Guys open up next to a Jenny Craig? That's just eeevil.

I cruised by on Monday, their first day open, and it was packed. I felt kinda bad as the Pat's down at the end of the shopping center was ominously empty. The father-in-law and I went to the new place on the second day open, and it was very crowded for dinner.

I was surprised to see fourteen people behind the counter, and about the same number of customers. It very loud, at once from the overhead satellite radio, the yelling from the kitchen, and the satisfied murmuring of the customers eating. With so many in the kitchen however, you'd think the food would come faster - it still took about ten minutes. But it was so worth the wait.

We ate at the restaurant, mostly for the free refills soda fountain. Extra points for having Pibb Xtra at the soda fountain. It seems to be popping up around here more and more. They had it at the local Elevation Burger and also at the Rave Theater.

There was a little confusion ordering but it was easily fixed. We got a regular order of fries with that extra scoop thrown on top for those always-wonderful Five Guys fries. They were very hot very crispy very good. Five Guys fries are crisp natural cuts and always consistent in their quality. It's going to be very tempting having them so close to my home.

We made a second trip today, Friday night, and they were just as crowded, both behind the counter and in the dining area. I had a chance to chat with one of the managers who was so proud and confident about Five Guys fries that he even compared them to Thrasher's in Maryland - now that's confidence. I've had a lot of folks recommend Thrasher's as being the best.

As I walked out of Five Guys this evening, looking at the people eating outside, the folks on their way into the restaurant, and then, the people going in and out of Jenny Craig - I had just one thought. Oh yeah, this is going to kill a whole lot of diets. Welcome to Marlton, Five Guys!

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

French Fry Diary 238: Trader Joe's Baked Hickory Barbeque Potato Chips

Yeah, I was at Trader Joe's again. I know that Whole Foods might feel that I'm cheating on them, but trust me, I'll be back. Whole Foods still have the best selection of potatoes for making homemade French fries, and the best butcher shop - where else would I go for meat during barbecue season?

Speaking of barbeque, the last time I was at Trader Joe's, I picked up some chips, and by either advanced aged memory or just bad eyesight I picked up the wrong chips. I wanted the Trader Joe's Hickory Barbeque Potato Chips but instead picked up the Trader Joe's Baked Hickory Barbeque Potato Chips, and didn't find out until I got home.

I'm not fond of the baked chip, and it's not because of any kind of healthy bias either. They usually just taste bland to me, and usually also look processed like Pringles or Munchos. I was very surprised once I opened the almost-impossible-to-open bag.

First, they didn't look baked. They looked like regular chips, and they tasted like regular chips. Wow. They tasted like really good barbecue potato chips. So they have all the good stuff - low calorie, less fat, gluten free, baked - and also taste. And the best part is no crumbs at the bottom of the bag, it's all chips, and it's all good. Highly recommended.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

French Fry Diary 237: Trader Joe's Hash Browns

It's always great when a normal everyday purchase turns into something unexpected and fun. That's what happened with Trader Joe's Hash Browns.

These are just regular hash browns, polygon flat chunks of processed potatoes, pre-fried, frozen and just waiting to be heated up and devoured for breakfast or a late night snack. What makes them different is the packaging.

Simple but whimsical, it caught my attention after I had first opened the package. The witty sayings, "When I grow up I want to be Trader Joe's Hash Browns" and "Bacon & eggs really dig Trader Joe's Hash Browns."

The one that really got me was on the bottom by the UPC code. It was a tiny image of a fork and plate with a fried egg, and an arrow pointing to the plate saying "insert hashbrown here." Cute.

I baked my hash browns, although they can also be fried or nuked in the microwave. I just like 'em that way best. If you break them a few times when it's time to turn them, you can get very crisp edges. Mmmm...

Trader Joe's Hash Browns, get 'em for the packaging, get 'em for the hash browniness. Mmmm...

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Monday, June 20, 2011

French Fry Diary 236: Trader Joe's Kettle Cooked Olive Oil Potato Chips

I love Trader Joe's. They have great meats, spices, breads, veggies and fruits, the healthy stuff, and of course those chocolate covered orange jells that you must get every time you go. They are no Whole Foods, but they're good.

Last time I was in there I had a bit of the munchies and grabbed some chips. Being an upscale grocer, they don't have the usual selection of Herr's, Utz or Wise, so you have to get adventurous. I grabbed a bag of Trader Joe's Kettle Cooked Olive Oil Potato Chips.

Besides having the prerequisite gourmet long name, these were also a bit on the inexpensive side for the size bag - $1.99 for seven ounces is not bad. Unfortunately, like most gourmet long name chips, they were also almost impossible to open without a scissors. Can somebody tell me what's up with that? Seems to me being able to easily open the bag would be a plus, maybe even a selling point.

Now I'm a big fan of Spanish fries, French fries cooking in olive oil, so I was expecting a similar taste here. It doesn't come through well, which was odd as the ingredients were listed as only potatoes, olive oil and salt. They are still pretty good, if a bit greasy. They are still crispier than usual chips but the ones I got were a bit small for dipping - which they would have been good for.

All in all a good diversion and a nice snack. They are not what I would reach for first, but I wouldn't turn them away.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

French Fry Diary 235: Klondike Kate's

We came down here to Klondike Kate's in Delaware with the family for Mother's Day brunch. It was chosen because of its equidistance between family members' homes, and was worth the trip. It's a pretty nice place, a TGI Fridays vibe in decor and regular menu. However, most of us were eating from the special brunch menu, a little removed from their regular fare.
Looking at the regular menu, I noticed that they have quite a selection of the favorite fried food - fries in regular and waffle and sweet potato, as well as tater tots and onion rings. I will definitely have to come back. My bro-in-law and my nephew wandered off the brunch menu and got beer-battered onion rings and natural cut fries. The rings were better than average according to the bro. Good for him as I'm not fond of the beer-battered type most of the time.

In the meantime, while we waited for our entrees, we got fantastic sticky buns as appetizers. I wish they had given us more but they were a bit stingy with them. This was a theme that would return throughout the meal.

I got the Texas Toast French Toast, which sounds much better than it actually was. It was terrific, but I was expecting huge Texas sized Texas toast - nope, much smaller than expected. It came with a side of home fries, also a very small helping. These were quartered natural cut potatoes fried in a sauce, similar to the kind sometimes found on the Disney Cruise. They were very succulent, but again, a skimpy serving.

This isn't a bad review, mind you, especially when my chief complaint is that I wanted more. All in all, a great brunch with great company, and as it was Mother's Day, all that really counts is that Mom had a great time.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Random Tater Pic of the Day #5

This is a ring of French fries created in "Battle Lamb" by Chef David Burke on "Iron Chef America." This ring was used as a cup for other vegetables. Unfortunately this innovation just wasn't enough to beat Iron Chef Bobby Flay.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

French Fry Diary 234: Mon Ami Gabi, Las Vegas

Today's Somebody Else's Fries comes from the Bro-in-Law who recently went to Las Vegas on business.

He took this picture of his steak frites at the impressive Mon Ami Gabi restaurant at the Paris Hotel. He pronounced these fries as "Amazing!"

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

French Fry Diary 233: Philly Steak & Gyro Co.

This one is sort of a Somebody Else's Fries entry. The family was on the northeast extension, the Allentown Service Plaza, coming back from the Poconos. This isn't the greatest rest stop in the world, a food court surrounded by a handful of tiny counter restaurants. Among them were Roy Rogers, Cinnabon, Starbucks, Auntie Anne's, Basset's Original Turkey, Hershey's Ice Cream, Famous Famiglia Pizza, and the Philly Steak & Gyro Co.

The Philly Steak & Gyro Co. has over a dozen locations including this one, but surprisingly no website, so I can't give you one. Perhaps that's a good thing. Cheese fries were ordered and shared by The Bride and the mom-in-law. Just based on the amount of time they (and all the food for that matter) took to prepare, they should have been perfect. Such was not the case.

The cheese was very watery. I didn't try them, because they really didn't look so good. As you can see from the picture, they were regular cuts, deep-fried and dropped into a Styrofoam pool of that cheese water. They were hot, and had "genuine" cheese on them, but the mom-in-law said she didn't taste much cheese. I'm glad I had Roy Rogers myself. After seeing these, I think I'll stick to Roy's.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

French Fry Diary 232: Foodies, Parx Casino

At most casinos they don't want you to eat, much less know what time it is. Their concern is getting you to gamble, nothing else. That's the reason for the quirky restaurant hours in these 24/7 casinos. They don't want you there eating, just shoveling your money into their pockets. Heck, I have spent huge chunks of my life at Harrahs in Atlantic City and still haven't been to every food place there.

Parx, the newly revamped version in Bucks County has a few places to eat, including one of my faves, Chickie's & Pete's, but since I was bored with nothing else to do (longtime readers know I don't gamble), I wanted to amuse myself by writing a FFD review - so I chose the intriguingly named Foodies. Sadly, the name was the only thing intriguing about this wannabe cafeteria.

Simply midnight snack fare was on my mind - a hot dog, small fries and, as preferred Coke was unavailable, a Pepsi. The all beef hot dog was pretty good, but then again I have been spoiled for hot dogs since the Cool Dog Café opened. The Pepsi was, well, Pepsi. And the fries were... well, let's just say it's a good thing they give you Utz potato chips with every sandwich - so I had some potato with my meal.

These grocery frozen shoestrings are freezer burned and deep-fried, perhaps too much. Most are too crunchy to eat and many are stuck together. There's too much salt and what at first I thought was pepper, on closer inspection, really put me off of these things. I don't think its black pepper - I think it's debris from the deep fryer. Thank heaven for the factory sealed snack bag of Utz.

Next time, I'm going to Chickie's & Pete's. Promise.

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

French Fry Diary 231: Texas Roadhouse, Bensalem PA

I had seen this place, the questionably named Texas Roadhouse, next to the Sonic on Street Road for a while but only started to get recommendations for it since one opened closer in Turnersville.

My first impression was the same that I had the first time I walked into a Lone Star Steakhouse - loud country music and peanut shells on the floor. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but both had vanished by the time we were seated. And despite it being dinner rush, and being warned by several folks of a long wait, we were seated quite quickly.

Catastrophically picky eater that I am, I ordered the Road Kill (chopped steak, better known as a hamburger sans roll), and the steak fries. First though we got the Cactus Blossom, their version of Outback's Bloomin' Onion. Much easier to pull apart, but also much less spicy hot than Outback's, the Cactus Blossom is a winner. The Bride, her parents and I decimated it.

Took a bit to get my order right, but it finally came after everyone else had already begun their dinner. I didn't want mushrooms so of course I got mushrooms. The chopped steak was terrific after I unburied it from the mountain of onions.

The fries were natural cut steak fries, not dissimilar from Wendy's new ones actually, only thicker. They had some light spices, and parsley, maybe rosemary thrown on them. Not the best I've had but then again not the worst. The waitress kept pushing folks to get cheddar and bacon on them - perhaps knowing they needed something.

Around the table, the ribs were about the same as the fries, not the best but not the worst. Real whiskey in the barbecue sauce it tasted like. Chili's ribs are better though, according to the Mom-in-Law. The beans were good as were the mashed potatoes. The service was a bit slow, but as always, it's amazing how quick a manager comes to your table when you start taking pictures of the food.

I took some of the fries home. They behaved predictably. In the microwave they became a soggy mushy mess, but baked in the oven, these fries became a bit more formidable. They were golden brown with a crunch on the outside, soft and hot on the inside - more like what they should have been in the restaurant.

For the record, more than one of our party had heartburn or was sick to their stomach afterward. All in all, I don't think we'll be back - if we did go back, maybe it would be for the chopped steak, maybe for the Cactus Blossom, but probably not for the fries.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

French Fry Diary 230: Tasti-Fries

There are apparently holes in the internet, holes through which some information falls and is never to be seen again. There are forgotten foods like Quake cereal, Marathon candy bars, Chip-O's potato chips (I will get to these sooner or later), or Fudge Town cookies (*drool*) that have just slipped through the cracks. Case in point - the Tasti-Fries, a product that I remember vividly in the 1970s that seems to have completely disappeared at some point in the 1980s.

Tasti-Fries were sold in the frozen grocer's section. They were processed and shaped potato stuffings with six vertical ridges striping them that cooked up very crisp while the inside was soft and hot. They were quite tasty, pun unintended, and made by American Kitchen, or perhaps Birdseye - I'm not sure, the memory is hazy on that.

My enabling big sister Bobbie remembers them, adding that they were made like cheese doodles, the shape given by the cookie cutter extruder. She also noted, as I remembered, a type of Tasti-Fries that went by the name of Yankee Doodles or Yankee Clippers, or something patriotic like that. Not sure what the reference is but it's a wonder they weren't re-released during the 'Freedom Fries' craze of a few years back.

I have been able to find very little on this potato snack on the internet, except for the box shown and this commercial squeezed in between others from the 1970s. The clever Tasti-Fries TV spot starts at 1:33, check it out.

I wish they would bring these babies back, they were good. Do you remember Tasti-Fries?

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