Monday, August 31, 2015

French Fry Diary 689: Red Robin Birthday

This weekend I turned (choke, gasp) fifty-one years old, and The Bride put together a birthday celebration for me, a dinner at the legendary original home of the bottomless steak fries, Red Robin.

I have to admit being a bit gun shy of having a gathering, especially a large gathering, at a restaurant after putting together an event at a restaurant for the South Jersey Writers a couple weeks ago that resulted in several tables not together and one single check, and let me assure you, writers are not good at math. In contrast, the management and wait staff at the Cherry Hill Red Robin were extremely helpful, and got everything right - huge props!

So many friends, fellow writers, and even some family showed up. Apparently I'm more loved than I think, but more likely I suspect folks were there for the fries. Kidding. The meal started with, as it always does at Red Robin, with the tower of onion rings. Much like the Bloomin' Onion at Outback, how can you not get it?

I ordered my usual, a plain burger, which was fantastic, and a side of the bottomless steak fries. My big sister loved the fact that she could customize her meal online before arriving at the restaurant, so she was ready. The Bride got the garlic herbed fries which were also awesome, and a friend got a poutine fries concoction, seen below.

At one point, I had finished my fries, and was left with a lonely metal ring…

…but that was quickly remedied, Red Robin is after all the home of bottomless steak fries.

I had a terrific birthday, made extra special by friends and family, and the staff of Red Robin. Thanks to all!

Friday, August 28, 2015

French Fry Diary 688: Oscar's Alehouse

On a recent trip to Maryland to chill with the in-laws and see my nephew blow everyone else off the stage in "Mary Poppins," the bro-in-law took us to a very cool place called Oscar's Alehouse in Eldersburg.

According to the bro-in-law, this nice restaurant/low key sports bar is the best place in the area for craft beer, which was not exactly in my wheelhouse, but when he recommended the burgers and onion rings, I was on board. Our server and the staff were very friendly, and not just because the bro is a regular, because I watched as everyone is the restaurant got the same treatment. If I was a resident to the area, I think I might be a regular too, just based on that.

I ordered the Naked Burger (code for plain with nothing on it, my usual preference), with the recommended onion rings, while The Bride got fries with her meal so my bases were covered. I should add that despite my ordering my usual pub fare, Oscar's actually has a pretty varied selection on their menu, including specialty pizzas, salads, and entrees, most highly recommended. This is not your average pub, their menu takes it up a notch.

The burger was perfect and juicy, possibly the best I've had in quite a while. The French fries were golden brown natural cuts, soft and hot on the inside with just the right amount of crunch on the outside - very good, but the onion rings were the kicker. First, they used purple onions, tossed in a batter of just flour, salt, and pepper, and deep-fried. Simple, but great, I loved them. The smooth spicy batter was crunchy and awesome. Best onion rings I've had in some time.

Thanks to the brother-in-law for an excellent recommendation, and I can't wait to visit again so I can return to Oscar's. This was a terrific meal and a great time, two thumbs up.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

French Fry Diary 687: Silk City Diner & Lounge

I'm not sure when the last time I had been to the Silk City Diner & Lounge was. I'm thinking maybe the early 1990s to see a friend's band, the much-missed Cycle of Souls, originally known as The Fleshlords.

Either way, the place looks a lot different in the day time, not sure about the inside, because when friends Judy and Marc asked The Bride and me out to brunch there, we decided to eat outside.

As it was the first sunny hot day of the year, and at an uncomfortable 84 degrees striking quite a contrast to the previous weeks' winter weather, the forty-five minute wait was not fun. It didn't help that not all of our party were feeling their best, but we persevered and made the best of each other's company.

I ordered the Silk Cakes, which were three pancakes, with maple butter and candied bacon. I also got an order of the French fries, just because, after all who knew when the next time I'd be here would be. It was at least two decades since the last time.

The pancakes were huge and fluffy and very filling. The serving of the fresh natural cut fries was also huge, easily enough for the four of us to share. They were sprinkled with pepper, a nice touch, but a bit soggy and greasy, as if they could have used a few more minutes cook time. They were not good.

The home fries that I snagged from The Bride however were pretty good, with chunks of onions and peppers. They probably would've been a better choice.

Happily the company was better than the food. Still, good times.

By the way, have you voted in the poll on fry dipping sauces on the left side here yet? If not, please do. Remember, you can choose multiple answers, and you can always change your mind before the poll closes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

French Fry Diary 686: Burger King Fiery Chicken Fries

Now I've reviewed Burger King's Chicken Fries before here, but now they've come out with Fiery Chicken Fries, a spicy hot variety.

These have been accompanied by a huge marketing push about how hot they are. From the clever as where the fries melt ice cream cones when set down next to them to the incessant Tweeting with #FieryChickenFries suggesting that you "Tweet the heat," they are everywhere.

I finally got to Burger King the other day and got my order of Fiery Chicken Fries. They came in the standard CF box, squared but fit-able into a cup holder, with the clever sauce holder in the lid, but decorated like a chicken luchador. The sides featured the words - "Tweet the Heat," "Stupid Spicy," and "Warning: Hot Chicks Inside."

According to the BK website, the Fiery Chicken Fries are "hotter than ever coated in a blend of spicy cayenne pepper, black pepper and savory spices blended into a crispy breading and cooked to perfection." Hmmm... right. They also come with a variety of dipping sauces, including BBQ, Ranch, Honey Mustard, Zesty, Buffalo, Sweet & Sour, and a mystery sauce made just for BK's Chicken Fries.

When I opened my henhouse box of Fiery Chicken Fries, the first thing I noticed is that they were cold, not hot. Not a good start. In the five-minute drive from Burger King to my home, they'd cooled considerably, and I'm being nice. So I tried them cold, and then I tried to resuscitate them in two separate ways, oven reheating and microwave.

No matter how I tried them, I had the same conclusion. They have more breading than white meat chicken, are horribly dry, and have just a bit of heat in the aftertaste. The marketing is much much better than the product itself. Not recommended.

As I mentioned on the French Fry Diary Facebook Group (and if you're not part of it already, why aren't you?) this is the kind of snack you give to someone you don't like.

Monday, August 24, 2015

French Fry Diary 685: Ruby Lounge, Holiday Inn Totowa NJ

The Bride and I visited the North Jersey area again recently for the wedding of a dear friend. After the ceremony and reception, the wedding party and close friends met up again later at the nearby hotel where many of the guests were staying to hang out and talk. Eventually it was time to eat again, and then came the fries.

The place we chose to chill at was the Ruby Lounge at the Holiday Inn in Totowa, New Jersey. When we had first arrived, much of the restaurant area was empty and there were only a few folks at the bar. One man, the bartender, was doing a one-man job keeping his eye on everything. He took orders, seated patrons, tended the bar, all while the bar and restaurant filled up during the oncoming dinner rush. At one point, he was taking care of easily three dozen people at once.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg. When it came to taking our party's orders for dinner, he did so without writing anything down, despite the complexity of some of the orders. It took some time for the food to come out gradually, but all the orders were perfect. The dude's memory was that good. It was amazing, incredible customer service.

For my dinner I had an excellent chargrilled burger on sesame seed bun. The side of fries were natural cuts, some underdone, but still very good. They kinda reminded me of Burger King's original French fries, in that they appeared to be limp and a little bit greasy, but still tasted great. Also, while not my thing, the cole slaw was highly recommended by several folks. All in all, a great cap to a wonderful day.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

French Fry Diary 684: Post-Fantastic Four Denny's

If you're a regular listener to The GAR! Podcast, you know the dread and anticipation involved in the new Fantastic Four movie. The comic is my podcast partner Ray's favorite, and he's very protective of the FF. His feeling about the movie has the topic of many episodes (here, here, and here, including a recent one where he watched the trailer live on the recording. This past weekend, we saw it together, and then went to Denny's to record the newest episode.

Why Denny's? Because Denny's is currently featuring menu items that are Fantastic Four specific. There's the Fantastic Four Cheese Omelet, the Invisible Woman Slam (with hash browns), the hot Human Torch Skillet (with season red-skinned potatoes), the death by chocolate Doom Lava Cake, and the Thing Burger. Of special interest to readers of this blog is that last, as the Thing Burger not only comes with Denny's unique wavy-cut French fries, but also has crispy hash browns on top of the beef patty. Awesome. Like the Thing. …but what is in that 'Thing sauce'?

Anyway, the plan was for Ray and I to see the new Fantastic Four movie, and then record an episode of the podcast about it afterward… at Denny's. This is how it went right here. We both talked a good fight over a bad movie, but eventually ate none of the Fantastic Four food, although the Doom Lava Cake was darned tempting. And how come Doctor Doom gets an item and Reed Richards doesn't?

Either way, the fries were good, the staff of the Blackwood-Clementon Road Denny's was extremely cooperative, and it was a pretty good episode of the podcast too. Check it out here.

Monday, August 10, 2015

French Fry Diary 683: The Tot Cart

While I'm very close to the city of Philadelphia, I don't get into the city all that much, so there's a whole world of food - specifically the favorite fried food - that I don't get to talk about all that often. I'm talking about food trucks and carts. Unfortunately for the most part they are a city thing, but every once in a while, one will amble over t this side of the bridge.

National Night Out is one of those times. As part of the event, the powers-that-be tried to get everyone to go to what's left of the Echelon Mall, or as they like to call it, Voorhees Town Center. Face-painting, an outside viewing of Cars, and a variety of food carts and trucks were part of the bait. The food cart in question was The Tot Cart. Their motto is "Gourmet Tots, Straight to You" Come on, how could I resist?

In what is already a flustercluck in parking at the best of times, the powers-that-be made parking into a nightmare by blocking off most of what is usually an empty lot. Is it any wonder the Echelon Mall no longer exists? Malls aren't passé, but inept mall management is. Enough about what used to be a viable mall, we're here for the favorite fried food, in this case, tater tots.

I was joined by friend, fellow South Jersey Writer, and sometimes FFD contributor, Sarah Hawkins-Miduski. She had visited The Tot Cart before at another location, and had been impressed. Sadly that was not the case this night.

The signboard in front of the truck offered such goodies as Boardwalk Tots, Drunk Tots, New Bay Tots, Half-Loaded Tots, and Cowgirl Tots, all under the banner of Gourmet Tater Tots. Lots of promise here, most including The Tot Cart's famous Drunk Cheese. I ordered the Just Tots with the Drunk Cheese on the side, while Sarah got an order of the Half-Loaded Tots. We were prepared for the best, but should have done the opposite.

I had asked if the tater tots were made from scratch, and although the woman in the cart seemed pretty well versed in the making of tots from scratch, she admitted that these were frozen Ore-Ida Tater Tots. I was shocked, and sadly, they tasted like the worst deep-fried frozen tater tots you could imagine. Add in that I suspected they had been cooked quite some time before our arrival, these were pretty bad tots, a solid disappointment.

I did like the Drunk Cheese however, a secret beer cheese, or so they say. The cheese had a thick deep flavor, very tasty and would have gone well with fresh tots, had they been available. This added frustration made me less happy. Sarah was not as unhappy but admitted her previous experience was much better, and she wished she'd had those tots. She also thought the bacon, which was a bit too salty, didn't add much to her tots. It wasn't all bad, we talked about upcoming Disney trips as Sarah is a regular listener of The Make Mine Magic Podcast

I was very excited about this outing, and wished the tots had been better. I hope to sample them again at another time, when circumstances might be different, but as for now, I really can't recommend The Tot Cart, sorry.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

A Moment of Silence

With great respect, I'd like to ask for a moment of silence for Bob Lucas, the owner of Donkey's Place in Camden, who passed away on Friday after a battle with lung cancer. In recent years, I have discovered and been blown away by the food, the fries, and by all rights, the best cheesesteak ever, at Donkey's. The Philadelphia area, and the world, has lost a legend.

Details about the man and his life can be found here, as well as my reviews here. Condolences go to the family, and we'll see you soon as always.