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Learn How to Disco Fry in Five Easy Steps

January 29, 2014

Poutine is a highly desired dish in Albany. But nobody makes it well. I’m starting to think that the reason one can’t find good poutine in America has something to do with government safety regulations. Maybe the cheese curds have to be kept too cold. Or maybe they can’t even be made to squeak in the first place given our stringent laws about cooking young cheeses to death. I don’t know.

But if it’s fries with gravy and cheese that you want, the Capital Region has you covered. There are plenty of joints from bars, to taverns, to diners that can scratch that itch.

Last weekend I set off with a small hand-picked crew of serious eaters to evaluate our region’s most storied Disco Fries. Sure, most places simply called them by their generic name of “Fries with gravy and cheese”. But they aren’t fooling anyone. We stayed away from the diners, because really, who wants to disco at a diner in upstate New York? Jersey diners are another story.

So, what did we learn about this dish? And where can you get the best one? Well, I suppose that depends on what you are looking for in a plate of these cheesy, salty, fatty, pleasure sticks.

You can follow along with the pictures that Albany Jane posted on her blog yesterday if you are so inclined to see the serious differences in each of these dishes from spot to spot.

One thing to note is how different most of these are from one another.

Junior’s was all about the cheese. Roni C. said their potatoes were “nicely fried (crisp outside, tender inside).” The little bits of skin helped provide some good potato flavor. But these were also a bit deceptive. Under the nicely melted layer of finely grated cheese lurked a lake of cheez sauce. J from Chopsticks Optional noted that the “First bite [was] remarkably good.” After those first few bites all that remained was big mouthfulls of orange goo seasoned with an unremarkable gravy Albany Jane compared to Heinz jarred.

On a personal note, I could see myself eating these again. Don’t forget I went to college in Philadelphia. Cheez Whiz runs through my veins. But this is something I would order to drown my sorrows, not elevate my spirit.

Bombers is synonymous with Disco Fries in the region. So how did theirs measure up? For starters it was nice to see the shop’s prominent display of gravy crowning the basket of fries. By all measures this version was better than Junior’s. Albany Jane ranked it her second favorite batch of the tour. She praised it for its commitment to real cheese and for the “awesome crunch” on the fries. But really, this was all about the gravy. Most participants praised the poultry gravy’s full flavor and generous coverage. However, the cheese was quite bland and the potatoes were lacking in flavor too. Overall Bombers did respectably, coming in at the middle of the pack.

Hill Street Cafe was off my radar for Disco Fries until it was nominated by DEN. He called their steak fries “ranch style” and this was the only place we visited that went that route. How did that work out?

Well first, we were presented with an unexpected quandary. When ordering the fries with cheese and gravy, the woman behind the bar asked, “Beef or turkey?” Since the point of this expedition was scientific in nature, the only answer was, “One of each.” For the sake of the scores we went with the better of the two. Turkey. You want the turkey gravy. It’s fantastic.

Roni C. held the minority opinion that Hill Street’s version of Disco Fries were the best of the day. This is what he wrote, “The potatoes were outstanding and presented a very solid base for the dish. While the cheese sauce was only average, it melded well with the gravy, which had very bold flavor and a nice, creamy comfortable texture.” Truly, the way the gravy and cheese sauce melded together was a thing of beauty. It reminded me of the glorious slurry of grease and whiz that forms in the rolls at Pat’s Steaks in South Philly.

Far and away, Hill Street made the best fries of the day. They were super crisp, held up to the wet toppings remarkably well, and were a great delivery device for getting the cheese and gravy into your mouth. This was a very close second place finish. For those who see Disco Fries about the fries first and foremost, Hill Street is the place for you.

But by the end of the tour, the vast majority of those on this tour decided that Disco Fries are really about the gravy and cheese. The Ruck knocked these elements out of the park, and did so in a very smart way.

The weakest link of The Ruck’s Disco Fries is their potatoes. They start out limp and they end limp. It’s a good thing they come with a fork, because eating them by hand is a real challenge (although not impossible). They are then covered with a layer of shredded pepper jack cheese that begins to melt once in contact with the hot fries. Finally, the basket is crowned with an avalanche of dark brown turkey gravy that transforms the softened cheese into a melted pile of piquant goo. Quality ingredients, skilled preparation, and big bold flavors are what put this basket of Disco Fries over the top.

I had high hopes for O’Toole’s in Colonie. It’s one of those places that has a lot of fried foods on the menu, and that kind of specialization can lead a kitchen to greatness. Plus their version of this dish came on beer battered french fries and promised homemade gravy.

But these ultimately were a disappointment. The potatoes weren’t crisp, but almost chewy. The cheese sauce was extra gloppy. And while the gravy did have homemade notes of bay and thyme, there wasn’t nearly enough of it. They can’t all be winners, but this was the only one from the batch that I would have no interest in eating again.

Congratulations to The Ruck for its remarkable version of this dish. But as much as we all loved it, everyone agreed that it would be even better with the fries from Hill Street Cafe. If The Ruck could make its fries as crispy as it makes its wings, the resulting Disco Fries might cause people stop whining about the lack of poutine in the region.

Dare to dream.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Debra permalink
    January 29, 2014 11:43 am

    Love Hill Street Café, and so happy it is very near to my home base. Glad to hear they came in 2nd – I do love good steak fries.

  2. Rachel Mabb permalink
    January 29, 2014 12:01 pm

    Well Fussy, I am glad you-all enjoyed our disco’s overall. I am prone to agree that our actual fries are not “cut out” (pardon the pun) to be smothered- and assure you we are working on an improvement! We are implementing a new menu next week, and have a number of “smothered” fries on the docket, including Studio 54 fries, which are Uber Disco. Please come down to the Ruck again soon for a second go! As always, we appreciate the feedback.
    Rachel Mabb

    • llcwine permalink
      January 29, 2014 2:06 pm

      Love the Ruck and can’t wait to see the new menu….husband and I are fairly regulars on Saturday afternoons…we haven’t tried the smothered fries…but will do so on an upcoming visit.

  3. Daniel N. permalink
    January 29, 2014 12:02 pm

    I adore Hill Street, I wish it was closer because in the winter walking down windy Madison is something I abhor.

    I never had the real thing as I haven’t been to Montreal in years. I was a teenager ordering McRoyal’s last time. However, The Poutine style dish at Capital City Gastropub satisfies my needs.

  4. upstatedave permalink
    January 29, 2014 2:31 pm

    Cheddar cheese curds are just cheddar cheese before it has been pressed in molds and aged. I don’t see why there would be any special regulations outside of the norm for any other sort of cheese. I think it is more about a lack of local producer of cheese curds.

    The thing with the little cheesy boogers is that they pretty much need to be consumed on the same day they were produced. Their squeakiness is perishable and I would assume their melting quality degrades as they lose moisture. The curds I have seen available around here in grocery stores are relatively highly processed. They are more just funny little pieces of cheddar then true blue cheese curds.

    Long story short, a cheese factory needs to open nearby that appreciates the market for curd. Only then will have our poutine.

  5. January 29, 2014 2:36 pm

    Hands down, the best poutine I have ever had was at a pub in Victoria, BC (sorry, Quebec). I wish I could remember the name of it. I almost weep everytime I think about that one.

    Am going to have to give The Ruck a try (although, wish they had scored better on the crisp factor – that is a key element…)

  6. January 29, 2014 3:07 pm

    The lack of poutine probably has a lot to do with the lack of cheese curds. Even when I was little, there was usually one peg in the bagged-cheeses section of the grocery store that held cheese curds, but now, nobody carries them. The only place I know of where you can even get them now, aside from driving out to the state fair, is from Palatine at the farmers’ markets.

  7. DEN permalink
    January 29, 2014 3:17 pm

    Glad to hear Hill Street put in a respectable performance in the eyes of the tour judges. I think calling that particular fry cut “ranch-style” was a habit I picked up when I lived in the Midwest, but yes, let’s call that cut a steak fry from here on out. Sounds like I will have to save room for the disco fries at the Ruck on the next visit.

  8. Matt permalink
    January 29, 2014 4:37 pm

    Actually, Shirley’s in Saratoga Speings has great poutine (with squeaky curds!). Have you tried them? Perhaps because Saratoga is marginally closer to Quebec, the atmosphere up here is better for poutine!

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