You wouldn't think it, but I firmly believe that a restaurant can be judged by two things: french fries and desserts. French fries you might ask? I know. Again my choices of sides are limited. I don't eat rice. No veggie medleys smothered in butter. In fact, I hate butter. Although, butter becomes another monster entirely when it is mixed with sugar and baked. Butter and sugar are best friends, and when they marry—yum. But I digress; I don't eat sides covered in cheese nor anything wiggly like shrimp. This is why I've become a french fry connoisseur. My rule of thumb for restaurants is—the cheaper the fries, the cheaper the rest of the food. That's been my experience. After years of ordering fried potatoes as my side of choice, I've found that the cheapest restaurants use these old-style crinkle fries that my mom used to cook. Why a restaurant, whose profits hinge on the quality of the food they prepare, would serve these crinkles is beyond me. I understand the need to use frozen fries, but there are numerous choices better than these. My personal preference is fresh cut. This shows me that the restaurant actually knows how to cook. If they take the time to cook a prepared potato rather than throw in some icy ones, then they must put the same care and effort into the food on rest of their menu.
Case in point, Burgerland.
Burgerland is a favorite in Paris, Texas. Every time I visit my sister, we go there simply for the fries. We sit on backless stools that wrap around the single bar of the small building with a front row view of fresh burgers sizzling on a blackened griddle. An overflowing basket of golden perfections is always served up just before the burgers like a french fry-appetizer. This tiny place with fresh food is always full of customers. No commercials are needed; reputation is enough. Garth Brooks has even visited there. Unfortunately, there is no Burgerland near my residence, so I, for years, got my fresh cut, perfectly seasoned fries at my favorite steakhouse. A couple of times a week, my cravings would lead me to the "to-go" spot where I would pick up only an order of fries. Then, one day in the wake of a down-slopped economy where businesses began reinventing, reorganizing, and skimping, I arrived home with my fries to find they were stiff, dry, and unpotato-like in texture—it was almost as if they had been frozen. Yes, my beloved Burgerland-like fries must have been changed. Changed indeed. Changed like many of my favorites in many restaurants before. How can customers let this happen? 'Why do the masses not rise up and complain?' I ask myself. Then I realize many do not savor each bite as I, taking in the subtle crispness around the soft and thick, true potato center, while the salty seasoning melts on the tongue. Does no one else care? Will people eat anything?
As a baker, I am more dumbfounded by how people can eat desserts in restaurants. The cakes are like thick, foamy sponges that bounce back when pressed. The moisture content zero. The average person seems to eat anything claiming to be chocolate. 'Where is the balance?' I ask. Just because a chocolate cake or a brownie has chocolate, doesn't mean it is good. Applebee's used to have a "Deadly Chocolate Sin Cake." I remember eating this late one night after my sister's ankle was broken by our cheerleading squad toppling during a toss; I ended up on top, she on bottom. I left the hospital to get something for dinner, and as usual I ordered the molten cake. This perfectly balanced chocolate dessert had a decadent, fudgy molten chocolate center that puts all other chocolate desserts to shame. And I sat in its sinful shame, indulging in each bite while my poor sister was stuck in the hospital. Happily, she didn't hold my indulgence against me, but to my horror, it was taken off the menu not soon after. So for years now, I've been depraved of this joy, and I have found no molten cake recipe that is anything like it.
The dessert horrors go on. Not long ago, T.G.I. Fridays had the "Oreo Madness": ice cream and Oreo drizzled with Mrs. Richardson's hot caramel and hot fudge. Oh glorious love of my life—suddenly taken off the menu. Many times I would have dinner at one restaurant, and then afterwards go to Fridays to get dessert. I ask myself, 'Can they not tell their sales have gone down? How can they not?' Over and over restaurants that I frequent change their menus, and yet they don't notice my money suddenly stops coming in.
With these two gone, I'm left with no restaurant serving a dessert of my standards in the state of Florida. Desserts are either texturally challenged, unbalanced in taste, or I just haven't tried them because they contain nuts. (I don't eat nuts.) So, if I'm craving dessert after a meal, I often stop at a gas station for a chocolate bar. It's astronomically better than the restaurant desserts - a backwards concept - not to mention cheaper. However, miles away in Texas, there is a dessert at Cheddars called "The Cookie Monster." It's a huge cookie served in the skillet that it was baked in, and topped with ice cream and hot fudge. Yes, this is the last acceptable dessert standing, but it is 1,170 miles away. Don't be fooled by other restaurants claiming to have a cookie monster dessert. They are hard, off brand, tasteless cookies drizzled with thin chocolate syrup rather than thick hot fudge. My mouth screams inedible. You may think a cookie and ice cream is the same everywhere, but the secret is in good ingredients and preparation.
Ah, such is the life of the discernible, yet picky palate. Oh, what I would give to have all my favorite desserts back in the restaurants. How I wish restaurants took the time to make their own quality fries. If these two aren't crafted with care, it's likely that most entrées in the restaurant are lacking in quality, also. I feel as though I should drive out this evil of badly cooked desserts and fries. I should save everyone, but I can hardly save myself. Though I can't replace the "Oreo Madness" or "Deadly Chocolate Sin Cake", I've been driven to make my own versions of fresh cut fries and the "Cookie Monster." I have created a "Cookie Monster Variation" that tastes like the Cheddars' "Cookie Monster," and I've combined information to understand how to make great fresh cut fries. Here's your chance to put the restaurants to shame:
- Age the potatoes for at least 3 weeks by storing them inside a brown paper bag in a dark, dry place. The sugar level in the potatoes should be low after this. It can be tested on a glucose kit. Cut the potato and rub on the glucose stick; the sugar level should be below 6 and on the brown color.
- Cut evenly. (A potato cutter is recommended.)
- Blanch the slices in oil heated to 200 degrees for 2 minutes.
- Place in fridge overnight.
- Fry in oil heated to 350 degrees. Salt immediately after removing from oil.
1. Prepare Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Pan Cookies
- 21/4 c. flour
- 3/4 c. sugar
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 3/4 c. packed brown sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 c. butter, softened
- 2 eggs
- 2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
Combine flour, soda, and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla with mixer until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Spread into a greased 9x13 cake pan. Bake 14-22 minutes. Cut into squares while hot.
2. Putting it together
- Mrs. Richardson's hot fudge topping
- Blue Bell homemade vanilla ice cream
- Mrs. Richardson's hot caramel topping
- (Braums, Cold Stone, and Häagen-Dazs ice cream are also good.)
Heat Mrs. Richardson's hot fudge and hot caramel. Spoon fudge onto bottom of plate. Place cookie square on top of fudge. Pile vanilla ice cream on top of cookie. Drizzle fudge and caramel all over plate and lightly on top of ice cream.
"Whether it's fries, dessert, or any of that stuff in-between, love what you eat."—Misty
Misty Posey is an author/musician/photographer/painter/actress living on the Florida coast. Her poem, "Dr. Pepper," appears in the October/November 2009 issue of Einstein's Pocket Watch, and her story "Candy at the Movies" appears in the October 2009 Bards and Sages Quarterly.
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