Let’s all be honest with each other: we’re going to eat fries.
We’re all destined to eat so many fries it might as well be part of the Pledge of Allegiance. There’s no use denying it or pretending that it’s not true. And I am more than OK with this.
Much like George Costanza’s dream to drape himself in velvet, were it socially acceptable — and dietarily sensible — I would eat fries every day. That is Given A. Who’s with me?
Variable B creates the conundrum: virtually every restaurant, especially chains and franchises, has ‘fries’ on its menu, but I don’t want to eat just any old sliced spud. In deference to our taste buds or our waistlines or both, none of us should feel duty bound to consume America’s favorite ‘come-with’ just because they come with.
French fries are like many foods we choose to eat at restaurants, a victual that is a multi-step hassle for the home cook to do correctly and well. You pay a chef to do what you can’t do or don’t want to do in your own kitchen. I am proud of my cooking and baking skills, but I am not going to home-make a croissant. It’s far more worth it to leave such execution to a pro, and I contend that superb fries float in the same culinary boat.
Take heart. Savannah is home to several restaurants that take the fry as seriously as they do the most expensive items on their respective menus. As my wife and I spent a week revisiting our favorite places that make truly special fries, those restaurateurs and chefs beamed when they talked about their meticulous approach to an anything-but-simple side dish that most professional kitchens dump out of a Sysco bag.
What follows is a list of local restaurants, in no particular rank or order, whose fries are cut in-house and double-fried, at least, and all are offered as an à la carte side because, sometimes, all you want is a sweet tea or a glass of Côtes du Rhône and a basket of fried taters.
Bier Haus | Euro steak fries
I confess that we were late to the party with Bier Haus, but since we first ate there a few months ago now, we have been back often. Cut fresh in-house every day, these skin-on steak fries are blanched in clear frying oil at 350° and fried-to-order at 375°. They are made to be dunked in the bacon-mushroom Jager gravy, just one of four possible fry preparations. I can imagine this is the most popular side with a house-made wurst or a crispy schnitzel, or you and two friends can split a basket for $5.95. Wunderbar!
Circa 1875 | Proper pommes frites
It will come as no surprise to those that know and love Circa 1875 that its fries are quite possibly the best in Savannah, consistently amazing and classically French every time. Whether alongside a fabulous burger or entrecôte, these near-shoestrings are textbook frites, properly crispy after a 285° blanche in oil and a 315° final dip in duck fat. Seasoned with just salt and pepper, you want to savor each one, but you swallow them by the handful. Order a side bowl for $6 and dunk them in the garlicky oil left over from the escargot, or go full-French and dip them in Dijon.
Cotton & Rye | Happy hour treat
Some days, you want a thin fry. Some days, you want a fry with heft. The Cotton & Rye fry is a serious spud, cut in-house from long potatoes with a ½” die. Even though they look like monsters, they are completely crisp on the outside and easily pass the droop test. Treat yourself to a massive bowl for $6 and share it with at least two other friends over drinks. Fried in a canola-corn oil blend — first at 250° and finished-to-order at 350° — Cotton & Rye dusts its fries in paprika and a little gumbo filé powder, and house makes a garlic aioli that beats ketchup and would be amazing on cardboard.
Dub’s | Perfect pub fries
Of all the fries we ate this past week, none were as flawlessly finished as those at Dub’s, so good that they were a sneaky underdog favorite. Fried to order, as a $4 side or a $7 starter, these medium-cut strips had the best browned exterior of any fry we ate, tossed generously with a rosemary garlic salt and served with herb mayo and spicy ketchup. They are so excellent that the 350° canola oil temp for both the blanche and the finish fry have me rethinking how I will make fries at home in the future.
Gottlieb’s | Top secret and special
Skin-on and die-cut the same size as those at Cotton & Rye, the Gottlieb’s fry is equally as special. The exact prep temps in soybean oil are kitchen confidential, but the final toss in salt, pepper, and house barbecue rub makes them a fry that will not be a Savannah secret for long. The $5 à la carte side is easily enough for two or three people, and the light-and-airy spuds are great with plain old ketchup or the house-made Choron (Béarnaise plus tomato paste), chimichurri, or steak sauces.
Green Truck | The Savannah standard
Ask most people in town about their favorite place for fries, and the odds-on answer is Green Truck — and with great reason. The ⅜” fries are house-cut each morning, blanched in 400° canola oil, and cooled in the freezer before being second-fried to order at 350°. Dusted with sea salt and pepper and a hint of garlic powder, a $3.50 side is enough for two, and I have to say that I like the house-made dill ranch more than the tangy house-made ketchup, which is an acquired taste.
Sandfly Bar-B-Q | Classic or duck fat
At the two Sandfly Bar-B-Q locations, the thin hand-cut fries are much like Sly’s minus the seasoning and are a steal-deal at $2.50 for a basket two people can share and might not finish. The medium-cut duck fat fries have a distinctive but not overpowering flavor, silky without being greasy, and are just $5 for an ample appetizer portion. Both varieties are flash-fried in 375° peanut oil and are then finished to order. Neither fry needs anything other than ketchup, though I suggest asking both to be made crispy.
Sly’s Sliders and Fries | Cheap as chips
In the last four years, we have eaten more fries at Sly’s than any other place in town. Their cheap and wonderful skinny spuds are blanched in a soy-vegetable oil blend at 325° and are then fried to order in the same oil before a toss in Sly’s signature seasoning. A $2.50 basket is good for one hungry soul, though sometimes that single order is big enough to share. Like the frites at Circa, these are fries to inhale in bunches, and like those at Sandfly, order them crispy.
As a side (pun totally intended) note, Circa, Dub’s, Green Truck, and Sandfly all freeze or chill their fries after the first dip in the oil-of-choice, another valuable tip for those of us looking to perfect the fry at home.
Returning to where I started, I know that we are eating fries, some as you are reading this very article. In no way do I intend this tastier-than-thou take to preclude anyone from eating a formulaic franchise fry. Even those pre-cut, bagged, shipped, and frozen fellers are fried and dusted with salt which equals taste-good no matter how you die-cut it. The crispy but pillowy battered steak fries at Castaways are proof-positive of this.
Perhaps obviously, there are places that, in some part due to volume selling or limited kitchen space, choose not to accept the process from unpeeled potato to finished fry. Crystal Beer Parlor no longer house-cuts its fries, but the CBP potato chips are homemade and are fantastic. With a burger, give fries a day off and opt for its excellent chips instead.
Other local restaurants that do not have true fries but have wonderful side spuds of a different ilk include the potato wedges at both The Grey Market, lovingly prepped through a four-stage process and coated with salt and nutritional yeast, and Husk. So long as you ask for them to be crispy — or even extra-crispy — the eponymous Spanky’s Spuds, also served at the two Tubby’s locations, are a phenomenal non-fry.
Wherever you eat your fries, just know that you don’t have to settle. If a restaurant is ripping open a bag and frying once, you can mimic that at home in your oven.
The next time you are plunking down cash at any place in town, be brave: ask the server if the fries are house-cut and twice-fried. If they aren’t, on either count or both, they’re still going to be okay. If they are, something we often taken for granted might fry into something very special.
Someday, Neil and his wife will be living in a tiny town in the south of France, eating, doing crosswords, and playing Scrabble. For now, when he is not grading papers, baking bread, or watching EPL soccer, he builds furniture and writes.