I remember the first time I ate at Haystack Burgers and Barley in Richardson. It was early summer in 2013. The joint hadn’t been open long and there was a lot of confusion going on behind the counter. Once we placed our order, we continued to watch workers bump into each other and run orders to the tables. I remember this because each time one of them approached the table, they apologized for their scatterbrained actions. Every customer knew they were trying hard and, in a matter of minutes, the entire dining room felt like a big family’s dining room. Forgiving diners wiped ketchup from their smiles and chatted with each other.
I also remember the fries. They were fluffy and long, golden-brown soldiers that held their firm stance when turned horizontal. This week I returned with my assistant fry investigator and niece Katy and ran a couple of orders through our highly scientific test. We placed the order from the parking lot and when it was ready, Katy ran inside and brought them out to the car. One order is consumed in the car while the other is transported back to my house for photography.
The majority of fries in both orders were long, most close to five inches. In the world of fries, that sort of length usually indicates that the fry has been hand cut from a premium potato, not the runts. Haystack uses the high-priced Kennebec variety. They are less starchy than a russet and have a lighter skin. Once fried, they turn more golden than brown.
We immediately noted the fluffiness behind the skin. “This tastes like my mom’s roasted potatoes,” Katy says. “I can taste the skin and the insides feel like slightly mashed potatoes.” But something was different from my taste memory. As we exited the parking lot, I held one up and watched the top droop over like a wilting tulip. I tried another. And another. I opened the second order to see if they were equally soggy-ended. Happily this was a slightly better batch. Half of them were firm when horizontal; the other half soggy. Of course, the snap of the firmer fries made for a better mouth experience, but, overall, all of the fries were good.
Perplexed, I called co-owner Kevin Galvin. “We’re in between crops right now,” Galvin said. “It happens about every year. We have some issues with consistencies.” I know many restaurants that try and tame the Kennebec and when it doesn’t perform to their liking, they switch back to less flavorful russets to wait for the new yield. Galvin won’t do that. “If I learned one thing from working at Houston’s for five and a half years, it’s about doing it fresh,” Galvin says. “We don’t have a freezer or a microwave in our restaurant and we are dedicated to fresh, so we communicate with our customers.” The kitchen watches for sogginess and waitstaff explains the different textures to their diners. If the product doesn’t change fast enough, Galvin might switch potato varieties, but he makes sure everybody knows it’s not their ideal potato.
Even though our experience this week wasn’t up to the Haystack standard, it’s nice to know they care so much about their fries. And it’s obvious that the staff, once confused, is still communicative and attentive to the food on the plate.