The French fry has been getting some extra love and attention at local restaurants, and patrons are taking note. It's hard to narrow down the contenders to a top tier, but Fuel Café, Slider Inn (which is related to Bardog Tavern), and the Brass Door have really done the potato proud and are worth a taste.
At Fuel Café and in the Fuel Food Truck, the French fries are downright pampered. Owner and chef Erik Proveaux has put a lot of time and energy into creating the perfect fry. "I like them to be crispy on the outside, not greasy, and fluffy on the inside with just the right golden-brown color," Proveaux says. To this end, he has developed a process that yields pretty consistent results.
First, he takes good old Idaho potatoes and cuts them using a wall-mounted French fry cutter. He lets them fall into a bus tub of cold water to soak for at least two hours. Then they are drained and dried on a sheet pan with paper towels. Next, he par-fries them in 300-degree peanut oil and lays them out on sheet pans to cool in front of a fan until they get to room temperature. He wraps the sheet pans, freezes the fries, and later brings them back out to thaw only enough to be separated and bagged up for use on the line.
"They are held in a small freezer in the kitchen, and when we get an order, we fry them to golden-brown deliciousness and toss them in fine sea salt," Proveaux says.
For those who like fancy dipping sauces with their fancy fries, Fuel has them covered. They serve a plate of fries with three dipping sauces: a creamy truffle Parmesan sauce, a garlicky rouille (homemade olive-oil mayonnaise with smoked paprika and chipotle powder), and sweet chili ketchup sauce.
Bardog Tavern and Slider Inn owner Aldo Dean says that he got into the restaurant business to sell alcohol. Since Tennessee laws require bars to sell food, Dean figured he might as well serve great food.
Bardog and Slider Inn serve the same fries except the ones at Slider Inn have a little skin on them.
"They're quarter-inch shoestrings that are shipped in frozen and already cut," Dean says. Dean likes the shoestring fries because they don't have a long fry time. "Some places double fry them for extra crispiness, but we don't have time for that," he says.
What really sets the fries apart is the special mixture sprinkled on them when they come out. "It's a secret blend. I can't tell you what it is," Dean says. After a pause, he says, "Okay, it's salt and sugar — a 50-50 mix."
Dean will not, however, divulge the exact recipe of the legendary bourbon mayonnaise used for dipping. "I should probably get it patented," he jokes. It was inspired by a dip he had in a Belgian restaurant called Pomme Frite. Both of Dean's restaurants sell a ton of fries, but Slider Inn sells considerably more due to its more limited menu.
The fries at the Irish pub the Brass Door are also making a name for themselves. Rumor has it that the secret ingredient is duck fat. "It's all true," owner Seamus Loftis says. "But I cannot credit the Irish — only my chef, Scott Donnelly."
Donnelly starts with hand-cut Idaho potatoes, blanches them, and then fries them in a combination of regular fryer oil, lard, and duck fat. "The duck fat and lard impart a slightly sweeter, more potato-y flavor and help get the potato crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside," Donnelly says.
The restaurant is currently selling about 500 to 600 pounds of French fries a week. "The hardest part is blanching and frying at the right temperatures," Donnelly says.
The fries are available as a side or a starter. The starter features a savory house-made curry sauce.