Food Fight: Battle French Fry
Five Guys vs. Jax Grill
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
Did you know that Monday was National French Fry Day? Yeah, neither did we. We were still distracted by trying unsuccessfully to find poutine for Canada Day (July 1, ya hosers). But take National French Fry Day and combine it with Bastille Day (July 14, mais non), and you have the perfect recipe for the next Food Fight: Battle French Fry.
French fries are a tough food to define, tougher than you may initially think. In the most basic sense, fries are simply cut up sections of a potato, deep fried and (hopefully) salted. But that's only the jumping off point for the many variations of French fries that exist in this world: steak fries, shoestring fries, waffle fries, beer-battered fries, homestyle fries, seasoned fries, fast-food fries...where can one draw the line when pitting two foes in battle? Clearly, they must be evenly matched, which means that you can ultimately choose only one kind of fry -- one race of warrior -- for battle and let the best man win.
For this week's Battle French Fry, the choice was made to pit homestyle fries against one another in combat. Why? Because they're the closest thing to an actual potato that one can get -- plain, hand-cut slices of potato with the skin still on them. All other fries are simply offshoots and variations. With that in mind, we chose our competitors.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
For a restaurant to place "fries" in their title implies a certain aptitude for creating particularly good French fries. Five Guys, the burger chain out of Virginia that's slowly taking over the national scene, prides itself on its hand-cut fries made from Idaho potatoes that are flown in every morning. The fries are cooked to order in peanut oil and served in a Styrofoam cup alongside your burger.
Five Guys gets bonus points for serving malt vinegar with their French fries, a rare treat outside of pubs and English restaurants. Although the fries don't necessarily need the malt vinegar, it's a nice touch -- especially if you're addicted to the bright, tangy flavor that the vinegar imparts. A pro-tip for eating your fries at Five Guys is to grab one of the paper boats meant for your peanut-eating activities and dump your fries into it; Styrofoam cups don't allow for maximum eating potential (not to mention, they're non-recyclable).
The fries themselves at Five Guys are decent. They're robustly flavored and strongly evocative of the fries that one would make at home -- imperfect and alternately thin and thick but definitively homemade. The downside is that they're also too greasy at times, wilting under the weight of the peanut oil if they've been left in for too long and at times unable to hold on to the salt or malt vinegar.
This longtime bar and grill has played host to countless Little League teams and jazz bands throughout the years, solidly cementing its place in the community as a restaurant that serves quality food -- and a lot of it -- in a comfortable setting, whether at the sprawling Shepherd location or the more family-oriented Bellaire location.
Jax's fries come with nearly every burger or sandwich or gyro combo that you order (and be forewarned: you'll need a to-go box regardless of what you order). You could, if you wished, substitute sweet potato fries or onion rings in their place, but you'd be missing out. The onion rings at Jax are as mediocre as their fries are excellent.
Although verging on fast-food fries in appearance and texture, the fries at Jax ultimately walk that fine line between being almost too uniform and having an appetizingly homemade appearance. They're pleasantly crisp on the outside, with a soft, slightly textured interior -- the mark of any good French fry. Despite being almost too thin, Jax's fries are pure fun to eat; a plate is gone before you know it.
Jax Grill, by a nose. Although the imperfect apperance of the fries at Five Guys is superior to Jax's, they also tend to become soggy quickly. Jax wins for having uniformly crispy fries that taste good whether you doctor them up with malt vinegar (or ketchup or mayonnaise) or not.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Houston dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.