Baptized in oil, anointed with salt, the fry stands alone.
Of all the culinary wonders and the many connections made in our lives by food, fries are the threads that bind the steak frites of Paris bistros and the rural American roadside dive. The humble potato, pulled from the earth and living at the very center of our deep fried hearts.
National Fry Day is July 13 this year in a mystical aligning of planets or french fries, falling on a Friday. Literally Fryday.
The case for crinkle fries
For the many blessings of hand-cut, shoestring, big ole steak fries and curly, for all the good done by duck fat and the endless charm of cousin tater tot, there is but one french fry ideal.
Excuse me, frydeal.
That is the crinkle cut, the jagged, unapologeticly-frozen-yet-redeemed-by-hot-oil pinnacle of crunch, starch and salt. Those ridges and valleys, all those pointy ends, all add up to the pound for point most perfect fry.
It comes down to surface area. What we want in a fry is crispy, but just short of crunchy, encasing pillowy potato fluff. The crinkles offer more crisp per square inch than any other fry out there, they hold their seasoning better, they easily grab more ketchup or aioli when swiped or dunked.
Somewhere along the way, crinkle-cut fries fell out of favor and fashion. It’s our own fault, their reputation tarnished by those after-school frozen baked ones that come out chewy not crispy. Or perhaps crinkles are too often confused with the chunky ones at certain seafood joints.
Like anything, they deserve to be judged at their best, not dismissed by their worst. Seek out Al’s Burger Shack, whose crinkles caught the national spotlight this week alongside America’s best burger, or Clyde Cooper’s in Raleigh or chain Shake Shack, who once abandoned their iconic crinkle, only to switch back just short of inciting a riot.
Waffle fries, the theoretical equal of crinkles are also excellent, but will always have fewer fries in every order and the more fries the better, forever. Heavenly Buffaloes in Durham and Chapel Hill make great waffle fries. Also, Chick-Fil-A.
When DeeLuxe, the fried chicken restaurant, opens in Durham, Rick Robinson wants only crinkle fries.
“Just because they’re the best,” Robinson said. “There was never any thought of anything else. They’re quintessentially Southern. If you’re doing take-out they hold their heat and don’t turn into a soggy mess. They add to the playful vibe we’re going for.”
Fries have transcended their potato-ness, Robinson, a fry theorist, believes. Consider McDonald’s golden offering, practically the fry emoji come to life. They don’t have much really to do with potatoes, they’re about insatiable cravings and the moments snacking bliss breaks up long car rides, of hopeful digs through the bottom of a paper bag for just one more fry.
“They’re not potatoes,” Robinson said of fries in general. “There’s the potato and then there’s fries. People want their fries to be potatoes, but I think that’s unnecessary...Crinkle cuts only intensify the fry aspect.”
The best French fries in the Triangle
To be clear, there are no bad fries, only disappointing ones. Like so much of the Triangle’s dining scene, there are so many fantastic fries to be found. Here are a few of the best.
Al’s Burger Shack
Two locations in Chapel Hill. alsburgershack.com
Probably the best local crinkle cut, seasoned with salt and rosemary.
427 W. Main St., Durham. bullmccabesirishpub.com
A solid, crispy fry heavy on the black pepper, happily married to an expansive beer list.
Bull City Burger
107 E. Parrish St., Durham. bullcityburgerandbrewery.com
Fries two ways, one thicker with the skin of the spuds and one thinner and crispier, fried in duck fat.
237 S. Wilmington St., Raleigh. ac-restaurants.com/chucks
Hand-cut fries and malt vinegar aioli rise to and surpass any expectations one might have for a burger joint owned by Ashley Christensen.
St. James Seafood
806 W. Main St., Durham. saintjamesseafood.com
Double-fried to a perfect crisp and seasoned with Old Bay. You’ll probably need two orders.