By Keith Shaw
Secretary of Snacks
We're not here to give you the history of the french fry. We're also not going to argue which fast food chain has the best fries — that debate could take years to settle.
What we will do is settle once and for all which style of french fry is best. We've eaten enough french fries in our day to know this to a moral certainty. Don't agree? Get your own Interweb site.
At the top of the heap are Crinkle-Cut Fries. I'm convinced that Friendly's would be a nationwide chain (and not just an East-coast company) if they had never gotten rid of their crinkle-cut fries in the '80s. (Also, if they had hired me when the Clifton Park, N.Y., store opened in the mid-'80s, they'd be bigger than they are today.) Anyway, back when Friendly's did have crinkle-cut fries, they were outstanding and proved to be the best style of french fry. Why? I think it's the perfect batter-to-potato ratio, plus the crinkles in the fry cut make them perfect to hold the ketchup. In fact, Friendly's also blew it when they replaced the red squeeze bottle ketchup containers with regular bottles of Heinz ketchup. (Curse you, Teresa Heinz!) Playing with your french fries is fun, and there's no better fry to do that with than the crinkle-cut.
A very, very close second is the Steak Fry. You'll find these mainly in better restaurants, and usually as a side-dish to a steak (hence the name). Although it's weird, whenever I go for a steak I usually just order a baked potato. And that's mainly because the restaurants usually go with some other style of french fry instead of the steak fry. What makes this near the top of the list? Mainly the high amount of potato content inside the fry. Cooked well, the hot potato inside the batter just oozes out when you take a bite of a steak fry. The only downside to this style is that you don't get a lot of them with an order, compared to other styles of fries.
Next up is the Waffle Fry. The only fast-food chain I've seen that does waffle fries is Chick-fil-A, the world's best chicken restaurant. The waffle fry is the key component of the Chick-fil-A Triad (the other two being the chicken nuggets and the Polynesian sauce). Dipping your waffle fry into the sweet and sour taste of the Polynesian sauce is heaven re-defined. Make sure your waffle fries aren't seasoned either (see below).
The average standard for french fries is the Shoestring Fry. This is the style that most fast-food restaurants use, and as such makes it the most popular style. McDonald's, Burger King and countless others spend lots of money trying to perfect their fries, with varying degrees of success. Part of the problem seems to be timing — on some days the fries are really good, on other days they are either over-cooked, cooked in old oil or not cooked at all. Sizes vary on shoestring fries (Wendy's, for example, has a thicker cut fry than the standard shoestring), and the thinner-cut fries are usually better. Some even wander into "frites" territory, which are really good, especially with exotic dipping sauces.
Something went horribly wrong when someone invented the Curly Fry. At first it was an interesting invention: Take a potato and cut it so the fry looks like a corkscrew. But somewhere along the way, someone decided to make the fries spicier, and as such, curly fries have devolved into our next category ...
The Spicy Fry. The spicy fry is the Billy Carter of french fries. Trying for an edge, some "genius" at a chain restaurant decided that normal french fries weren't good enough to serve, and they added spices and other such nonsense to the french fry in order to "class it up." As a result, you get a concoction that is less potato and more jumbled mess. Blech. So many restaurants serve these fries that I've stopped ordering fries when I go out to eat. And that's a shame. Some restaurants try to disguise spicy fries by calling them "Seasoned Fries." Don't be fooled.