Countless Crispy Critters

Dear Dara confronts the French-fry issue

The second of the great originals is the Wienery, a West Bank institution where they take skin-on spuds, slice them into long, thin planks, and fry them until they reach a singular state of farm-evoking potato purity. The place also had the cheapest fries of all the ones I sampled; for 89 cents you can get a large amount of fries, and $1.39 gets you a gargantuan one, and a chance to eavesdrop on the best American original dialogue this side of a Jim Jarmusch film. When I was there I overheard a fascinating conversation touching on both, and I quote, "proto-feminist archetypes Medea and Circe," how much gasoline a crankcase can hold before you can reasonably expect it to blow up, how Medea, like most women, has been wronged by contemporary commercial media, and why a truck with a bad tranny and a fraught relationship with the second gear can be a thrifty car-shopper's dream come true.

Unfortunately, the Wienery, never the lair of Mr. Clean, is beginning to look as though someone put up a "No Gurlz Allowed" sign five years ago, and it worked. Great fries and hot dogs, though.

So, in addition to the Long List and the Great Originals, then, we have what I have concluded are three king-of-the-hill, lord-of-the-heap, Olympic tournament-caliber French-fry kitchens in the Twin Cities: Café Barbette, Bar and Café Lurcat, and the St. Paul Grill.

The fries at jP look like a bouquet of tuber, as envisioned by the Italian futurist sculptor Brancusi
Bill Kelley
The fries at jP look like a bouquet of tuber, as envisioned by the Italian futurist sculptor Brancusi

Location Info

Map

The Wienery

414 Cedar Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55454

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Jp American Bistro

2937 Lyndale Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55408

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

112 Eatery

112 N. 3rd St.
Minneapolis, MN 55401

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

The Craftsman Restaurant

4300 E. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55406

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Seward/ Longfellow/ Minnehaha

Ike's Food & Cocktails

50 S. Sixth St.
Minneapolis, MN 55402

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Black Forest Inn

1 E. 26th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55404

Category: Restaurant > German

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

 

Café Barbette

I like Café Barbette more and more as the years pass. It is beginning to seem to me less like a restaurant and more like a lake. More like the way snow-shoveling sounds on a residential street halfway through one of those late-winter, heavy-cloud blizzards. Less like a restaurant and more like a thing that people who live here understand in a way that people who don't never can. It seems less like a restaurant and more like an inviolable here.

I feel this even as I freely acknowledge that a solid 10 percent of the time the service is less like service and more like the thing that happens between sobbing in the back over your ex-boyfriend and planning tonight's party-hopping. I guess I'm just turning into the kind of sap that would rather deal with a person who has good days and bad moments, and not an automated call center. Or a Panera.

Anyhoo, the fries have gone a good way toward making Barbette such a force of personality: On my last visit I got a big soup bowl of golden-brown beauties, square-cut, thin and long, each slightly bent French fry slightly sweet with the taste of a potato that has been aged long enough to lose some of its water, but not so long that it becomes overly starchy. The fries in the bowl were a whole rainbow of golden-brown, from toasty-darker to paler-sweeter. They curled slightly into one another, making a nest, each tilt and swayback a tribute to the unfrozen, un-uniform thing that happens when real vegetables, in all their internal, made-by-nature watery-here, less-watery-there variety, hit hot oil. Truly these are French fries to sustain interest for an hour.

At $6 you might say they better be, yet I assert they are. For your $6 (or $4 for a half-portion), you get your fries and also a creamy, dusky saffron aioli for dipping, a sauce that has the nice effect of resetting your taste buds to appreciate the sweetness and freshness of the fries anew. When I was at Barbette, on a Saturday afternoon, it seemed like the tables hosted half little kids intent on French toast and syrup, and half adults intent on a bottle of southern Rhône red, but everyone had fries before them, and little puddles beneath them, where the snow had melted out from their boot treads. It was a very Minnesota moment. CAFÉ BARBETTE, 1600 W. Lake St., Minneapolis; 612.827.5710; www.barbette.com

 

The St. Paul Grill

Speaking of Minnesota moments, I happened to be at the St. Paul Grill the day they were putting the holiday lights out in front of the great hotel, and I took a moment to stand beside the top-hatted doorman and look out at the lights and the big, full sky over the princess-hat turrets of the Landmark Center. And I thought, for the hundredth time perhaps, that the vantage point from the covered doorway in front of the St. Paul Grill is St. Paul's Pont Neuf or Rockefeller Center, the tourist-perfect landmark that retains its dignity and grandeur whether you appreciate it and go there or whether you never do.

If you do go there, however, the fries are magnificent. Thick, sturdy, and positively vibrating with the rough-hewn and rootlike nature of real potatoes, the fries the St. Paul Grill serves are so crisp and so meaty they almost begin to seem like crustaceans or something equally lively. They're slightly sweet, slightly roasty and toasty, slightly earthy, and arrive, for $6.25, in a platter-sized portion that could feed the entire Cratchit family at Christmas. These truly are fries to remember on your deathbed, and would be made even more so if you paired them with a glass of the Grill's 50-year-old Macallan single-malt scotch, which sells for $250 a glass.

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