Chow Town

French fry face-off: Vote for Kansas City’s best in our monthlong tournament

tljungblad@kcstar.com

Who makes the best french fries in Kansas City? The answer depends on your preference.

If you like salty shoestrings dipped in classic ketchup, your go-to might be a classic diner such as Town Topic or Winstead’s. Prefer thick-cut wedges dredged in tangy barbecue sauce? Then Arthur Bryant’s or LC’s Bar-B-Q could be your go-to.

If dunking skin-on matchsticks in house-made dipping sauce is your style, you’re probably a regular at BRGR Kitchen & Bar or The Westside Local. And if you call fries “pommes frites,” we’re guessing you crave the European-style fried potatoes and garlic aioli at Beer Kitchen or Le Fou Frog.

With so many golden options to choose from, we thought it would be fun to launch a March Madness-inspired french fry tournament. Our bracket features 16 local restaurants divided into four categories: Diner-style, Barbecue, Upscale American and Fancy French.

All of the restaurants were recommended by Chow Town readers, ranked by their number of Facebook fans, then pitted against one another in “games.” In order to narrow the bracket down to 16 restaurants, we stuck with the classic matchstick style and avoided special shapes (waffle, curly, crinkle-cut, tots) and sweet potato fries. To further even the playing field, we excluded over-the-top toppings such as gravy and chili-cheese.

Winners will be determined by reader votes. First-round votes must be cast by 9 a.m. Monday, March 6. Look for results on our Chow Town blog (kansascity.com/chowtown) every Wednesday through March 29, when we’ll announce the ultimate winner.

[Round 1: Click here to cast your votes]

If all this sounds familiar, it’s because we did a March Madness-inspired fried chicken tournament around this time last year. After four rounds and more than 20,000 votes cast by readers, Go Chicken Go beat Stroud’s to claim the top spot.

Who’s going to claim this year’s title? That’s up to you, readers. And I know from experience that picking a winner won’t be easy, because I sampled all the fries in the Salty 16 over the course of one week.

The challenge gave me an excuse to indulge a few of my favorite cravings, such as the perfectly seasoned fries at Joe’s Kansas City, coated with an addictive mix of salt, sugar, onion, paprika and dehydrated broth, which beefs up the flavor. With a Z-Man sandwich and lots of spicy Night of the Living Bar-B-Q Sauce, those fries are barbecue heaven. I’m also a fan of the soft, thick slabs of hot fried potato served at Arthur Bryant’s, especially when they’re bundled up in brown paper with a juicy beef sandwich.

When I’m in the mood for crunchy fries, I go to Genessee Royale Bistro in the West Bottoms, where the cooks use corn starch to create a crisp outer shell. A metal cup of chilled ketchup comes on the side.

If you’re into fancy dipping sauces, you have to try the house-made ketchup and chipotle aioli at Leawood’s Blanc Burgers + Bottles, where the hand-cut fries are served in miniature shopping carts. The ketchup tastes more like fresh tomatoes than straight-up sugar, and the chipotle aioli packs a pleasant slow burn.

The special sauce at BRGR Kitchen + Bar is also delicious. It’s made with a mix of ketchup, mustard, mayo and barbecue sauce — which sounds weird until you try it with a handful of BRGR’s skinny, bendy fries, which are served hot as soon as they’re out of the fryer.

My weeklong taste-test also led me to lots of utterly amazing french fries I’d never tried before.

When I first dipped into a white paper bag of simple, perfect shoestrings at LC’s Hamburgers, a beloved Northland fast food joint, they reminded me of McDonald’s fries, only better.

“This is how McDonald’s made them 40 years ago,” explained employee Harold Jordan, who told me that LC’s uses the same vegetable shortening that the burger chain used back in the day.

At The Snack Shack on Santa Fe, a family-owned diner in downtown Overland Park, I discovered golden old-school fries edged with crisp brown potato skin. Owner Jack Tolle pointed to two boxes of Idaho potatoes before detailing his process, which involves hand-cutting the potatoes, then rinsing them to get rid of excess starch and frying them to order. A sprinkle of salt is the only garnish on the fries, which are irresistible even to the cook.

“I crave them on Sundays and Mondays,” he told me, “because we’re closed those days.”

On Valentine’s Day, I fell in love with a pint of fries at The Westside Local thanks to Kansas City Star digital editor Mary Kate Metivier, who told me I had to try them. They were crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside and sprinkled with salty Parmesan and parsley. Three sauces came alongside, including ketchup, roasted garlic aioli and a chipotle ranch that made me re-evaluate my aversion to ranch dressing.

When my boss, features editor Kathy Lu, insisted that I try the Belgian-style fries at Westport’s Beer Kitchen, I (happily) agreed. They were thick, golden and perfectly seasoned with salt and pepper. But the best part might be the addictive aioli served on the side. Customers can pick between seven flavors of the creamy garlic and olive oil-based sauce, including sweet Thai chili, horseradish and smoked chipotle.

I’m also glad that food editor Jill Silva recommended the pommes frites at the French restaurants Le Fou Frog and Charisse. At Le Fou Frog, the fries were soft, deep golden brown and delicious with tangy Dijon mustard. At Charisse, chef/owner Jason Craine flavors his twice-fried frites with a hint of black truffle oil, which adds a seductive aroma and earthy flavor.

One of my last stops was Ça Va, a Westport champagne bar that serves pommes frites with a certain je ne sais quoi. General manager/owner Caitlin Corcoran told me that the fries are based on the classic McDonald’s recipe, with a few upgrades. Making them is a time-intensive process that starts with hand-cut russet potatoes. The matchsticks are soaked in water and vinegar, then blanched, cooled, fried for one minute and frozen.

Corcoran says freezing the fries helps set the starch, which produces a fry that’s crisp on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside. Before serving, the potatoes are fried once more until golden brown, sprinkled with salt and parsley, and served with creamy house-made aioli.

According to Ça Va’s menu notes, “they’re as addictive as McDonald’s fries, but made with love by hand rather than machines.” And they taste great with a glass of champagne.

Know of any crave-worthy Kansas City french fries that didn’t make our Salty 16? Email chowtownfeedback@kcstar.com or tweet @Sarah_Gish. We’re collecting write-in votes, and might even share your sizzling fry recommendation with readers later on. Because when it comes to french fries, we just can’t get enough.

The Salty 16

Diner-style

These salty shoestrings are an American classic best served with cold ketchup and a hot, juicy cheeseburger.

Town Topic, with locations at 1900 Baltimore, 2021 Broadway and 6018 Johnson Drive in Mission. $2.50.

The Snack Shack on Santa Fe, 8039 Santa Fe Drive in Overland Park. $2.

LC’s Hamburgers, 7612 N.W. Prairie View Road. $2.99.

Winstead’s, with locations at 101 Emanuel Cleaver II Blvd., 6260 N.W. Barry Road, 10711 Roe Ave. in Overland Park, 905 N. Missouri 7 in Blue Springs, 12056 W. 95th St. in Lenexa and 4971 W. 135th St. in Leawood. $2.49.

Barbecue

Thick-cut fries dusted with seasoning are the perfect match for brisket, ribs and tangy barbecue sauce.

Joe’s Kansas City, with locations at 3002 W. 47th St. in Kansas City, Kan., 11950 S. Strang Line Road in Olathe and 11723 Roe Ave. in Leawood. $3.15.

LC’s Bar-B-Q, 5800 Blue Parkway. $3.95.

Arthur Bryant’s, with locations at 1727 Brooklyn Ave. and 1702 Village West Parkway in Kansas City, Kan. $3.45.

Plowboys Barbeque, with locations at 1111 Main St., Suite 120, and 3111 S.W. Missouri 7 in Blue Springs. $2.59.

Upscale American

These fries are anything but basic. Picture gourmet garnishes such as Parmesan and parsley and house-made dipping sauces such as chipotle aioli.

BRGR Kitchen + Bar, with locations at 11 E. 14th St., 4038 W. 83rd St. in Prairie Village and 5031 W. 135th St. in Leawood. $3.

Genessee Royale Bistro, 1531 Genessee St. $5.

Blanc Burgers + Bottles, 10583 Mission Road in Leawood. $4.

The Westside Local, 1663 Summit St. $6.

Fancy French

These crispy golden beauties taste like something you’d eat in Belgium or France. Ooh la la.

Beer Kitchen, 435 Westport Road. $3-6, depending on the size.

Le Fou Frog, 400 E. Fifth St. $4 for the small size.

Charisse, 1006 Walnut St. $5.

Ça Va, 4149 Pennsylvania Ave. $5.

How to vote

Go to bit.ly/fryfaceoff to vote in our March Madness-style french fries tournament. First-round votes must be cast by 9 a.m. Monday, March 6, second-round votes must be cast by 9 a.m. Monday, March 13, third-round votes must be cast by Monday, March 20, and fourth-round votes must be cast by 9 a.m. Monday, March 27. Look for results on our Chow Town blog (kansascity.com/chowtown) every Wednesday through March 29, when we’ll announce the ultimate winner.

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