French fries are individuals. They sound straightforward; cut potatoes into lengthwise strips, then dunk into boiling grease under golden brown. But any fry lover knows there are a million variations on the theme.
Do you prefer a completely peeled potato, or a bit of browned skin left on the spud? Some sound like styles of jeans: thin cut, steak cut, shoestring. Or are you a wedge fry person? When it comes to toppings, do you need blankets of pepper, malt vinegar, or does a quick shake of salt do it for you?
Then there are the signature french fries that some of Cleveland's local hotspots are branding for their own. These are fries that won't be regulated to the side of the plate; they are main events themselves. Here are six stand-alone unique piles of potato goodness that you need to try for yourself.
Buckeye Beer Engine - Sweet Potato Fries
These fries almost qualify as dessert. The sweet potato fries ($6.75) at Buckeye Beer Engine (15315 Madison Ave, Lakewood) are a thinner cut, giving a satisfying crunch to the sugar-and-salt spicing. They come with a side of maple mustard sauce, but each table has a ready bottle of ketchup for traditionalists.
Banter - Vladimir Poutine
Poutine, that Canadian export of frites, gravy and cheese curd has been slowly taking root Stateside for the past ten years. Local poutine providers Banter (7320 Detroit Ave, Cleveland & 3441 Tuttle Rd, Shaker Heights) have a long menu of variations, from classic styles to outright experimental.
The “Vladimir Poutine” (pictured, $11) is a decadent pile of frites, braised Ohio lamb, stroganov, mushrooms, borscht gravy, cheese curds and orange zest. It’s about as comfort food as you can get, like a Eastern block grandma teamed up with a bistro chef.
Heck's Cafe - Heck's Fries
Heck’s Cafe (2927 Bridge Ave. Cleveland, 515 Euclid Ave. Cleveland & 35514 Detroit Rd. Avon) serves up skin-on fries that are more on the “wet and rich” side than the crispy variety.
You can order up a basket with the normal salt and pepper topping, but we recommend going for the rosemary and garlic variety. With a generous dusting of Parmesan cheese, it’s served up with ketchup and garlic aioli.
Toast - Cottage Fries
Toast (1365 W 65th Street, Cleveland) touts itself as a wine bar, but is rightfully known for what comes out of its kitchen.
Their cottage fries ($5.40) are flavored with salt and a mild malt vinegar, creating a deep sweet and savory taste. The sides are a smooth garlic aioli and tomato jam.
While offering a tomato jam over table ketchup might seem like an upscale fussiness, it keeps the taste from becoming a vinegar-fest, and gives the taste a bright pop.
Boaz Cafe - Za'atar Fries
Ohio City’s Boaz Cafe (2549 Lorain Ave, Cleveland) is a sibling restaurant to Cleveland’s beloved Aladdin’s, and carries over many of the same Mediterranean flavors.
Their fries are fried in peanut oil and seasoned with za’atar (an ancient Mid-East herb). This sumac and coriander-based seasoning adds a dimension of savory nuttiness that makes these fries pop.
Happy Dog - Tots
The Happy Dog (5801 Detroit Ave, Cleveland) is a neighborhood bar and sometime concert venue that’s synonymous with its hot dogs, and their extensive “pick your own toppings” list. But don’t forget the custom-ready tater tots and french fries (available in classic or sweet potato form).
Choose from sixteen complimentary dipping sauces, like “Marcella’s grape-chili”, Brazilian chimichurri, and Cleveland staple Bertman’s Original Ballpark mustard. Thirteen topping options are available for a dollar each. Tots ($4.50) shown here with beer cheese fondue and applewood-smoked bacon, but you can get as wild or traditional as the mood strikes you.