It has officially been one year since I have eaten at a restaurant. I’ve learned a lot about good takeout, bad takeout and what small (and sometimes big) factors can turn a good dish bad in the amount of time it takes you to drive home.
This summer, my colleagues wrote a story giving their advice on maximizing your takeout experience. One line that stuck in my head was, “Eat your French fries in the car. They’re not going to get better with time. They deserve it, you deserve it!”
I thought: “There has to be a way to get good fries for takeout.” Fries that are great after you get them home and don’t require a few minutes in the toaster oven to recharge. I polled my friends for tips. I limited my options — no smothered fries — and formed a few rules of thumb; aim for fries served in paper bags, boats or containers similar to those served up by that longstanding fry champion with the golden arches.
Then I talked to fry expert Deb Dihel, vice president of innovation at Richland-based Lamb Weston, one of the world’s leading suppliers of frozen potato products. For the past 15 years, Dihel has been the person behind any new French-fry product invented at Lamb Weston.
“We’ve done a global study [to see] what it is about a French fry that makes people like them more — what drives their liking,” Dihel says.
It breaks down to two main components. The first by far is crispiness and having that “audible crunch” when eating a fry. The second is temperature.
“The ideal French fry is one that’s crisp and hot, but crispiness is more important, so if you have to lose one, you lose temperature,” Dihel says.
The crispiness factor depends on moisture content, size and shape. Take a classic shoestring — similar to a fry you’d find at many fast-food restaurants. It’s got a lot of surface area — which is a good thing for crispiness, but also means it loses temperature quicker.
A steak-cut fry has a lot of moisture and a lot of potato, which keeps it hot. But that heft means it’s never going to be as crisp as a smaller, thinner potato.
An ideal fry is one that’s middle of the road; “not too steamy so it doesn’t lose heat and not too fat so it doesn’t lose crispiness,” Dihel says.
Other factors that can enhance the crispiness factor are coatings — a beer-battered fry or one with dried herbs or spices that offers more complete coverage than just salt — and good packaging.
Those ubiquitous brown takeout containers with shiny insides are essentially little saunas, trapping all the heat generated from a batch of fries fresh from the fryer. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gotten fries, seen them packaged in this brown box of death and immediately opened it only to see beads of water rolling off the lid.
Will they re-crisp in my toaster oven? Probably (and this is what Dihel recommends over a microwave). But what I want is crispy fries that are delicious for at least 15 minutes after receiving them. Dihel says you’ve got about seven minutes before fries start to lose temperature, but she’s seen fries stay crispy for up to 40.
So I started eating a lot of fries to find which ones stayed crispy and delicious for at least 15 minutes — regardless of neighborhood. The best fries are probably the ones closest to your house if you’re getting takeout — unless you’re into fries al fresco to be eaten at the nearest park to the restaurant.
Dihel also has tips for restaurateurs looking to extend their fry shelf life; “some venting in the packaging, some sort of coating on the fry, and you always want to fry the fries last. Pack them at the top [of the bag] so they have a chance to vent.”
So I tested fries from nearly two dozen Seattle-area restaurants to find the very best, most irresistible fries for takeout. Here are five spots that passed the gold test: still crispy within 15 minutes (staying hot was a bonus) without being reheated in a toaster oven, proper packaging and great flavor.
Eden Hill Provisions
11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily; 1935 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle; 206-946-6636; edenhillprovisions.com
When dining rooms first shut down last March, chef/owner Maximillian Petty took a few days to regroup, opening that Friday for takeout with a pared-down menu of burgers and fries. He ended up selling 400 cheeseburgers and 300 orders of fries. Petty, who has made a name for himself for the intricate yet playful tasting menus at his fine-dining restaurant Eden Hill just two blocks north, suddenly had a lot of pent-up creative energy with nowhere to put it. So he channeled it into burgers and fries, ordering takeout from every fast-food restaurant to crack the code on the best takeout burger-and-fry combination, and holding burger labs to test buns, cheese and even bags. They had a six-hour meeting about cold fries. “It was the one thing we could take seriously,” Petty says.
He jokes that people “got exhausted over it,” this obsession he had with cold fries. But it paid off. These fries ($5) are a skinny shoestring tossed in a combo of salt, vinegar powder and dried herbs before being placed in a cup container that looks similar to that of a large fry from McDonald’s. They’ve got a definite sour-cream-and-onion vibe to them and while they are delicious hot, I happily ate these fries even after they had cooled because they stayed incredibly crispy.
Noon-8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; 2805 Beacon Ave. S., Seattle; themilkdrunk.com
When co-owner Sara Knowles and her husband, Logan Cox, opened Milk Drunk last July, they wanted to do a “novelty fry that wasn’t shoestring.” They started with a waffle fry, but eventually felt it wasn’t browning as evenly or staying hot. “The second we switched to curly, it seemed like on every level it was better. You get those delicious little ringlets and you get a heap of them,” she says.
These curly fries ($5) have the benefit of a spice coating and they’re served in a paper boat — optimal for steam escaping. The half curls stay crispy for at least 30 minutes, while the tight curls get a little soft after 15, but they’re still delicious. Grab an order of whipped garlic sauce (50 cents) to reach total fry-dipping nirvana.
Cookie’s Country Chicken
11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, noon- 9 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday; 121 S. King St., Seattle; 206-707-5956; cookiescountrychicken.com
I have sung the praises of Brian Chandler’s chicken before, but to my delight he recently switched from a waffle to a beer-battered fry. He’s now serving up that chicken and more in Pioneer Square inside of Quality Athletics. The plump fries come in a light paper sack ($3.95/small, $6.95/large), and they’re a wonder in that they kept a creamy, almost mashed-potato interior while maintaining a super-crunchy exterior, staying that way for at least 20 minutes.
11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 2020 Sixth Ave., Seattle; 206-327-9121; mamnoonstreet.com
On the surface, these fries from Mamnoon Street — located in the Doppler Building next to the Amazon Spheres — shouldn’t work. They’re served in a closed paper container and they’re on the chubby side. But miraculously, they are delicious. Tossed in Aleppo pepper and cilantro, the pepper oil must create enough of a dusting to help the fry remain hot and crispy. The paper container was vented and without that shiny steam-inducing layer, keeping these fries crispy for at least 20 minutes. The fries ($7) come with sides of za’atar mayo and spicy harra ketchup, both fabulous. If you love a spicy, crispy fry, look no further.
10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 4-8 p.m. Sunday, Wednesday-Saturday; 3127 N.W. 85th St., Seattle; 206-659-0355; sunnyhillseattle.com
The only waffle fry I had that lived up to the crispiness of other fries were the ones at this Sunset Hill spot, primarily known for pizza. These are a pale golden color and dusted with minimal salt/pepper, but the paper-bag packaging really helped get some air circulating in all those holes, keeping these crispy for a good 20 minutes. They’re practically a steal at $4, and the black garlic ranch ($2) is a darn good add-on.