I was reading an article about Chez Panisse’s fire because it was a big part of my life growing up, when I spotted an ad on the side of the blog page for a place called Phil’s Sliders. Actually, what I spotted were these square-shaped potato things (see above). What the heck were they? They looked so deliciously unlike any other fried potato-based food I had ever had in my mouth. Were they French fries? Tater tots? Other?
In the interest of fairness, I must mention that there is a very nice Frenchman called Grégoire frying some kick-ass potato puffs just around the corner from Chez. Gregoire is a wonder, cooking gourmet French food at affordable take-out prices in a kitchen the size of a garden shed (with some help from his sous chefs — he has expanded to two restaurants now so it’s no longer just a friendly, garrulous Frenchman frying in a shed). His puffs are amazing, light yet crunchy, savory and addicting. They are probably technically croquettes, a mash of potatoes that has been formed into a ball and flash-fried to crispy perfection. Yet in spite of the fact that I can smell the love usually about twice a day when I am driving by Grégoire (anything he makes with beef isn’t to be missed either), I never stop. The puffs are light going in but feel heavy afterwards. I think they may fry them in duck fat, which I am told is the best fat for frying, but definitely feels cumbersome in the gut.
Phil’s had to be investigated. I swung by downtown Berkeley post-dog hike and was able to park with such ease that fate had to be involved. Indeed, Phil’s potato tots turned out to be the most perfect potato snack I have ever eaten an entire order of while driving home. They are basically squares of hash brown that are fried into manageable bite-sized chunks. Why did no one ever think of this before? Did they? They are so vastly superior to the similar hand-potatoes you can get at the fast food restaurants before 10:30 a.m. that they are not really the same food. I’m sure the fact that McDonald’s and the like freeze theirs before frying is part of the difference. Phil’s tots are fried in canola oil, which explains why I could eat the better part of two orders and not collapse (plus two sliders and an order of their wonderful cole slaw). The rest of the menu is equally simple and perfect — tiny burgers made with succulent Marin Sun Farms grass fed beef or a Portabella mushroom burger, plus specials, that slaw, shakes made with homemade ice cream, homemade sodas and Coke. The day I was there, they were offering a vegan patty option as well.
And speaking of shoehorning a chatty Frenchman into a post about Phil’s, the second act of my script is causing me to introduce more characters. I try not to have more characters than I can pay off and keep things streamlined, having read far too many first-timer scripts that are packed to the gills with people who have no purpose. On the other hand, when the writing process is in full thrust, it’s better not to prune yet. There is plenty of time to cut (or combine) people later if they end up as dead weight. The last thing you want to do when you are in the tender throes of the deadly second act is to curtail your creativity. The excess characters stay — for now. As long as you keep your eye on who the story is really about and keep moving forward, feel free to introduce a man who looks like a giant egg and name him Earl. Or don’t. Because Earl is mine!
I would head for Phil’s right now and do a little potato procrastination, except parking downtown is never easy on a weekday so I won’t become a tots-a-holic and lose what little I have left. Right?