Lately, I have observed an abomination at otherwise respectable restaurants throughout the area: burgers served with a side of chips instead of french fries. I don’t care if they’re homemade, artisanal, spun from gold, or sprinkled with unicorn salt: It’s a side of fries or nothing. Haven’t we been deprived of enough over the past few years?
I first thought it was an anomaly when, while dining at a trendy Somerville restaurant, a clump of artfully named “house-made kettle chips” arrived alongside my burger. They looked like an afterthought, akin to throwing a watery pickle into a limp lunch bag. I wanted a mealy, creamy fried potato and a big squirt of ketchup.
When I related the experience to a colleague, he confirmed my disdain.
“Chips are for tuna fish sandwiches,” he assured me, horrified.
Yet, a week or so later, I browsed the menu at Somerville’s Boston Burger Company: same thing. Now, this is a place that doesn’t hold back. Burgers are topped with ranch dressing, macaroni and cheese, and even mozzarella sticks, for God’s sake. Yet meager chips on the side? How could they?
Next, imagine my surprise when I reached out to my favorite burger stand — Dairy Joy in Weston — in the name of journalistic research. Here, burger meals come with a de facto side of fries (and I pray they always will), but chips are nipping at their heels.
Owner Michael Nelson told me that he’s about to launch a “chip of the week” menu for a host of reasons: less oil, less fat, more crunch, cheaper to produce.
“Fries don’t lie, but I’m a chip guy at heart,” he told me, boldly.
“You can do cooler things with potato chips, and don’t forget: The margins are less. It can be money-saving for [customers], too,” he added.
Oh, but Michael, I don’t want to save money — not when it comes to this, at least; I want to eat french fries the way nature intended, alongside a bloody meat patty between two squishy buns.
At least some burger mavens agree with me. Tasty Burger’s Dave Dubois scoffed at my chip-versus-fry query, noting that White Castle began pairing burgers with fries in the 1930s — a tradition that potato chips simply cannot rival.
“This is not a close heat like the milkshake versus cola debate,” he sniffed. “This is a hands-down, clear-cut, hot salty potato winner.”
Tony Maws, who once slung cult-favorite burgers at Craigie on Main, was equally adamant.
“Fries all day, every day. Chips are for cookouts,” he said. (He did confess to enjoying Cape Cod salt and vinegar chips when grilling.)
The Tip Tap Room’s Brian Poe waxed poetic about the stylistic importance of fries alongside burgers.
“Chips are to keep kids from crying on a drive,” he opined. “Fries are for the true burger aficionado who understands the power and class associated with dipping the french fries while napkin-dabbing the burger from the corners of your smile.”
Commonwealth Kitchen’s Steve Postal was more blunt: “We aren’t in Britain,” he snarled. Nightshade Noodle Bar’s Rachel Miller, meanwhile, was practical: She prefers fries “for the extra condiment and salt opportunities,” revealing that she was about to have some for lunch, swiped through ketchup.
I should note that several chefs confessed to putting chips inside their burger for extra taste and crunch, especially under duress.
“If it’s a chip situation, I’ll eat them before the burger — and then leave some to put in for extra texture,” said Faccia Brutta, Coppa, and Toro co-owner Jamie Bissonnette, who also said he prefers steak fries for swanky outings and “normal” fries for a “smash and scrape.” Use your imagination.
And yet there are fry deniers even in the upper echelons of Boston’s dining scene. I reached Pagu’s Tracy Chang to discuss the issue, fittingly enough, while she was in the midst of eating tortilla chips. She paused to reflect.
“When your burger is so-so, as most are, you can put chips inside,” she explained.
Her love for chips is rooted in a childhood mishap, so I can’t blame her too much.
“When I was a kid, my parents would forget to pack me lunch or run out of bologna or ham. I’d get two slices of bread and a bag of Lay’s. What did I do? Chip sando,” she recalled.
Spoken like a true chef. And as for Dairy Joy? Well, I’ll surely be back, even if I have to order my fries a la carte. But, if they try to serve me a side of mesclun greens with my burger, I’ll have to cash in my chips once and for all.