Here’s some advice to restaurant servers: If a customer asks you if the kitchen “makes” the fries served, don’t say “yes” if they fry frozen fries. This may sound petty, but the difference between punching fries in a kitchen and dumping frozen fries in a fryer are two different definitions of “make.”
I begin this week’s dive into the world of French fries with this instruction because it caused some confusion yesterday when I visited The Porch, that Henderson Avenue stalwart, for lunch. I asked our server if they made their own fries and she said yes. Both of my dining partners were in the food business, and none of us were entirely sure that the fries were hand-cut. The seasoning of granulated garlic and onion, Hawaiian sea salt, and parsley was proportionately correct and balanced. But there was not much of the nutty, almost creamy potato flavor from inside. The fries are mostly long, averaging between three and five inches. But there weren’t enough crunchy nubs hiding under the big soldiers to satisfy me.
After I conducted my highly unscientific taste test, I returned to my unsophisticated photo studio and called Adam West, the executive chef at The Porch. He was upset to hear that a server had given me the wrong information. He wanted to find the person and write them up. I had to talk him off the ledge.
He should be writing me up because, as a supposed investigative food reporter, I failed to follow up the “yes” with “I mean do you hand-cut them in the kitchen.” The truth is both answers could be argued in a court of food law as a proper response. Adam, do not scold that person.
I guess you’ve figured out by now that the fries at The Porch are not fresh cut. I’ve written this before, and I’ll write it again: serving frozen French fries is not always a bad thing. Many fine dining establishments know how to choose a high-quality product and spice them to achieve a consistent fry.
If you have followed chef West from his days at AVA through his gig as the frying king of the Unforsaken Bacon food truck, you know this guy knows how to fry things. He added bacon drippings to the fry oil before he lowered potatoes into it. Just think about that for a minute. It’s a seriously delicious idea.
When he accepted the job at The Porch almost four-and-a-half years ago, he knew preparing 400 orders of fresh-cut fries a day would be impossible. “I wanted to do them,” West says. “But I crunched the numbers, and with a menu as deep as ours it didn’t make sense.”
Chain restaurants such as Wingstop and In-N-Out can get away peeling and blanching potatoes because their menus are limited to either all fried foods or simple items such as hamburgers. A restaurant with a varied menu has a tough time dedicating that much time, space, and money to fries.
There is also a consistency factor in a sit-down, chef-driven restaurant. A chef is asking a $10-an-hour worker to dedicate the same amount of care as a higher-paid chef would to the final product. That’s a tough person to find, especially these days.
West did not make his decision lightly. “I went through at least a dozen fry samples before I settled on a company that does a pre-blanched fry,” West says. “The product is just like what I would do in-house, but it’s done in somebody else’s house. What I bring in is a previously blanched Kennebec flash-frozen fry. It’s actually better because by buying them like this you are taking away the ability to screw them up.” For those of you scoring at home, the light-skinned Kennebec variety has a lower water content, and they tend to fry up nicer.
Then came the decision to buy oil-blanched or water-blanched fries. This is a great topic for another French Fry-Day post, so I’ll leave the detailed explanation for later, but West told me he buys “a premium oil-blanched variety from Lamb Weston,” one of the big players in French fry business.
The fries at The Porch are fine, above-average at best. I wouldn’t head back there just for the fries. There are too many other items on the menu, such as the pimento cheese and country ham board filled with slices of grilled baguette, to eat.