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Poorly Engineered French Fries

  • m

I'm not a big fan of fries. I have them occasionally and I've had some good ones and some so-so ones. I used to think McDonald's did a good fry, but stopped eating there (and felt better for it) a few years ago. Maybe I should do some research. Most of the time I like 5 Guys fries, but it varies, even in the shop that I've consistently had a good batch. I rarely order them, though, because you get enough for 3 people in an order and I hate to waste them. I've taken them home and had fair luck reheating them, but unless I'm going directly home, if they stay in my car very long the car smells like a fast food restaurant for a few days.

Yesterday, I ate at the Elevation Burger which I do about once a year. I never got excited about them when they opened, and never really cared for their hand cut daily cooked in olive oil fries, but there was a coupon for a free order of fries in the current Falls Church News Press, so I thought I'd give them another try.

These are small, probably qualify as 'shoestring," about 3/16" square. Short, too, most 1" or less long, an occasional one about 2" long. Cooked until crisp and brown outside, which is usually a good sign, but because they have a large surface area for a small amount of "meat," they cool down very quickly. By the time I was half way through my burger, they were cool.

I figured that the cross section was determined by their slicer, so that would always be the same, but I asked the counterman if they were always that short. He hmmmmmed a bit and made the lame excuse that sometimes they're longer, sometimes they're shorter, depends on the size of the potato. Well, these must have come from a too short potato because they were hard to handle and just not very satisfying to eat. At least they were free.

Anything really outstanding out there, particularly offered in one-person-friendly portions? What's the deal with duck fat?

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  1. "what's the deal with duck fat?"

    kidding? right?

    hit one of the Belgian-Franco-ish places in the District that boast of this, I believe Beck's, Belga among others and some not in that exact genre use it.

    but it will spoil you for other types.

    of the single serving non duck fat, fast-food variety I still love Ollie's Trolley downtown (12th and E NW)

    1 Reply
    1. re: hill food

      I agree with the duck fat fries intrigue--what is the big deal? Had them at Victoria Gastro Pub and other restaurants--they were mushy--I was totally disappointed and thought that I missed out on something.

      I've had truffle fries at Stoney River and they were amazing and crispy and softly flavored with the truffle essence.

      At the Olive Grove Restaurant in the Baltimore area--they twice fry the potatoes--and that really makes a difference in texture and taste--just like Belgian fries. FoiGras

    2. Had the duck fat fries at Victoria Gastropub in Columbia a few weeks ago. They were incredible. Charcuterie plate was fine, lobster grilled cheese was ok, but the fries were worth going back for.

      My other favorites in the area are from Beefalo Bobs. Boardwalk style, and refried when ordered. I sat in the truck eating them, and tried to figure out what was so special about them, and it mainly was the fact that they weren't completely coated with salt.

      7 Replies
      1. re: laststandchili

        Seriously, I'm not going that far out of my way to get a $7 order of fries. I only brought up the duck fat part because that seems to be something that people rave over and I was curious why.

        My issue with the Elevation Burger fries was not with what they were cooked in, but rather their form factor. I want a piece of potato big enough so that I don't need to take a bite out of a bundle of six or so in order to taste the potato. I guess I just don't like "shoestring" fries. I'm guessing that about 3/8" x 1/2" should be about the right cross section, with minimum length of about 2-1.2" to make me happy. It's why I said "engineered" and not "fabulous" fries. But they should taste good, too, of course, not oily, not too salty, and particularly drenched in "seasoned salt."

        I've had some decent fries with a burger at Glory Days when I've remembered to ask the server to grab an order fresh out of the fryer before they get seasoned in the kitchen.

        1. re: MikeR

          So you like fries with more heft. Some people like shoestring fries, some people like boardwalk fries, some people like steak fries. Some people like all types of fries.

          1. re: reiflame

            I guess I'm not that much of a student of french fries. I'm not sure what boardwalk fries are, never have eaten fries on a boardwalk. If I have the concept right, when it comes to form factor, steak fries and shoestring fries are on opposite ends of the scale. Is that correct? If that's the case, then my preference tends toward steak fries, though they don't need to be quite that big.

            I simply can't find anything appealing about shoestring fries unless you have a dietary restriction that makes them the closest you can get to eating french fries. For those who like this style, what's the appeal? Maybe I'm missing something and I need to adjust my attitude or expectations to try to find the good in them.

            1. re: MikeR

              With shoestrings, I think people like them because they grew up on McDonalds and they have fond memories of that style of frenchfry. I remember when they were fried in beef tallow and were indeed very good. Now, if I don't eat them fresh within 3 minutes of purchase, they're pretty much inedible to me. Part of the appeal is the crisp-to-steamy ratio: there's more surface area to get crispy and less potato inside to get steamy. It's the french fry style for people who don't like potatoes? Anyway, a lot of people seem to hate Shake Shack fries for some reason; maybe they just associate crinkle cut with bad frozen fries they had growing up. I think they're delicious; the raised ridge on the crinkle gives it just the right potato chip crispiness. Then again, maybe I'm biased because I love the frozen crinkle cut fries that Chinese carryouts fry the hell out of.

              1. re: monkeyrotica

                A little credit where a little is due. I gave Elevation another try today (another free fries coupon) and this batch, though still skinny, was better than the ones from my original comment. Maybe the guy cutting the potatoes last time just put the potato in crosswise instead of lengthwise, but this batch had most of the shoestrings in the 3 to 4 inch range so they were easier to handle (because of the longer handle). They were a little crisper, but still I wasn't half way through the batch when they got too cool to be interesting. It's easier to throw away half an order when they're free. <g>

                I don't think there's anything special about olive oil other than that it might not be as bad for us as other frying oils, but I still prefer fries with more potato than a shoestring form factor.

                And for the record, I too think of frozen heated-in-the-oven when I see crinkle-cuts, and curly fries??? What are their purpose in life?

            2. re: reiflame

              This is the truth here. It's really a personal thing. Of course, there are "bad" fries, but it's really one person's opinion vs. another.

            3. re: MikeR

              I wasn't seriously suggesting that you do.

          2. I really like the fries at Eammons (Alexandria), Dogs Bite (Bethesda), and Shake Shack (Dupont)...

            11 Replies
            1. re: maypo

              Why? What do you like in fries that make these special?

              1. re: MikeR

                Shake Shack has crinkle-cut, Yukon Gold fries that are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Yukon Golds have a strong potato flavor that holds up well as fries. They are very good.

                Roy Rogers fries taste like a less-greasy McDonald's clone but in a 3x thicker package. They are probably my favorite fast food fries.

                1. re: CDouglas

                  Hmmm . . . I'll have to look around to see if there's a Roy Rogers around here. I used to like Double-R burgers in my wider and heavier days. ;)

                  1. re: MikeR

                    I hate all fast food fries. Well, I dislike most fast food, period. However, the fries at Checkers are the best you can get in the fast food category. They are larger than most, longer and are always served hot.

                    They appear to be cut from actual potatoes, and don't taste as if they're regurgitated Pringles.

                    Best of all, they do offer a small size.

                    1. re: Transplanted Texan

                      Matter of taste, but I find the Checkers fries inedible. They're coated with that "batter" which to me just gets in the way of the potato. I've always felt that they should serve fried batter without the potato for folks who love that batter.

                      1. re: monkeyrotica

                        Gaaak! What a terrible thing to do to a potato. Whenever I'm served those I apologize for not realizing how they made their fries, send them back, and order something else. Probably can't do that at Checkers, though.

                        1. re: MikeR

                          That's why I always steer clear of "seasoned fries" in restaurants. Inevitably, they're frozen coated fries or the seasoning skews salt or parsley or some weird spice that has no business being on fries. It's getting so's "hand-cut fries" means "pushed through a wire fry cutter then dumped in cold oil and left hanging for an hour until someone orders fries then they're dumped in slightly less colder oil and thrown under a heat lamp to warm up the sheen of grease and tossed with some weird spice that has no business being on fries then we stick you with a bill for the month's rent."

                    2. re: MikeR

                      There's a Roy Rogers in Gaithersburg on the corner of Lost Knife and Odenhal.

                    3. re: CDouglas

                      Second Shake Shack and Roy's, two examples of a consistent product cooked at the right temperature by people who know WTF they are doing and aren't afraid to throw out a batch if they've been out too long or not fried proper.

                      1. re: CDouglas

                        My favorite crinkle-cut ffries are from Dukes on Route 1 in Elkridge. They'd pretty damn good with a little Old Bay.

                    4. re: maypo

                      Do you mean Bold Bite in Bethesda-- the hot dog place? Not trying to be annoying, just curious because I've never tried that place (or heard of a place called Dogs Bite).

                    5. I have not seen them around for a while (but I don't go out every day) but I thought the poutine frome the Eat Wonky truck was great.

                      Frankley I like my fries thin and very . . . very crispy. If they are not going to be crispy . . . then dress them up with gravy and cheese curds . . . .

                      It has been a while, but as I remember them the fries at Central were awesome . . .

                      I love the burgers at Five Guys, but the fries . . . .yuck! Never crispy. Always too greasy.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: drewpbalzac

                        You'd probably like these fries from Elevation Burger. Maybe I've been lucky with 5 Guys fries but they're almost big enough, not crunchy like those canned potato sticks but with a good bite to the outer surface. Occasionally I'll get a tired batch, so I just take it back to the counter and ask them to get me some fresh ones. That always works.

                        My only problem with 5 Guys fries is that there are too many of them in an order that costs nearly $3. I'd order them every time I get a burger there if I could get one cup (which is usually three times overfilled with the "regular" order) for a buck or a buck and a half. I've e-mailed them, spoken to store managers, and basically been told that they won't do that, that they like giving lots value for the price (which they truly do). If I was just a little more outgoing, I'd turn around to the person standing behind me in line and ask if he or she would split an order of fries with me.

                        1. re: MikeR

                          I like the Fries at Elevation Burger until they get cold. Something about the olive oil .. . .once they hit room temp . . they are over.

                          1. re: drewpbalzac

                            Thats one of the "engineering" aspects. Because of the relatively large surface area relative to the bulk, they cool off very quickly.

                            What I don't know is whether this is something that's necessary because they cook them in olive oil? Perhaps due to the temperature range over which olive oil can be held?

                          2. re: MikeR

                            i know Five Guys is successful at what they do.....but I NEVER get fries there unless I'm with someone else.....their order of fries can feed a family of 4.

                            Too bad because I do think they are usually really good

                          3. re: drewpbalzac

                            drewp, the EatWonky truck has been retired. I liked their poutine too.

                            I normally prefer a thin, crispy fry, but there's something about the fries at Five Guys.

                          4. Zest up at Barracks Row does a good fry too . . .nice and thin

                            1. I think they're great, as are their burgers. I don't know why anyone takes issue with olive oil and potatoes – the Italians have been using that combo for hundreds of years. McDonald's only had half-way decent fries when they were cooked in animal fat. 5 Guys are good, but they frequently overcook them (for my taste, that is – I like them on the softer side).

                              Too bad Ray's are so lousy. He really doesn't give the potato any love. A damn shame since the burgers there are so good.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: biscuit

                                I have no issue with olive oil and potatoes. I saute potato slices or chunks in olive oil. I don't think of it as a deep fry oil, though it doesn't seem to do any harm. When they're flabby or crunchy to nearly burnt outside, it's not because they're cooked in olive oil, it's that the oil isn't at the right temperature.

                                I do think it's kind of pretentious that they (Elevation Burger) make a big deal of the olive oil, though. It may make it possible for people who are watching their intake of certain types of fat to eat the fries. But they, too, should be able to enjoy a really great fry when they splurge.

                                1. re: MikeR

                                  They're making a big deal out of it as an alternative, a selling point – and yes, perhaps healthier. For me it really boils down to taste and texture. I think they taste great and I prefer the softer texture, but in the end its just personal preference.

                              2. The problem with Elevation Fries is that they're cooked in olive oil. People think "Yay! They're cooked in healthy olive oil! I can now eat tons of fries with no guilt!" Except that cooking potatoes in olive oil requires a lot of skill, skill that Elevation workers don't seem to have. Roman street fritti are meant to be eaten hot out of the fryers, not after they've sat under a heat lamp for god knows how long. The other problem is that olive oil is of notoriously suspect quality. It's common practice for olives of vastly different qualities to be grown all over the world, then get processed and shipped to Italy where they get an "Imported from Italy" label, a premium pricetag, and they're dispatched all over the world.

                                Duck fat fries, particularly if they're drowned in gravy and cheese curd, are a real treat. However, my favorite are those fried in beef fat. I always save the rendered fat from roast ribs and briskets and fry potatoes in them. They remind me of the old McDonalds fries fried in beef tallow.

                                My favorite fries are from bulletproof Chinese carryouts. Frozen crinkle cuts tossed in the vats they fry the egg rolls and wontons in. They seem to pick up some of that flavor. Perfectly crispy outside, steamy inside. Great with a side of chicken wings and mambo sauce.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: monkeyrotica

                                  The only Elevation I've tried is at Park Potomac, and have had very good ones, and pretty bad ones. Monkey is right on -- if they are cooked perfectly, they are delicious, but they just aren't consistent. Not even close.

                                  I dislike Five Guys and Boardwalk fries because they are a dense, heavy, greasy style that doesn't do it for me, at least when I've ever had them over the years. I know what I like, but can't think of one place that consistently pleases.

                                  1. re: Terrie H.

                                    The problem with Five Guys fries is two-fold: (1) the potatoes come from widely different sources, (2) they're not fried twice or at the right temperature, and (3) they're thrown in that cup and bag that allows the steam to build up and make them soggy. Alright. That's three things, but it's a similar situation with their burger. Shake Shack and In-N-Out wrap half their burger in paper, allowing the meat to "breathe." 5G just slaps them in foil where they soggify. A lot of the greasiness complaint is simply steam building up in the bun. That said, the Five Guys on Quander Road south of Old Town Alexandria delivers a consistent product, which I attribute to the manager running a tight ship with a well-trained crew.

                                    1. re: monkeyrotica

                                      On the rare occasion that I get fries at Five Guys, I immediately tear the bag open, lay down a few layers of napkins, and dump them out to drain and not steam. If they're limp and soggy, I'll take them back to the counter and ask for a fresh batch.

                                      They stay hot and fresh tasting through about half the batch, which suggests that if there are two people sharing an order, it should be OK through the meal if it starts out OK. They're usually consistent at the Five Guys at Merrifield and Duke Street & Braddock Rd. The old one at King St. & Beauregard is less consistent.

                                      Still, after opening up the bag and draining, if I take the leftovers home (they're not all that bad when re-heated in the oven if you don't mind extra crispy) the inside of my car smells like oil for a day or so.

                                      Yes, the original formula McDonald's fries were indeed good. But if I knew I was going to live this long anyway I would have taken better care of myself back then.

                                  2. re: monkeyrotica

                                    I didn't think that at all. I just thought, "wow, these taste great." The flavor of olive oil is a natural pairing for potatoes, as is duck fat, although I've had duck fat fries that were poorly executed. Every time I've had fries from Elevation, they were fresh out of the fryer. They don't use heat lamps. Can't say that for a lot of places.

                                    Suspect quality? How do you qualify that exactly? Wouldn't that also apply to the grease/fat/oil/excuse for a food product used in all establishments, surely including divey Chinese carryouts?

                                    1. re: biscuit

                                      The two consequences of globalization of the food industry are (1) cheaper foodstuffs and (2) cheaper foodstuffs. It all comes down to truth in labelling: it's far too easy for Italian olive oil to be diluted with cheaper, lesser quality oil. And the thing about divey Chinese carryouts is that they're not advertising their product as "fried in pure extra virgin Italian olive oil." It's cheapo-quality soybean oil/rendered hobo fat and that's what I'm expecting. Nothing more.


                                      1. re: monkeyrotica

                                        That's a broad assumption without any specific evidence against EB, so I can only take your comment at face value.

                                        And anyway, like I said, it tastes good to me, which is why I'll keep going back and you'll keep going to the takeout spots. I'm not going to a burger joint to get a colon cleanse.

                                        1. re: biscuit

                                          If that's the case, try Good Stuff Eatery. Spike's burgers go through me like a Ferrari.

                                          1. re: monkeyrotica

                                            Ah, Spike's. Indeed this is true. Totally agree with you on this one! :)

                                  3. I don't recommend anything else at Perry's, but they make a good basket of twice-cooked fries.

                                    1. Roy Rogers has good fries. Whenever I head up to Frederick, I always stop there for their roast beef and fries.

                                      Closer to home, I think that The Burger Joint has excellent fries. Nice thickness, crisp on the outside, and fluffy on the inside. And not in the least bit greasy. The burgers and fries are served on a paper-lined pizza tray and there is not a trace of grease on the paper under the fries.

                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: Vidute

                                        Right. Forgot about BGR. But the burgers there are big enough so that I don't need fries. I really wish the over-the-counter places had a "Mike size" order of fries.

                                        1. re: MikeR

                                          BGR has a children's menu. Maybe they'll sell you the kids' portion of fries. Next time I stop in, I'll ask.

                                          1. re: Vidute

                                            Actually, at BGR, when you get the Lunch Box Special (burger, fries and a drink for just a little too much $$) you get a reasonable portion of fries, probably because they know they're serving them to one person. Same with the fries that accompany a burger at Glory Days.

                                            Though I suppose there are duos who order one BGR special and one burger alone and share the fries. It's Five Guys fries that are big enough for at least two, maybe three, and that's the "regular" order. How could the large order be any bigger? ;)

                                            1. re: MikeR

                                              The large are served in a large, paper grocery sack. :D

                                              I used to enjoy Glory Days (especially Burger Night), but gave up on them after three trips for burger and fries. At each of those last three trips, the Burgers were greasy and the fries were so greasy that you could "milk" them. I sent the fries back each time for a fresh order, but they came back the same. The manager didn't see anything wrong with the way they were prepared, so I switched over to the slaw.

                                              1. re: Vidute

                                                I suppose it depends on which Glory Days, what day, time, phase of the moon, and so on. I hit the one on Lee Highway at Nutley Road about once a month for a cheap burger lunch and the burgers are always very good there. Tastes like meat and cooked just right (I ask for medium rare), juicy but not greasy at all. I only get the fries occasionally, and ask for them unseasoned. That way, if the waiter is paying attention, they'll be fresh out of the fryer. But I usually treat myself better and have the "seasonal vegetables" - broccoli and carrots seem to always be in season. ;)

                                              2. re: MikeR

                                                The "lunch box" at BGR is $8.99 for the (half pound?) burger, fries, and soda. This is "a little too much $$"? Really?

                                                1. re: DanielK

                                                  I'm the king of the $5 lunch. I'll splurge now and then, but really, it's too much cash and too much food for everyday.

                                                  1. re: MikeR

                                                    OK, I thought you were talking about the value, not the price.

                                                    I agree that you wouldn't want to eat that much daily for lunch, but $9 for that combo is an absolute STEAL in value.

                                        2. I'm not a fry snob by any means, but I enjoy quality fries from time to time. I'm in the Baltimore-ish area, so I may not be much of a help in regards to your quest for fantastic fries.

                                          I love duck fat fries. The flavor is rich. It's hard to explain, but there is a level of coziness associated with duck fat fries.

                                          Here are my two picks for duck fat fries:

                                          Salt Tavern (Baltimore) - Best duck fat fries I've had thus far. They are crispy and are not overly oily. They are certainly for sharing, but totally worth it with Salt's aiolis.

                                          Victoria Gastropub- They make a quality duck fat fry, not as fabulous as Salt's, but good.

                                          Alewife in Baltimore also has okay duck fat fries. It is a nice place to check out.

                                          I also like Five Guys, probably because the fries remind me of the fresh cut fries available at local fairs.

                                          I must admit, I'm hooked on Chick Fil-A fries. They are so fantastic.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: armybaker

                                            If you like duck fat fries, Annabel Lee Tavern in Canton makes some pretty good ones.

                                          2. The problem with shoestring fries (like at Elevation Burger) is too high an oil to potato ratio. I only had Elevation Burger fries once and my take is too greasy also due to an inherently lower frying temperature for olive oil. I rate Five Guys fries highly. I know some people get them soggy when the place is backed up with customers. My location is more quiet. I said nothing to them yesterday and got a slightly over fried batch which I like. Nice and brown.

                                            Hot out of the fryer with ketchup and salt on the side to dip them in as you choose....This is my ideal. I never drizzle ketchup over them. I would never like poutine fries or gravy covered fries, way too soggy. My ideal is the ketchup to cut through the oil on a crisp hot french fry plus a tiny bit of salt to bring out the potato flavor. Ketchup is the perfect french fry compliment. Yes I am aware that malt vinegar and aioli and mayo rule in parts of Europe.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: zzDan

                                              I always thought ketchup overwhelmed the flavor of the potato, whereas mayo or aioli compliment it.

                                              1. re: biscuit

                                                I used to feel the same way about the sweet sauce on Ledo's pizza. Then I realized it works perfect with salty pepperoni and anchovies to balance the flavor. Plain cheese is just too sweet. So if the fries are on the salty side, ketchup works fine. For me at least.

                                                1. re: biscuit

                                                  Just a little bit of ketchup not a lake

                                              2. An alternative to fries are KFC Potato Wedges. KFC also serves fries, but the wedges are large, lightly battered, and seasoned with savory herbs and spices. A little like biting into a baked potato with crunchy exterior.

                                                1. I know you say you don't want to travel, but fwiw Bryan Voltaggios's new place in Frederick, Family Meal, offers fries cooked in duck fat.

                                                  Years ago (more than 10) there used to be a cheese steak place in Dewey Beach called Fatty Pattys (other locations in DE, I think). Those were the best fries I have ever had.

                                                  1. Believe it or not, my husband had some exceptional fries at Stoney River the other night.. They were crisp and tasty. I helped him devour those luscious morsels. He dipped in ketchup while I dipped into his leftover extra serving of Caesar dressing. I really liked the dressing as something different from the standards of vinegar, ketchup, etc. ONe time I bought fries from "Boardwalk Fries" and dipped them in Thousand Island Dressing--less intense then ketchup. It's fun to experiment. FoiGras