French fries go great with about anything, can be made any number of ways – thin, thick, with the skin or without, seasoned or plain – and can be topped with about anything.
Like pizza and hot dogs, everyone has an idea of which kind are the best, but there is no universal answer. And, honestly, if the oil is clean and they are fried fresh, they are all pretty darn good.
So lets kick off the weekend by celebrating Fry-day with some local places that take a lot of pride in their fries.
A legendary snack
The last vacation Mark Melchi says he took was a big deal, since it was so long ago. But it turned out to be a bigger deal for lovers of french fries in Fort Wayne.
I will never forget it, he says with a chuckle. I had gone on 8-8 of 88 to Maryland, and Old Bay seasoning was what they used on crabs and shrimp there. I fell in love with it, and brought it back with me.
Melchi, who now mans the smokers at Moosewood Smokehouse in the Marketplace of Canterbury and at the Lucky Moose on Dupont Road, was the proprietor of the original Munchie Emporium on Taylor Street. The restaurant was already serving its thick, skin-on steak fries with a creamy cucumber dressing, but when his wife, Deb, sprinkled some of that Old Bay on those fries in the kitchen one night, a legend was born.
Scooby Snacks might not be the best fries in the Fort – heck, you might not even consider them to be true french fries. But if ever there was a signature fry for the Summit City, it would be the Scoobys. The Munchie Emporium is a memory now, but Scooby Snacks are still being served at the original location, which is now the Mad Anthony Brewing Co. They are also on the menus at the Lucky Moose and Moosewood as Lucky Fries, and at their sister restaurant, Dickys Wild Hare, on Maplecrest Road, as Shaggy Snacks.
They are one of the top things people want here, and they go great with beer, said Blaine Stucky, co-founder of Mad Anthony Brewing Co.
A fresh take
In my opinion, fresh-cut fries are always better, and, unfortunately, there arent a lot of places doing them that way.
For 22 years now, the folks at Ziffles Rib Bar have been making theirs the hard way.
We cut 1 ton a week, said Marsha Dennis, who owns the bar with her husband, Todd. I just think french fries and ribs just go together and cold beer, too.
No argument here. More than 70 percent of the customers at Ziffles, Marsha estimated, get fries on the side with their barbecue. Dusted with a zesty blend of more than 10 spices and herbs and salt, they are tasty on their own, but are even better after they get soaked in some of the barbecue sauce.
Fries and barbecue must be a natural fit because many of the people I asked about fries were quick to mention the Rib Room, which also cuts them fresh.
Although both are great, I begrudgingly have to cite a fast-food chain as my favorite place for fresh-cut fries. When Penn Station East Coast Subs came to the area a few years ago, I was wowed by its commitment to fresh-cut fries. Penn Stations are always fresh and crispy, and there is no better way to enjoy them than with some of their malt vinegar and a little extra salt.
I am not such a fresh-cut snob that I dont like the frozen variety, too. Actually, fast-food french fries are the first thing most people think of when it comes to fries – you know, a little cardboard holder with the fries jutting out of the top.
Most likely, that container is red and has the McDonalds logo on it. There is just something about McDonalds fries. The thin, crispy little beauties are easily the countrys best-selling fries, and I love them. I loved those even more years ago when McDonalds was still frying them in lard, and I wish the food police would let them do them that way again.
There are a lot of fans of Penguin Points fries, also. This little northeast Indiana chain has only one location in Fort Wayne, on Winchester Road, but folks will travel the distance to get their fries. You know a place has good fries when it offers them in family-size portions – 14 ounces for $3.99. These thick, crinkle-cut fries are light and crisp on the outside, with fluffy potato on the inside. A woman working there the night I tried a large order said the secret to their outstanding quality is that nearly every order is made fresh instead of sitting under heat lamps.
Some of the other fast-food fries that got a shout-out were the ones from Rallys, which have a thick, orange crunchy exterior with a zesty, strong seasoning. The fries at King Gyros are worth trying, as they are double-fried to ensure crispness, and fans of thicker fries need to head to Wendys – my wife loves them and always orders a biggie. The curly fries at Arbys are OK but rate much better with a side cup of cheese.
Red Robin in Glenbrook Square is a haven for fry lovers. The thick-cut fries are dusted with a zesty seasoning and are offered in all-you-can-eat portions with pretty much every entrée.
As if a hot, crispy french fry isnt enough on its own, the list of things people add to make those fries even better is seemingly endless.
Ketchup, of course, is still the favorite, but cheese has to be a close second. The yellow ultraprocessed stuff that really isnt even cheese is usually never better than the real stuff, but I flip sides when it comes to fries. Shredded cheese is still good, but it just doesnt seem as goopy, sloppy and sinful as the fake stuff.
Ranch dressing has gained popularity as a condiment over the years, and chili, bacon and chopped onions (or, even better, all of the above) also are great additions. In some European countries, mayonnaise is used like ketchup, but I dont think that will ever be a popular trend here.
At one of Chicagos trendiest hot dog joints, Hot Dougs, the french fries get noble treatment on Fridays and Saturdays when they are fried in duck fat. Dont think you will find anyone doing that in these parts, but I am sure it wont be long before someone tries something just as unconventional.
Whether they are cooked in duck fat, covered with Old Bay seasoning or served in a cardboard holder, our fixation with french fries wont end.