The Darling’s Clam Chowder over fries may require a fork | photo by Andrew Cebulka

No longer the side

 French fries can be a simple side dish added to almost any meal. Burger? Pair it with fries. Steak? Fries, please. This crispy variety of potato is often an unadorned, though beloved, afterthought, but with the right toppings, fries can be the star of the show — the pièce de résistance of a night out. 

Just because a French fry dish is listed under “appetizers” on a menu doesn’t mean it can’t be a meal in itself. These five Charleston restaurants are changing what it means to snack on fries. 

Clam Chowder over fries
The Darling Oyster Bar 

What started as a play on poutine became one of The Darling’s most popular appetizers: clam chowder fries.

“It’s something that’s been a staple dish of ours since the beginning,” said Derick Wade, chef of The Darling. 

The Darling’s clam chowder is available as a traditional soup paired with saltines or oyster crackers on the side for $9. But, if you want to test out a new dipping agent, opt for the $3 upcharge to have the chowder poured over French fries, creating what Wade calls “an East Coast or Nor’eastern” poutine.

“We were trying to do something a little different, and wanted to do something like a poutine,” Wade said. “And the clam chowder just kind of camew in and stole the show. People love it and eat it up.”

The soup is a take on chunky New England clam chowder, which starts with a traditional creamy broth. Local clams, smoked bacon and vegetables like fennel are added to the broth for flavor and texture. Then, the soup is poured over fries, adding a crunchy texture to the dish. The longer it sits, the more the full-bodied chowder flavor absorbs into the potatoes. 

“[The clam chowder] brings just that full flavor of everything all together and on top of the French fries, it’s just great,” Wade said. 

Collison Fries
Holy City Brewing

Holy City Brewing keeps it nice, easy and cheesy, with its Collision Fries, topping crispy fries with house made beer cheese… and more cheese. 

Holy City Brewing’s Collison Fries | Photo by Ruta Smith

The beer cheese combo of pepper jack and beer balances the cheese’s spice and the beer’s bitter hops. A light brew is the beer of choice at Holy City. 

“The bitterness from the beer or a darker beer will translate to the cheese and it’s not always pleasant,” co-owner Chris Brown said. “So while you get a little hint of beer, based on the style used, it’s just a very tasty melted cheese.” 

To make the dish even cheesier, sharp cheddar jack tops the Collision Fries and creamy ranch dressing melds the cheeses together. Finally, bacon lardons add fat and a crispy texture to each handful of fries. 

She-Crab Fries
Islander 71 Fish House and Deck Bar

Sometimes, the best dish is the least expected one. At least that was the case at Islander 71 when owner Dave Lorenz and partners curated the menu.

Lorenz, his wife Chrissy, partner Jon Bushnell and others were already working on a she-crab soup for the menu when they started to experiment. There were extra French fries in the kitchen, and they decided to try combining the two seemingly different dishes. The she-crab fries were born. 

Lorenz said the process reminded him of an old Reese’s Pieces commercial. “It was like, ‘You put your chocolate in my peanut butter,’ and ‘you put my peanut butter in your chocolate.’ And then they’re like, ‘Oh, this is amazing,’” he said. They had a similar reaction when the she-crab fries were created.

Islander 71’s She-Crab fries are a successful experiment that landed on the menu for good | provided

The soup is a mixture of rich, heavy cream cooked with fish stock and she-crab meat. Take this classic Lowcountry dish and combine it with the salty simplicity of French fries for a flavor explosion. Tossed with a house made fry spice that brings out a sweet, salty, spicy taste, the fries balance the richness of the soup. The crispy exterior of the fries soften as the drizzle of creamy soup soaks in. 

“It was almost by, I don’t want to say mistake, but just like dumb luck that we were like, ‘Let’s put these two flavors together,’ Lorenz said. 

Surf ‘n’ Turf fries
BAR on the Ave

BAR on the Ave’s Surf ‘n’ Turf fries combine land, sea and spud for hearty meal | photo by Ruta Smith

BAR on the Ave on Spruill Avenue in North Charleston is the place to go if you’re looking for creative takes on French fries. Relax and hide away from the hustle and bustle of downtown at this new joint with menu offerings like chicken and waffles, burgers, wings and more. 

But one of BAR’s specialty dishes combines land, sea and spuds to create the surf ‘n’ turf fries, a mixture of salt, umami and brine for a flavor combo unlike many others.

The savory steak bites, the richness of the three-cheese blend of cheddar, mozzarella and provolone and salt of the fries balances the freshness of the crab meat. 

It’s the perfect dish to chow down on after a day at the park or an evening of bar hopping around Park Circle. 

The other side of potatoes

Potatoes can be cut and cooked in all different shapes and styles. Grated potatoes formed into small cylinders create crunchy tater tots, another favorite variety of potato to accompany burgers and sandwiches. 

Charleston City Paper readers have named The Recovery Room Charleston’s best late night bar since 2011, and for good reason. The kitchen is open until 1 a.m. and gives the late night crowd what they want after a few cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon: Loaded Tater Tachos (tater tots dressed up like nachos). 

If you ask a local where to get tots, chances are Recovery Room’s Tater Tachos will probably be the first dish to come to mind. 

The potatoes are fried to a golden crisp and drenched in jack and cheddar shredded cheeses. Peppers and onions are added to boost the salinity, while jalapeños add spice and tomatoes add acidity. The Tachos are served with sour cream and salsa on the side to add more creaminess and freshness at your disposal. Each bite is a flavor bomb. 

If you want to keep it simple, Recovery Room also offers plain or cheesy tots. (Pro tip: ordering a basket of tots and a can of PBR is still less than $10.)

Bay Street Biergarten’s Freaky Tots | Provided

Bay Street Biergarten serves up another wild side of potatoes with its Freaky Tots. Awaken your taste buds with notes of sweet, salty, savory and umami.

The Freaky Tots are topped with cheese and demi-glace, a salty, meaty dark French sauce with hints of sweetness, for full hearty richness. A bit of sweetness is added with bacon jam to balance the savory demi-glace sauce. For an extra $5, add pulled pork or chicken for an even heartier dish. 

The Alley offers three different types of topping specials for its tots (and fries): original, buffalo or chili cheese for $10. 

The original is a cheesy, creamy drizzle over potatoes. The cheese dressing is made from melted smoked Gouda fondue and Parmesan cheese. Sour cream is added for acidity and to match the richness of the cheese, while bacon and scallions top it off for a crunch (as if the crispy exterior of the tots weren’t enough!). 

For buffalo tots, The Alley uses a buffalo chicken dip and blue cheese dressing and crumbles to help cool it down a tad.

The chili cheese toppings are for those who want to get their fingers messy. The potatoes are topped with a special house made “Holy City chili,” sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese and green onions.

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