It's tough rounding up the best fries in Charleston — with so many choices, a mere mortal might get lost in the shuffle. So we decided to turn the tables and have chefs tag each other for who they think has the best fries. Ya know, like the ice bucket challenge, but not as painful. And while they were at it, we made each food guru tell us what makes their own fries so special. There are a couple of outliers here — Obstinate Daughter's grit fries and Barsa's patatas bravas proved tag-worthy, but one thing most chefs seem to agree on: leave those house-made potato chips alone. Fries are where it's at.
Butcher & Bee: Fries with house-made ketchup
Chef Chelsea Conrad doesn't cook any batch of fries until it's ordered, ensuring that every patron experiences the satisfaction of a perfect plate of salted crunchiness. "We handcut them and rinse them three times to maintain the same level of quality," she says. The ketchup, a combo of onion, garlic, crushed tomatoes, is some of the best you'll find anywhere, ever.
Little Jack's: Garlic and herb fries with sauce gribiche
These are the only thing fried in the whole place. "We have smaller baskets dedicated to only one job, and there's always a designated person at the end of the kitchen line who's on fries," says chef John Amato. "We use fresh oil everyday, and you'll never get any weird seafood or cornmeal flavors picked up from some other food in the fry basket." The gribiche sauce is essentially aioli, tricked out with herbs and brightened with capers and vinegar — you'll want to put it on everything.
Glass Onion: French fries with house béarnaise
Ask anyone from the area (including several chefs) where to get a good plate of fries, and the Glass Onion will probably come up. Chef/owner Chris Stewart makes sure each day's batch of potatoes has been allowed to sit out for 24 hours at room temperature — the sugar doesn't convert to starch properly if they're refrigerated, and that starch is key to a crunchy crust and velvety interior. "If for some reason that isn't done correctly, I take the fries off the menu for the day," he says. "I won't serve them if they aren't going to be the best." Best of all, though, is the house-made béarnaise — the classic buttery sauce is made with Crystal hot sauce, white wine, and shallots, but it's the verdancy of tarragon that, when paired with the crispy potatoes, takes things next-level.
Cru Cafe: Truffle Parmesan fries
Chef de Cuisine Erin Guilfoyle and company sampled 48 varieties of potatoes and cuts before going with their signature julienned russet french fries. These are the kinds of fries you pop into your mouth two or three at a time, preferably while mopping up one of the sauces dressing your entree. Guilfoyle pays attention to a key french fry component — the oils. "We get in fresh peanut oil," she says. "The oil has a clean flavor and a high smoke point. Fresh oil is key." The fries are also tossed with a white truffled grapeseed oil. "We find the grapeseed-based oil doesn't interfere with the truffle flavor as much as an olive-based oil," Guilfoyle says.
Checkers: Famous fries
Tameka Townsend, manager at the Remount Road location, says when she's craving fries on her day-off, she simply heads back to work to pick up a sleeve at Checkers. The zingy seasoning is addictive and famously secret. (Even the ingredients list on the frozen version you can buy at supermarkets says only, maddeningly, "spices.") "I don't know what they're seasoned with, Townsend says, "but our own way of keeping things tasting great is to keep them nice and hot."
Black Wood Smokehouse: Beer-battered fries with house-smoked ketchup
Chef/owner Joseph Jacobson's Black Wood is a relative newcomer to the restaurant scene — it opened this past summer but only had its official grand opening at the beginning of November. But Jacobson, formerly of Sweeney's and Oak Steakhouse, is no stranger to french fries, and he takes his side dishes seriously. "The fries aren't battered in house, but we went through an extensive vetting process before we decided on the perfect fry," he says. "And when you get that crunch paired with the smokiness in our ketchup, it's heaven."
Owner Mike Kulick's pride and joy is the house's answer to nachos, and rightfully so. The hand-cut, double fried duck-fat fries are doused in a rich bleu cheese fondue, and they'll satisfy even the most extreme fry craving. "The best part is squeezing an entire bulb of warm garlic confit over the fries when they hit the table," says Kulick. "This is one dish you're really not going to get anywhere else."
The Codfather: Proper chips
"Making a good 'chip', as we call them in the U.K., is a labor intensive process to do it correctly," says chef/owner Adam Randall. "For our purpose we need a traditional British style chip, which is thicker than a french fry." In the U.K., Randall would use a variety of potato called a Maris Piper, but it's not available here in the U.S. — so the potato he's using instead is a trade secret. Last year, he went through a hundred pounds of them. Randall hand-presses and soaks his chips overnight, then blanches them. He fries them again at full temp when they're ready to serve. The Codfather's curry sauce and gravy, irresistible dunkers for the fries, are authentic touches.
Holy City Brewing: Collision Fries
These are thick-cut Belgian-style frites made from regular old American potatoes. "The thing that really makes them special," says representative Paul Pavlich, "is all of the house-made fixings that go on top. We cover a huge bed of these fries in house sharp cheddar mornay, house ranch, and lardons that we cure and smoke here at the brewery. Top it off with some Bull's Bay smoked sea salt, and you've got a nice hot pile of comfort food, the perfect companion to one of our pints."
Obstinate Daughter: Geechie frites with salsa rosa
These aren't your classic potatoes. At OD, the fries are made from hand-cut sticks of Geechie Boy grits and served with a romesco-style tomato sauce. "I wanted to make the dish a little French, a little Spanish, and, of course, Lowcountry," says chef Jacques Larson, who's known for his ability to seamlessly blend local and European flavors. He also purposely kept the dish vegan to give diners of all feathers some options.
Goulette: Pommes frites with house-made mayonnaise
When Kyle Yarbrough began cooking at now-shuttered La Fourchette back in 2006, he couldn't figure out why the french fries weren't always at their best. So the then-Citadel student checked out some peer-reviewed journals and found that the secret to consistently perfect potatoes was all in the aging process. Goulette's fries were carried over from La Fourchette, bringing Yarbrough and his process with them. "We keep them around for about a week, until they're sprouting eyes. Aging them gives them time for more of the sugar to convert to starch, which is the key to getting a perfectly crispy fry," he says. The house mayonnaise is made the classic French way — it contains only olive oil, egg yolks, and Dijon mustard. Dijon gives the dish a wasabi-like kick that'll keep you coming back for more.
Barsa: Patatas bravas with garlic aioli and spicy tomato sauce
To all of those who took French in high school: Chef Cole Poolaw says the iconic Spanish dish patatas bravas roughly translates to "fierce potatoes" in English. And these potatoes are Bey-level fierce. "We use Yukon Golds — which is sort of unusual for a fried potato — and we boil them first to get rid of some of the starch, which helps the insides stay sweet and soft while we get a nice crust on the exterior." The chunks of potato are served with zippy garlic aioli and a signature tomato sauce made smoky and fiery by generous hits of pimentón, a spicy paprika.
Edmund's Oast: Fries with serrano buttermilk dressing
As any Charleston gastronome knows, Chef Bob Cook has game in the kitchen, so his fries need to be as on-point as the rest of his cuisine. Cook uses 80-count, hand-cut Idaho potatoes fried in canola oil and seasoned simply with salt and pepper. The buttermilk dressing offers complexity and zing to a basic side dish, and the serranos give off the right amount of heat to keep you reaching for more of Edmund's house brew.
HōM Burgers: Fancy Tots
Chef Chris Evans (not that one) is a brand spanking new addition to the Ho¯M team. When we spoke to him, it was only his second day there. He's been spending a lot of time watching the kitchen, observing which dishes seem the best and most popular. Evans may be making some changes to the menu in the future, but it's unlikely that his current favorite, the fancy tots, will go anywhere. Though the tots aren't handmade, they're finished with fresh herbs, parmesan, and truffled aioli, and diners are nuts about them. "They're just a really impressive dish, plus they're delicious," he says.