Pot Luck

The Surprising Rise of Sweet Potato Fries

Photos by Robb Walsh

What do you put on your sweet potato fries? At Hubcab Grill in downtown Houston, my friend gets extra mayo to dip his in. At Beechwood American Bistro in Venice, California, they come with aioli. Other L.A. restaurants serve them with chipotle mayo, horseradish mayo and BBQ sauce. At Silver K Café in Johnson City, Texas, customers dip them in ranch dressing. (Along with everything else on the table.)

“Sweet-potato fries have spread through Seattle like an epidemic,” wrote Anna Roth in the Seattle Weekly’s 2008 Best of Seattle issue. “No matter how great regular fries seemed before, one bite of the exciting new tuber's sweet taste and firmer texture makes old spuds seem pedestrian and ordinary.”

The exciting new tuber? Is she talking about the same sweet potato that was domesticated in South America 5,000 years ago? Maybe she meant that frying sweet potatoes was new? Okay, so George Washington Carver published a recipe for sweet potato fries (among many other sweet potato recipes) back in the 1930s, while he was at Tuskegee University in Alabama. How are they supposed to know about that in Seattle--or Canada?

"Sweet potato fries are ruining my life,” wrote Rebecca Eckler in Canada’s National Post back in August. “Never before have I felt so much pressure to like something. Every conversation, during every dining experience I have had lately, ends up in a discussion of sweet potato fries. Summer used to be the season of patios. Now it's the season of the sweet potato fry. The conversations always go something like this:

"‘You have to try the sweet potato fries here. They are amazing!’ a friend will say as we look at menus.

"‘Yeah, I don't really like sweet potato fries,’ I'll answer.

"‘What?! You don't like sweet potato fries? How could you not like sweet potato fries?! What is wrong with you?’ she or he will say, as if I just said I don't like puppies.

"The conversation ends with me apologizing profusely ... for not liking orange fried sticks in a basket.

"‘I'm sorry,’ I'll say. ‘I just don't like them. I'm really sorry. Can we please change the subject?’

"It's at the point where I almost feel like asking for forgiveness. I feel like I've personally hurt their feelings by not liking sweet potato fries. Which I think I have."

Salt Lake magazine’s snooty On the Table blog declares the sweet potato fry fad must already be over because a local fast food joint called Arctic Circle is serving them. (I guess they were considered fine dining fare until the Utah hamburger heathens got their hands on them.) Arctic Circle serves their sweet potato fries with the locally popular mayo-ketchup mixture known as “fry sauce,” though the blogger insists on the superior acidity of ketchup.

Blue cheese dressing would be my idea of the perfect dip. Anybody know of a place that has sweet potato fries and Buffalo chicken wings on the menu? -- Robb Walsh

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