Potato’s make french fries, chips and vodka. It’s as if other vegetables aren’t even trying.
Potato’s make french fries, chips and vodka. It’s as if other vegetables aren’t even trying.
Everyone is familiar with McDonald’s iconic French fries–those delectable hot slivers of crispy potato that taste amazing hot out of the fryer. And, just when you thought that those fries would never change, it appears you might have thought wrong.
According to a Friday report in QSR magazine, McDonald’s has brought an entirely new kind of French fry to its global headquarters restaurant in Chicago:
Sweet potato fries.
As it turns out, sweet potato fries are not new to McDonald’s–they have been available in the Netherlands for some time. However, they are new to this country and they can now be purchased as a side order to any other McDonald’s items sold at the global headquarters restaurant.
While I’m personally not a fan–I much prefer the standard fries–many people (including my wife and kids) think that sweet potato fries are all that and more. In addition, sweet potatoes are marginally healthier than regular potatoes (they have more fiber and rate a bit lower on the glycemic index), which is a bonus.
While it’s not yet known whether sweet potato fries will be introduced more widely, given their popularity, I personally wouldn’t be surprised if they one day land on the menu of every McDonald’s restaurant in the United States.
This potential move by McDonald’s follows others that were recently introduced or are still in the works.
According to a report by Crain’s Chicago Business, Impossible Foods–one of the leading manufacturers of plant-based burgers–“is teaming up with a local food manufacturer that is a key supplier for McDonald’s.” This would seem to indicate that McDonald’s is making plans to introduce its own meatless burger in the company’s U.S.-based restaurants–likely within the next year or so.
McDonald’s has been selling meat-free burgers for some time…in Europe. After testing in Sweden during fall 2017, the McVegan burger–featuring a soy-based patty that was created by McDonald’s with Swedish vegan food company Anamma–the item was permanently added to the menu of McDonald’s restaurants in Finland and Sweden in December 2017.
According to news reports, 150,000 of the vegan burgers were sold in just one month. And in January 2019, McDonald’s introduced a vegan McFalafel in Sweden, meatless “chicken” nuggets in Norway, and a vegan Spicy Veggie Wrap in the U.K.
And, of course, it was also recently reported that McDonald’s is going to make a stunning change to its menu–introducing four new international items to its U.S.-based menu, beginning next summer. This move comes on the heels of McDonald’s very successful introduction of its Worldwide Favorites Menu, which included offerings from Spain, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands.
More specifically, the four new items in the Worldwide Favorites Menu 2.0 are expected to include:
According to reports, the new Worldwide Favorites Menu 2.0 will be initially tested in approximately 100 Connecticut-based McDonald’s restaurants sometime this month. If successful, the new items will go on sale nationwide next summer.
In any case, it’s clear that McDonald’s continues to innovate its food offerings to stay one step ahead of the competition. We’ll see if these new sweet potato fries make it out of the test kitchen and into the kitchens of the 14,000 or so McDonald’s restaurants across the country.
My new book of essays, as presented to the Chicago Literary Club by me over the past 15 years, has just been published. It contains two essays on the history of fries and several more that touch on this topic, among a kaleidoscope of other subjects from my travels and research. Available now on Amazon Books, Barner and Noble (bn.com) and from the publisher, Booklocker.com.
First copy of my new book of essays in from publisher for approval. Avail for ordering soon.
Of the many ways to describe Chicago, a french fry paradise probably doesn’t spring to mind first. A city stuffed with extra-thick pizza and political corruption? Sure. But a Shangri-La of freshly cut potatoes bubbling in hot oil? Not exactly.
Perhaps you should reconsider.
While you can find great fries all over the country, the sad fact is that even when you discount most fast food chains, the majority of restaurants purchase frozen fries. It’s cheaper and easier to do so. But for some stubborn reason, Chicago is a city dedicated to fresh-cut french fries, the kind that start with actual potatoes punched through a fry cutter and then cooked twice in oil (first at a lower temperature, and then at a higher temperature). The fries that emerge from the oil sport crispier crusts and creamier insides than their frozen counterparts. Instead of tasting like oil, they capture pure potato flavor.
Restaurants at every price point and in all areas of the city serve fresh-cut fries, from fancy new West Loop spots to old-school hot dog stands. It’s so common, most people here don’t even realize how good we have it. That has to explain why most hot dog stands automatically toss in a bag of fries for free with every order.
So when someone suggested we find Chicago’s best french fries (yes, the word “french” is lowercase in this usage, more on that later), we were initially dumbstruck by the impossibility of the task. There were too many options! Our whole department would have to stuff ourselves on nothing but fries for the whole year to find the city’s best.
That’s when someone suggested a $5 price limit. Sure, it would exclude places like Hopleaf Bar and Boeufhaus, but what better way to prove Chicago’s french fry supremacy than to set such a low limit.
We figured if we worked hard, we could find 40 or maybe 50 restaurants serving fresh-cut fries under the price limit, with no chain restaurants and only regular fries (no waffle, steak, curly, etc). Hours later, the list had swelled to over a 100. (Pause for a moment to admire how incredible that number is.) These included options in both the city and suburbs, though we excluded national chains.
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We divvied up the 106 restaurants among Food & Dining reporters and editors (with help from other Tribune staffers) and got to eating. After the first round, in which participants decided thumbs up or down on each spot, we had narrowed the list to 28. For the second round, Louisa Chu and Nick Kindelsperger revisited those semi-finalists, selecting 20 we thought were worth celebrating. To declare a winner, we embarked on round three, revisiting our top eight picks in one potato-packed day.
Along the way, we debated what makes a great french fry. Is a crispy exterior always better, or can a heavy crust cover up the flavor of the potato? Should the interior have a texture similar to baked potatoes or mashed potatoes? Do you really need condiments?
We also uncovered another reason why many of Chicago’s fries taste so good: animal fat. In a 2001 New Yorker piece titled “The Trouble with Fries,” Malcolm Gladwell writes that although the original McDonald’s was located in California, Ray Kroc developed the most popular fries in human history thanks to a hot dog stand in Chicago. “Ray Kroc, in the early days of McDonald’s, was a fan of a hot-dog stand on the North Side of Chicago called Sam’s, which used what was then called the Chicago method of cooking fries. Sam’s cooked its fries in animal fat, and Kroc followed suit.”
While McDonald’s eventually stopped using beef tallow, many places in Chicago still continue the practice, and our fries are tastier as a result.
Finally, are french fries actually French? According to the “Food Lover’s Companion” by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst, “the name does not come from the fact that their origin is French, because the potatoes are ‘frenched’ — cut into lengthwise strips.” That explains why the french in french fries has not been capitalized for the entirety of this article. However, according to “The Oxford Companion to Food” by Alan Davidson, there’s a very real possibility that french fries may have first developed around Pont-Neuf in Paris in the late 18th century. But the book is quick to point out that many people disagree with this statement, and that the “Belgians are anxious to claim the honour of invention.” In other words, who knows? Still, even with an obnoxious dalliance with calling them freedom fries earlier in the century, the name has stuck.
While french fries definitely weren’t invented here, it’s our humble opinion that Chicago should finally get the attention as an epicenter of the french fry arts that it so rightly deserves. Here are 20 reasons why.
Don’t be tempted by the curly fries on the menu. Those come from the freezer. Instead, make sure to order the fresh-cut fries, which have a delicate crunch and a soft interior. They are the ideal partner with the restaurant’s thinly sliced Italian beef, which is also made in-house.
Shoestring fries with delightful dipping sauces. From the owners of Mott Street restaurant comes the cutest french fry experience I had in our quest. Don’t let the pink tray fool you. The fries themselves were tiny but mightily tasty, crisp yet retaining a soft potato nature. Help yourself to ketchup, hot sauce and chipotle aioli. The “naked” fries are also available dressed with oil poached garlic, which they offered kindly as a convincing taste on the side.
Old-school neighborhood fries. This is the oldest hot dog restaurant in Chicago, with a history dating back to 1938. The building may be boarded up upstairs but that doesn’t deter the steady stream of customers in Homan Square. I don’t remember if owner Gina Fountain actually called me sweetheart, but it was understood. As is her family’s thoughtful care with the fries. Fat and satisfying, they bear a burnish comparable to the original wooden booths, and a soul as true.
3422 Roosevelt Road, 773-722-9935
The Region specializes in an ultra-smashed burger style that you’ll encounter most often around Northwest Indiana at places like Schoop’s. But unlike that south suburban chain, The Region makes its own fries, instead of using frozen spuds. These are cooked until nearly brown, picking up a distinct roasted aroma along the way.
It’s not exactly a rule, but you can usually expect delicious things if an establishment hangs a neon sign in the front window advertising its fresh-cut fries. Talk about good priorities. It’s also nice to see some large boxes of potatoes stacked in the kitchen, just waiting to be cut and fried. Sure enough, these fries are incredibly satisfying, with a crust that stays crisp even after cooling down.
5313 Lincoln Ave., Skokie, 847-674-4067
The Burger Moovment burger joint is all about keeping its food thin. The burgers feature beef patties that have been smashed on a hot griddle, and its fries are skinny, hovering in between the thickness of the kind you’d find at McDonald’s and super thin shoestring fries. Even though they are crispy on the outside, they somehow stay soft within.
This trendy burger joint in Wheaton spends a lot of time on its website discussing its burger. As it should. It’s a great big juicy offering, which uses beef from local producers. But Burger Social should also highlight the fries, which come out of the kitchen with a gorgeous blond hue. Each one also has a remarkably crisp crust, with a pleasing baked potatolike interior.
Super crunchy fries ready to rock. If you’re worried about the loud music played with Brgrbelly’s rock and roll theme, rest assured the baby at the next table slept in his carrier at this family friendly restaurant. Husband and wife co-owners Steve and Nicole O’Brien opened in Portage Park six years ago, weathering the neighborhood’s changes. Through it all the burgers starred but the fries deserve a solo too. A nearly crazy potato chip crunch breaks through to a soft and tender finish. Get mayo as a dip like you’re back from a European tour.
Susie’s is probably best known for its creatively topped loaded fries. Cheese, chili, chicken, gyros, Polish sausages, bacon— you can get it all and then some on top of your fries. But it turns out that the fries underneath deserve attention, too. They have a remarkably thin crust, which gives way to a supremely soft interior. Instead of salt, they are given a shake of seasoning salt, which adds an unexpected flavor profile — a little spicy and weirdly savory — to each bite.
This Vegas-themed shop in Mundelein serves textbook fresh-cut french fries, with a crunchy exterior and a fluffy interior. The restaurant cooks the fries in vegetable oil, but the owner let me know he changes that oil often, because old oil can lead to off flavors. Sometimes it’s the simplest things, like making sure you’re using fresh oil, which distinguish good fries from the truly memorable ones.
Clean-edged classic Northwest Side-style fast food fries. A ’50s diner vibe includes memorabilia showing namesake founder Bob-O and the converted bus that the shop once called home. Phyllis Bartell and her family took over in the ’70s. Now fryer baskets filled with fries always stand ready in Irving Woods. Crisp and fluffy, these are textbook fresh-cut fries. You can help yourself to ketchup and celery salt if you like. Like all Chicago-style hot dog stands, paradoxically there are no condiment rules with fries.
When I asked Eddie Lakin, owner of Edzo’s, what made the fries at his Evanston burger shop so good, he exhaustively walked me through every step of the process. This was an excellent sign, because it proved how much he’d considered every step. Like most places, he fries the potatoes twice, once at a lower temperature to evenly cook the middle, and finally at a higher temperature to crisp the outside. But in between, he cools the fries down, which helps make the crust that much crisper when cooked the second time.
These are listed on the menu as golden fries, and there’s really no better way to describe them. Each pale yellow fry looks seriously ready for its Instragram close-up. Fortunately, each one also has a delicate crunch, with a fluffy, baked potatolike interior. Needless to say, they also pair exceptionally well with a big, juicy burger — the only other item on the restaurant’s hilariously brief menu.
Top Notch has been doing things the old fashioned way since 1942. That means that all the beef for the burgers is ground at the restaurant, and, most relevant for this discussion, that the fries are cooked in oil laced with beef tallow. So even though the fries might appear like standard blonde-hued diner fries, they have a meaty backbone that makes them far more satisfying.
2116 W. 95th St., 773-445-7218
This iconic River Grove stand is a finely oiled fast-food machine that kicks out hot dogs and fresh-cut french fries at an astonishing rate. It’s mesmerizing to simply watch them dress the hot dogs with speed, before tossing on a mess of fries and wrapping up everything in paper. In fact, if you order fries separately, you throw a wrench in the machine, slowing down the process by a good minute or two. But regardless of whether you order just fries or get them piled on a hot dog, they’ll be creamy in the middle, with a delicately crisp crust. While great on their own, they do reach their maximum potential when combined with one of the stand’s hot dogs.
On my first visit to this retro hot dog stand in suburban Des Plaines, I watched a cook shovel a huge portion of white beef tallow into the fryer. That’s the exact moment I knew the fries would be good. The tallow infuses the potato with a meaty profile, almost like the flavor of a baked potato when it mixes with juices from a steak. Of course, it helps that the potatoes are cut in house and fried twice. But it’s the flavor from the tallow that will linger after you’ve polished off the whole order.
Crunchy batons with the fry connoisseur’s coveted, crackling exploded ends. Illinois Bar & Grill is best known for the self-proclaimed best burger in Illinois, as well as one of Nick’s picks as best burger in Chicago. I say the fries alone are worth a trip across town unless you’re lucky enough to live or work in Archer Heights. Whether you’re going Friday after work or Monday morning, both actual times I visited, you’ll have to wait for your order. The reward is a gloriously bountiful basket presented with a cold squeeze bottle of ketchup. Not that you need any condiment with crunchy flavorful bits providing more than enough interest and complexity.
4135 W. 47th St., 773-847-2525
Soft, irregular and irreverent, stuffed with baked potato flavor. This is the oldest Chicago hot dog stand in the same location, claimed “Hot Dog” Faruggia recently behind the counter at Grand Avenue and Pulaski Road. Open since 1954, Jimmy’s Red Hots, named after Faruggia’s father, Jimmy, used to fry in beef tallow, but now uses a vegetable base. I grew up a block away in West Humboldt Park, and these were my first fries ever, imprinting Proustian memories of the tallow that leaves a telltale waxy feel in one’s mouth. If your ideal fry is crisp or crunchy, these aren’t that. They are, however, possibly the closest you can get molecularly to baked potato in fry form. No ketchup, but you can request hot dog condiments and make it a meal.
Redhot Ranch’s fresh-cut fries are dished out with a stunning lack of fanfare. As soon as they are pulled from the fryer, a cook salts them, wraps them up in paper, shoves them into a brown paper bag and slides them across the counter. So why are they so irresistible? The crust has an audible crunch, which breaks into an interior that’s like the creamiest mashed potatoes you can imagine. Instead of rinsing the potatoes after cutting, a practice that removes some of the starch on the exterior, these go straight in the oil. This explains the fantastic crunch, and the curious fact that the fries sometimes latch on to each other in the oil and never let go. So don’t be surprised if you reach down for one, yet come out with three or four. Of course, Redhot Ranch also slings out an incredible double cheeseburger and a flawless minimalist-style hot dog, but you’d be silly to ignore the potatoes.
2072 N. Western Ave., 773-772-6020
Long, languorous golden bars filled seemingly with silken whipped potatoes. Mike and Ann Antonopoulos opened their one-room fast food restaurant nearly 50 years ago as immigrants from Greece. Little has changed, except their son John joined the family business decades ago. He said his father is Mr. D, but doesn’t know why. A surprising mystery since it’s just the trio who work so closely together, unless you’ve witnessed the way they work. Imagine a silent ceremony for Japanese tea, instead transforming the same potatoes that steakhouses use into edible kinetic art. These biggest bakers, twice the size and price as those typically used for fries, are sliced then dropped twice in vegetable fat and beef tallow. Sheathed like taut tempura, the first fry you bite into will release a puff of pure potato essence. The warm glow inexplicably evokes for me such strong memories of lingering over fries and wine on the Mediterranean, that stepping out the door in Montclare I half expect to see the shimmering sea.
Here are the other 86 restaurants we visited in our french fry quest:
Tribune staffers Sade Carpenter, Jennifer Day, Joe Gray, Adam Lukach, Tony Puricelli, Josh Noel, Phil Vettel and Grace Wong helped taste and evaluate the fries.
Created by the Chicago Tribune Dataviz team. On Twitter @ChiTribGraphics
Copyright © 2019, Chicago Tribune
The producers of the acclaimed Anthony Bourdain series on food adventure are in the midst of creating a special to be called “Fries,” filmed around the world and bringing into perspective the cultural phenom of Fries, a subject I’ve been enthusiastically wring on in FrenchFryHistory. Com for a while. Looking forward to it, while now enjoying great fries in NewZealand and soon Australia, as we steam north-west across a foggy Tasman Sea pre-dawn.
Is it too early to declare this the ‘The Year of the Fry?’
Think about it. McDonald’s just launched limited-time cheesy bacon fries, no doubt targeting Wendy’s Baconator Fries (which, to be fair, have been around for nearly four years). Wendy’s responded to the launch by putting its version in the promotional spotlight – free Baconator Fries to anyone who ordered through the brand’s mobile app – inciting a bacon fry battle of sorts to start the New Year.
French fries have long been a quick-service staple, as well as the subject of intense debate over which brand does them best. However, a case can be made that recent launches have been different. Sexier.
Consider Taco Bell’s Nacho Fries, for example. First introduced in January 2018, the Nacho Fries quickly became the brand’s most successful product launch ever – more than 53 million orders were sold in the product’s first three months alone. The fries made up more than 30% of all Taco Bell orders, yielding both check and transaction increases.
So successful was this product launch, Taco Bell has already brought it back twice as a limited-time offer. Nacho Fries were inarguably a major factor in the chain’s strong 2018 performance.
(I condone the thought behind this radical, impractical approach.)
What better way to celebrate a Friday than with French fries?
Today, July 13, is National French Fry Day and plenty of places are offering free or discounted deals on everyone’s favorite crispy potato treat. Not every location participates in all promotions, so be sure to check ahead.
Here’s a look at some of the best deals and discounts for National French Fry Day:
Place an order via McDonald’s mobile app for $1 or more and receive a free medium order of fries.
Selected locations are offering free order of regular hand-cut fries with any purchase. Offer good July 13 only from open to close.
Get two small orders of fries and two Original Chicken Sandwiches for $4.99 with a coupon in the restaurant’s app.
Sign up for the chain’s emails and receive a free small fries and beverage with purchase of any One-Third Pound Thickburger.
The chain has brought back Nacho Fries.
Fries form half of one of the top Belgian foods along with a pot of mussels – known as moules frites – and are a national Belgian symbol with political punch.
If you say the word potato, the Irish Potato Famine of 1845 and the origination of tubers in South America come to mind. But chop them up, drop them in a vat of simmering oil, add a touch of salt and you’ve got a whole new ball-game of Belgian fries. So where exactly is the French fries origin?
Indeed, you will make no mistake about the French fries origin once you visit Belgium: Fries have permeated into every pore of Belgian culture from pop art and comic strips to music and advertising. You will find fritesstalls (frietkot) across Belgium, which are certain to ensure the economic return on Belgian potatoes (bintjes) for eons to come.
The ‘chip’ or ‘French fry’ has gone a long way in putting the Kingdom of Belgium on the map – culinary or otherwise – even if they are called ‘freedom fries’ in-flight on Air Force One, ‘patates kizartmasi‘ in an Istanbul Café, ‘gamza teekim‘ on the streets of Seoul or ranskalaiset perunat sitting on a bench in Helsinki.
Often mistaken as French in origin, the word ‘french’ became synonymous with frites due to the fact that, in old English, to ‘french’ was to ‘cut lengthwise’. Hence, the French fry.
“We modest Belgians don’t mind the French claim because we know that fries are God’s gift to our people,” exclaims a website completely dedicated to the art form of Belgian fries making.
You wouldn’t be the only one to mistake the French fries origin. ‘Fry ban targets wrong country’ went a Reuters headline at the height of the French product boycott in the US following its stance against the Iraqi conflict.
“The chip is essentially regarded in Belgium as a culture, social strata and gender bridge: soul food,” says Paul Ilegems, curator of the Belgium Chip Museum on the second floor of Frietkot Max on Antwerp’s Groenplaats.
“What would Belgium be without chips?” he asks in the pages of “Het Belgisch Frietenbook, “Just a grayish zone, an insignificant stain on the globe, deprived of any personality.”
A bit harsh perhaps but it’s obviously clear that frites are serious stuff in Belgium.
“Belgium is beer, cartoons, mussels, chips and the Royal family,” a frietkot (frite stall) owner sums up.
What we recognise today as Belgian ‘frites‘ or ‘friets‘ is thought to have originated in the Meuse region in the year 1680. The poor inhabitants of the Meuse valley area subsisted mainly on fish, but when the river Meuse froze in 1680, potatoes were cut into the shape of fish, fried and used as a substitute to their main staple – or so the story of Belgian fries goes.
The Belgian tourism board says that Belgian fries – ‘les frites’ – were incorrectly named ‘French fries’ by American servicemen when they came to Belgium at the end of World War I. The French fries mislabel was reportedly the result of naming the fries after the French language spoken in Wallonia.
There has been much disagreement over the origin of frites as the region lies in the heart of French-speaking Wallonia, forcing Flanders to desperately seek a Flemish origin to the food. But, as in most countries, food can define culture and in frites are generally accepted as a unifying force and thoroughly ‘Belgian’ – francophone or not.
French fries (or rather Belgian fries) are thought to have arrived in the US in the late 1700s when Thomas Jefferson brought the method back to the colonies. We can guess it’s the method he brought back and not a soggy bag of chips.
In the UK, the first chip is believed to have materialised at Dundee Market in the 1870s, traded by a Belgian immigrant named Edward De Gernier.
As for the frites add-on essential, mayonnaise, its origin is cloudy. One theory connects it to the harbour town of Mahon, liberated by Cardinal Richelieux from the English. The towns of Bayonne and Mayon, however, also claim the golden morsels as their own.
Frites have essentially become a national Belgian symbol sold out of caravans and shacks and chalets, fried twice (trade secret), dash of salt, glob of mayonnaise, a little plastic fork and presto: perfect fries.
The idea has been exported to New York and, as the song goes, if a chip can make it there it can make it anywhere.
Lest we forget though that there are many levels of Belgian chip-eatery – not all of them are handed over a greasy counter in an off-white paper cone by a burley chip-van owner in Anderlecht. On restaurant menus you can find filet mignon served with a chiffoné of pommes frites, if you please.
Fries have come a long way since their fishy origins and have mutated to fit each culture that has adopted them – newspaper-stained and doused in salt and vinegar in Birmingham, or cooked in peanut oil and served in a basket of palm leaves in Borneo, to name a few.
But they remain Belgian through and through while encouraging Breughel-belly across the globe.
Although the US may not have known it, they were killing two birds with one stone when they boycotted French fries – they made a point to the French and rejected a Belgian product at the same time.
Who would have guessed the political power of potatoes?
The best potatoes for French fries are fresh, never frozen, and with a medium-firm consistency that is not too firm nor too soft. In the best French fries recipe, frites are cut rectangular around 1cm square. The secret to the Belgian fries recipe is that the potato is fried twice. The Belgian tourism board recommends that the first fry should be done at 150°C and the second fry at 175 °C.
The result are golden perfect French fries that have a soft inside once your crunch through a crispy outside. You then just have to choose your frite topping or speciality fries sauces in Belgium, such as:
Read tips on how to get perfect French fries in this not-no-secret French fries recipe.