Monday, October 12, 2015

French Fry Diary 678: Smashburger 2015

I must confess I have not been impressed with Smashburger the last few times I'd been there, and although several have opened in my area recently, I have not really checked them out.

As our usual Sunday night take out dinner has been disrupted by Casa Carollo's becoming the much inferior Marlton 73, so we're taking suggestions and shopping around. Smashburger just opened up within throwing distance right around the corner, so it was in the running. Since we could order online and pick it up, we gave it a shot.

What a surprise! First the order was perfect and on time. We'd always eaten in so I've never seen their packaging. The fries and haystack onions came in cup-like holders that actually stand up on a flat surface, something most fry containers can't do, so props for that. Now the shake and burger were terrific, and I of course sandwiched the onions and fries. Mmmm... good stuff.

Now I have to mention the Smashfries were different. Rather than the usual frozen shoestrings, these were natural cuts smaller than shoestrings but not quite as thin as matchsticks. Quite good. Recommended, will definitely be going back more. Looks like I got my wish.

Friday, October 09, 2015

French Fry Diary 677: Carolina Blue Smokehouse and Taproom

Way off the beaten path, or at least my beaten path, is the Carolina Blue Smokehouse and Taproom, all the way in Pitman NJ. I went there for a surprise birthday party for good friend, author, and current president of the South Jersey Writers' Group, Amy Holiday, so it was worth it.

Despite the outside appearance of the restaurant as a barbeque place, the food's appearance has more of a very simple Californian cuisine vibe. I got my usual, a cute little burger that was delicious, moist, and incredibly filling. I felt so stuffed after this little morsel. As a side, and also as an appetizer for the whole table, were house cut chips. Very much like the crispy thin slices in an order of fried breakfast potatoes, these were chips with just the right crisp, very good. The appetizer came with melted blue cheese crumbles that everyone loved.

While I didn't have (I know, blasphemy) the regular fries, I did get a chance to try the sweet potato fries, stylized on their menu as "SWEET! Potato Fries," dusted with a cinnamon sugar and served with vanilla cheesecake dip. These were to die for, even cold. These quite possibly some of the best sweet potato fries I've had, and I'm really not all that fond of them.

All in all, it was a great night out with friends, good friends and good discussion, and Amy was surprised, so it was all good. Thumbs up for the Carolina Blue Smokehouse and Taproom.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

French Fry Diary 676: Cool Dog Cafe 2015

Friends came in for lunch from out of town, and looking for a great local place to eat, we of course thought of the Cool Dog Café, a favorite of friends and family. We hadn't been there in a while, but checking their website, I saw that one of the specials was the Cheese Fries Burger, I had to try it. I was happy to see they were doing a brisk business. Ira and the folks there are always nice, and customer service is the best.

The Bride got the Stuffed Tater Dog, with tater tots, bacon, sour cream, and scallions, which she really enjoyed, and why not, it had tater tots! Believe it or not, the dog had a real stuffed baked potato vibe. And we of course split an order of Cool Dog's famous fresh cut fries.

I got the burger of the week, which was the aforementioned Cheese Fries Burger. I have always loved Cool Dog's hand-formed Angus beef burgers, so this one with shoestring fries, bacon, and cheese sauce sounded good. I wasn't really in the mood for cheese so I got it sans cheese. Special orders are never a problem.

The burger had a nice thick roll, and the burger was great as always. The art of sandwiching is one I've talked about here before, and these guys do it right, and how can you go wrong with adding bacon?

The shoestrings were nice but I think I would have rather had yummy regular Cool Dog fries, and as a matter of fact, on my next visit to Cool Dog I did just that, sandwiched with those, awesome. Try it, you'll love it. As always, a great time at the Cool Dog Café, thumbs up.

Monday, October 05, 2015

French Fry Diary 675: The Pop Shop, Medford NJ

Divorce is a terrible thing, truly it's a tragedy, but sometimes, just sometimes, something good can come out of it. For the foodies of South Jersey, divorce in the family of one of my favorite restaurants - The Pop Shop - has resulted in two Pop Shops. This was my first visit to the new one in Medford. The building used to be an old bank, but the Pop Shop has really revamped it, but there's still a giant safe in the middle of the restaurant. Kinda cool, kinda kitschy, I like it.

The Bride and a friend visiting from out of town, Lisa, decided to go there for dinner on a recent weeknight. I was excited, as it had been almost four years since I had dinner or lunch there. Usually when we go to the Pop Shop, the agenda is breakfast, not that I mind breakfast (it's really great there, and served all day), but I prefer their lunch/dinner.

I like the new venue in Medford, an older two-story building that seems very open and welcoming. There's even an elevator and ramp for handicapped folks. I also liked the new Pop Shop shirts the employees were wearing that said either "fries with that shake?" or "got 08055?" Guess which one I liked best?

As I hadn't had it in a while, and it's what I wanted, I got the burger and fries. I was surprised by the small differences when my order arrived. I'm not sure if they're because of the time lapsed since last I visited or the different venue, but it was different. First off, the burger was big, juicy, and perfect, but not on a sesame seed bun as expected. No worries, it still rocked, and thankfully it made up for the fries.

More changes came with the fries. Rather than natural cut regular cuts, these Pop Fries were natural cut shoestrings. Ordinarily I would say that's a level up, as natural cut shoestrings are a rarity and hold a crisp very well, but that was not the case here at all. These fries were a little underdone and soggy, not good. Our friend Lisa had ordered the Parmesan Garlic Fries, simple and quite tasty, but they were done and crispy, nearly perfect. Based on the fries I saw on nearby tables, mine were sadly the exception - the other fries looked awesome.

For dessert (as always, with so much food, it's rare we order dessert at the Pop Shop) The Bride and I went decadent and split a Shakin' Bacon - a breakfast milkshake in a Mason jar with vanilla ice cream, pancake syrup, and crispy bacon. Pretty tasty, but it was a little weird having bits of bacon come up through the straw - still very good.

The power mysteriously flickered off and on a few times, but all in all it was a fun night out with friends. I look forward to visiting again to verify my faith in the Pop Fries. Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Random Tater Pic of the Day #223

Hey, it's the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, as a Mr. Potato Head, complete with fez and sonic screwdriver. Yeah, it's Doctor Who, for those not versed in the mythos, you can find out more here, and follow my reviews of the newest series on Biff Bam Pop! right here. And don't forget to have some fries while you watch and read...

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

French Fry Diary 674: Hungry Jack Hashbrowns

I saw these on a recent trip to the grocery store, and just had to pick them up, if for no other reason than to write about them. Packaged in a small paper milk carton, these Hungry Jack Original Hashbrown Potatoes, Diner Style, promised to be ready in minutes if you just add water.

These gluten free hash browns have the appearance of shredded potatoes, but when you shake the carton, it sounds like hard rice or like you're about to throw Yahtzee. A cross between shreds and long hard rice is kinda what it looks like as well. The directions instruct to fill the carton with hot water, let sit, then pour into a frying pan and cook. Sounds like magic to me.

I have to say it appears the magic worked. I wouldn't have believed it, but it did. I never would have guessed these were made from dried potatoes if I didn't know better. These were as good if not better than the shredded breakfast potatoes one could get at a diner.

You can season as you please once the potatoes are in the frying pan, and add onions, cheese, peppers, or bacon if you want, they will be awesome. Thumbs up.

Monday, September 28, 2015

French Fry Diary 673: Jessica's Do Us A Flavor 2015 Taste Testing

Guest Post by Jessica Walsh

Although the Lay’s Do Us a Flavor contest was established in 2013 (as far as I could tell), I had never participated in taste-testing or voting. Instead, I lived vicariously through Glenn and his reviews, taking his word for it. The man knows his spuds. After a winner was declared, I knew better than to complain if I disagreed since I hadn’t utilized my voting power.

This year, after reading Glenn’s lackluster review of what I assumed would be my favorite flavor, New York Reuben, I decided to get off the bench, get in the game, put my taste buds to the test and exercise my right to vote.

Like all red-blooded Americans, I have an opinion and I figured with thirty years of potato chip-eating experience, I am more than qualified to weigh in. Some gals like chocolate and sweets; this gal once considered giving her guinea pig’s salt lick a taste. I am a self-proclaimed potato chip connoisseur.

To make things more fun, however, I called on my gang of guys to help me out with the taste-testing. My husband, Mike, our friends, Rudy and Jay, and myself have 130 years of cumulative chip-eating experience. We know chips.

Some stats:

Jessica’s favorite chips: Herr’s ruffled sour cream and onion & Herr’s Boardwalk Salt & Vinegar Kettle Cooked.

Rudy’s favorite chip: Herr’s Boardwalk Salt & Vinegar Kettle Cooked (this is why we’re such good friends).

Mike’s favorite chip: Herr’s Kettle Cooked Jalapeno. (For the record, this is the only potato chip I have ever encountered that I prefer NOT to eat. I don’t believe it’s Mike’s favorite based on flavor, but on the fact that it is the only snack he can bring into the house and know it will still be there when he wants some.)

Jay’s favorite chips: Jay is an Utz guy. He goes for Grandma Utz Plain Kettle Cooked or Utz’s Kettle Cooked Smokin’ Sweet.

We are kettle-cooked people. Nothing beats that crunch. Poor Lay’s. Not one of us has a favorite among their extensive selection. Let’s see if these flavors win us over…

“Okay, gents, let’s begin!”

We started with the Wavy West Coast Truffle Fries. I read the ingredients, and what Angie Fu had to say about her flavor. I was pleased with the appearance, which greatly resembled my beloved sour cream & onion. Upon taste though, I felt they were lacking that earthy, mushroom-y flavor that truffles are known for. Rudy commented that they tasted like a spice cabinet, and that he wanted ketchup to dip them in. Angie Fu, we ain’t fuled by your finalist that fell flat.

With fungus on my mind (not literally), I told the story of the mushroom that was sad he couldn’t stay at the party. “I’m a fun-gi! I promise I won’t take up mush-room.” Rudy said the chips were at least better than my jokes.

“I don’t know,” Jay began thoughtfully. “They say wavy, but they just laid there.” Yeah, it was time to move on.

Next we tried the New York Reuben. Having all grown up near New York, we have all had MANY Reubens in our lives. The Reuben is to North Jersey what the cheesesteak is to South Jersey. Glenn never had one so he cannot be trusted on things such as this. After all, he doesn’t write for The Amazing Sandwich Diary.

I don’t know how the chemists do it, but we absolutely all agreed that these chips taste EXACTLY like a Reuben. For me, the most prominent flavor was the rye bread. I got the caraway (all the best rye breads are seeded), the tang of the Thousand Island dressing, the cheese… I only wished they were a little saltier.

The dreaded four-chips-in-one tower bite
“I wish I had a pickle to go with these,” Rudy commented. “Oh, even better would be dill pickle potato chips mixed with these chips! Or a Reuben with a side of fries,” he added as he plucked a truffle chip and a Reuben chip from the tray and popped them in his month at the same time. I promptly followed suit. Nope, not good.

Jeff Solensky, the finalist who chose this flavor, grew up in Long Island so he has credibility. But even though the Reuben chips taste exactly like they should, they’re not my favorite. If the contest was based on accuracy to title alone, they’d be the clear winner. But I don’t want my chip to taste that much like something else because it just confuses me. I rather just eat a Reuben. Sorry, Jeff.

Next up was the Kettle Cooked Greektown Gyro. I already established that we all love kettle cooked chips. These were nice and crunchy. Too bad they were also DISGUSTING! First of all, they look dirty. They’re dark and the seasoning looks like cigarette ash and dust. I was hesitant even putting it in my mouth. “That is not good,” I said after one bite.

If James Wagner is happy with the chip he came up with, then I think it is fair to say that they serve crappy gyros in Texas, a place not at all known for its Greek cuisine.

Jay actually threw his chip out, rather than finish it. Hey Lays, I betcha we CAN eat just one. Sorry James, there’s no way you’re winning the big bucks.

Little did we know we were saving the best for last. First, let me state that I have never in my life eaten Southern Biscuits & Gravy. It is my understanding that above the Mason-Dixon Line we have something called cream chipped beef served over white bread or some sort of bread that’s not a biscuit because we have bagels here. Both look unappetizing. Bread drowning in a white gelatinous goop of butter, flour, some sort of dairy product and meat drippings? Gross.

So imagine my surprise when I loved these chips! I immediately got a breakfast sausage flavor and I love breakfast sausage. I also got a hint of butter. This was such an obvious winner for me and so far beyond the others in terms of flavor. I would actually buy these chips again!

Hailey Green, I hope you win $1,000,000! I am going to spend the remainder of the voting period supporting you. When you win, please reimburse me for the Vote for Hailey pins and lawn signs I just ordered from Café Press.

I’m still not ordering that goopy mess at a diner, though.

I must sadly report that although Southern Biscuits & Gravy was my favorite flavor, it was not unanimous. Rudy adamantly and stubbornly voted for pretzel rods and salt & vinegar chips, adding that truffle would be in dead last and the remaining three were tied for third.

Jay and Mike, brothers by different mothers, chose the Reuben first, followed by the biscuits and gravy, then the truffle fries, and then the dirty disgusting gyro chips. James Wagner, GO HOME.

Lastly, we stacked all four together and put the towers in our mouths. It was pretty bad.

“It’s like a Reuben with gyro meat and a side of fries coated in sausage gravy!”

I do not recommend eating all four at once. However, I do recommend you VOTE! Remember, if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem and if those Greektown Gyro Garbage chips show up on my grocery store shelves, we WILL have a problem.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Random Tater Pic of the Day #221

Today's pic comes from the World Potato Conference in Beijing. Bet these spuds could make some awesome fries, eh?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

French Fry Diary 672: Marlton 73 Pizzeria & Bar

For our usual Sunday take-out dinner, The Bride and I decided on Casa Carollo's because we enjoy their food and especially the portion sizes. We got a bit of a surprise when we called, and especially when delivery was made.

Casa Carollo's was no longer Casa Carollo's as they had new owners, a new menu, and new food. The new name is the Marlton 73 Pizzeria & Bar, featuring a new streamlined menu with steak and seafood eliminated. The place has always been pretty good to us, so we were willing to give the new version a chance.

The new food extends of course to the favorite fried food. Whereas lately we had been getting steak fries more often than the batter fries I talked about here, these batter-covered fries, much crunchier and less appetizing than usual, came with my steak sandwich.

The steak sandwich, it barely qualifies as a plain cheesesteak, because of the construction, was very different. The roll was different, with the ends cut off, and with considerably less meat. It was still very good, but nowhere near as good as it used to be. The Bride reported a similar difference in her chicken parm.

It's only one experience, and they're just starting up, but I have to say there's a marked difference. We may have to find a new Sunday night take out place.