Krinkly Fries

The dentist told Felice to eat ice cream. He’d just completed the replacement of her implant and when Felice strolled up Camden to her car she encountered the new Shake Shack, and purchased a shake, and french fries.

Shake Shack started off with krinkly fries. I’m not a fan. Too much potato inside. Even worse are steak fries. I’m not saying I won’t eat them, it’s just that they’re less satisfying. Shake Shack ultimately switched to a narrower fry, but then they switched back, I’m not exactly sure why. Are there really any fans of krinkly french fries? Or do I say “krinkle”? I don’t know, I always call them “krinkly.”

Which is the only thing we had way back when. You know the fifties, a decade that is fading into the rearview mirror. We hear about the conservatism, the birth of rock and roll, but the actual life…that’s grown dim. Not that I remember much, after all I was born in 1953. But I do remember the “Mickey Mouse Club.” I don’t remember “Your Show of Shows” and all the early TV breakthroughs, but what came after, like “Sky King,” and “Crusader Rabbit,” those are embedded in my brain.

It was completely different when we were young. Our parents weren’t worried about “screen time,” at least before we were old enough to have homework, which for me was in the third grade. The TV would go on sometime around five, and we three kids ate downstairs in the playroom, in front of the black and white TV. There was only black and white, it was all we knew. The breakthrough of color really didn’t come until the sixties. And TV screens were no longer tiny, they were right-sized, as in rectangular and about twenty-odd inches diagonally.

And at five we might watch Zacherle. And when I was in junior high, years later, “Soupy Sales” was a thing, we all imitated White Fang, but after he had his hit with “The Mouse” the fascination faded away. You see Soupy was underground, and when everybody knew him it was not the same.

And dinner was at six. By time we went to school we all ate dinner together, but before that, the kids ate before my dad came home. And my mother, who never wanted to dedicate the time to cook, she didn’t deem it important, served us spaghetti or shells, long before it was labeled “pasta,” and krinkly fries baked in the oven.

This was long before home fryers, never mind air fryers. The french fries we had at home were facsimiles of the real thing, which you could only get out. And I always ate mine cold, because I saved them for last. Well, lukewarm.

As for out…

At the time it was all about hot dogs. The stand we went to put bacon at the bottom of the roll, they even sold chow mein sandwiches. But in the early sixties the Rocket Drive-In was built down the street, it was fancy and new, and not only did it serve hot dogs, but hamburgers too, and fries. Yes, Kuhn’s, the old standard, served no fries, although it did have burgers, which nobody ordered. Can you believe that burgers didn’t dominate until the breakthrough of McDonald’s?

It was kind of like baseball and football. Hot dogs were king, like baseball, until they were eclipsed by hamburgers, which were football.

Anyway, during the summer we went to the beach. And my mother would give us money to buy goodies at the stand. It was part of the experience. It’s not like we didn’t come with food, cookies and drinks, it’s just that we kids loved trudging along the sand, waiting in line and ordering, and oftentimes what we purchased was extinguished before we got back to the blanket.

So what were our choices?

The fudgsicle, at ten cents. Hot dogs were a quarter. And fries were fifteen cents. Or you could get a frozen candy bar. The best was the Charleston Chew, but they didn’t sell that at the beach, it was rare, eventually we made them at home, like root beer ice cubes, remember when that was a thing? Probably not.

The french fries at the beach were crinkly. This was long before I realized that they were best consumed well-done. And sometimes they were more cooked than other times, and more satisfying, but if you want that taste, that feeling, the only place you can get it is in a fry.

And then McDonald’s broke through. Hamburgers, miniature, this was years before the Big Mac, never mind the Quarter Pounder, were fifteen cents, and fries were ten cents. There was no supersize. The fries were a treat, the piece-de-resistance. They were the reason you bought a hamburger, why you went to McDonald’s to begin with. As far as the burgers went…they were so small you could always taste the pickle. The fries? They were shoestring, and that was a brand new thing. And this meant that there was almost no potatoey inside, it was all crisp skin. And McDonald’s salted them more than your average establishment, and even when they were limp they were a delicacy, but you knew, you had to eat them right away, they were best hot.

And then fries became a thing. McDonald’s gained respect. Oh yeah, prior to the late sixties the rumor was it was horse meat, McDonald’s was a joke. And then there were the imitators, like Burger King, never mind Wetson’s and Hardee’s. As for the independent stands of the sixties, they remained, and they served exotica like fried clams, but they could never get the fries right, if you wanted good fries you really needed to go to McDonald’s.

And ultimately, the shoestring fry won out, they were everywhere. Sure, there were curly fries, and spicy fries, but they were a delicacy. You went to places specifically to get them, and there were very few establishments that served them.

The seventies were the heyday of the aforementioned steak fry. It made no sense, you might as well have a baked potato, which you could dress to excellence. All the toppings, sour cream, never mind butter, scallions, bacon bits… That was the era of the steak and salad bar restaurant. They were somewhat upscale. There were some low-down chains, that sold steaks for a couple of bucks, like Sizzler and Ponderosa and Bonanza, but they were pooh-poohed, they were for those with no taste. A good steak had to cost six or seven bucks. And the salad bar? The ultimate price point was higher, ten to fifteen dollars.

And then the steak and salad places disappeared. Even chains like the Chart House closed restaurants. And we saw the advent of the upscale steak chain, like Ruth’s Chris, and fries had no place on the menu, they were low-class, they did not deserve to sit next to the steaks that were proffered.

The shoestring fry was king.

Oh, I never really mentioned the traditional french fry. Which was like a krinkly one but without the krinkles. They predated the krinkly fries. Then they died out. But they’ve been resuscitated, as a greasy potato-type thing, which is what Five Guys specializes in. They’re not the dry fries of yore, more of a slippery thing that make you feel like you’re slumming.

We love to slum.

We know we shouldn’t be eating fries at all, never mind fried foods. And not only is it the aged who know this, but some of the cooking show stars have gotten in personal trouble with their fried concoctions, as in their own health. That used to be a regular feature at the grocery store, the magazine featuring a picture of a chef who ate clean and lost weight and was suddenly healthy.

But then you’ve got the food industry, trying to make bad food, not only fried, but processed, addictive. It’s a constant battle to eat healthy. Furthermore, it costs more to eat healthy. In a perfect world vegetables would be cheap and fried goods expensive, but that’s not the way it is. And ultimately this cheap food kills, another reason why the poor have shorter life spans. They become ill from the bad food, and then they don’t get appropriate medical treatment because it’s so damn expensive, and then they pass away.

But if you’re educated and have some cash… Fries are taboo. Like drugs. You want to take them but you know you shouldn’t.

So Felice texted me about that Shake Shack shake, but when she got home and opened the bag, she also had some fries. Krinkly. Can’t say that I was intrigued, I could do without.

But then Felice said to have some.

Oh, with the green light I partook. They were a bit soggy after the almost half hour drive. But the edges were crisp. And the packets of Heinz ketchup added a coating that was reminiscent of my youth, I mean how often do I even eat ketchup anymore, that’s kid food. They have upscale mustard, but what am I even going to put an upscale ketchup on?

And the krinkly fries were not undercooked, which is so often the case. And at the bottom of the paper boat there were the remnants, you know, the little pieces of fry that have broken off, that are a bit over-fried, that are so satisfying.

And I can’t say I’m wolfing the fries down. I’m fearful of eating too many, after all they’re for Felice. But I ask her if I can eat some more and she gives me permission and as I’m biting into the fry my whole life flashes before my eyes, all the fries I’ve eaten over the years, decades, more than half a century. I suddenly had the urge to tell you.

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