Cheese Fries - Highbrow and Lowbrow
If you need any proof of American exceptionalism as we approach the 4th, look no further than the cheese fry. In other, less American parts of the world, the cheese fries that you find would be relegated to quick, cheap snack food. You wouldn't find them drizzled with truffle oil and taking up menu space next to scalllop gnocchi or roasted duck. But hey, this is the land of the free, so why not upscale cheese fries onto a bistro menu? That's what I tried earlier this week at Kingston Station, a Boston restaurant where I work as a host. And because we're also the land of the brave, I topped off the experience with the new cheese fries from Wendy's across the corner, to nestle back into the fast food lowbrow.
How did they compare?
Let's start with the truffle fries from Kingston Station. The truffle fries come with scallions, melted Gruyere cheese and a drizzle of hot truffle oil. The plate comes with a fork, a must have tool for excavating the fries, which are buried under a cave-in of Gruyere. It's also worth mentioning the aroma - that mix of cheese, truffle, and general deep fry fragrance gave the plate its own gravitational pull. For its presentation and ingredients, the basic cheese fry experience was the same - mounds of soft, fried matter fused with creamy cheese, swallowed in forkfuls of I-can't-believe-this-is-happening. The truffle oil gave it a great, subtle kick - there was nothing subtle about its powerful flavor, but it was drizzled scarcely enough that it did not overwhelm the plate but planted it with pockets of strong flavor. A sort of truffle-flavored minefield, which sounds like a bad French army joke.
Now, there are those that would find such refinement and gentrification of a fast food staple contrary to the rugged American spirit...it might be, even (gasp) European! To solve thus quandary, enter Wendy's. I've been vaguely aware of their new cheese fry item, and new items at fast food chains are often a good excuse to leave the whole-foods mentality behind for a few minutes and bask in the satisfaction complex that is our fast food industry.
Well, they weren't as pretty as Kingston Station's fries. They were standard Wendy's fries, topped with a cheese the color of a crayola crayon that looked like it had been living inside of a nacho pump. They were a couple strands of token shredded cheese on top of the fries, perhaps to ward off that nacho-pump association. In other words, they looked sort of...gross. But did this mean they were bad? As anyone who has ever heard the word 'McGriddle' can tell you, just because you can instantly tell that something is disgusting does not mean that it is not delicious. No, the two can coexist and often live side by side.
Wendy's Cheese fries hit all of the basic levels of satisfaction. Nothing about their flavor was surprising or exceptional, unlike the truffle fries with their scallions, Gruyere and eponymous oil. Wendy's was all about the textures - fried matter and melted, creamy stuff, which is always going to be good. I told myself I would have a few just to say I could, but in a few moments have the fries were gone. Very clever, Wendy's.