How many bad fries have you had in your life (I’m not even finishing that with a question mark because you know the answer—it’s a lot). Fries used to be ridiculous. They were the half-twist orange wheel on the patty melt plate at Denny’s, an add-on so a sandwich or a burger didn’t seem unworth the money. They were limp at the bottom of the pile, anemic and clammy. You needed to swab them in a good, shiny glob of ketchup because then it wouldn’t matter, or not as much, if they were miserable things.
Things changed, and we are living, now, in the golden age of fries. They’re good in delis and cocktail bars, at neighborhood spots and burger places; I bet they're good at food courts. In San Francisco, at Charles Bililies’ souvlaki place called Souvla, the fries are amazing.
They're called Greek fries, named for the roasted potatoes, with olive oil, oregano, and lemon, you get in good Greek places.
Bililies has a cool Bluto beard and a work history that includes the French Laundry. Souvla is probably six months old and already, Bililies says, the fries have a following, and it includes me. Souvla's fries are freezer fries, but before you tune out, you should know, if you don’t, that freezer fries have gotten very, very good, which is partly what has made this golden age possible. At Souvla they’re thick, but not steak-fries thick. “We were looking for something with more girth to it,” Bililies says, “that could carry the Greek flavors.”
Those Greek flavors are olive oil (yes, the fries are cooked in soybean oil, then basket-lifted and tossed in olive oil), lemon juice, oregano, parsley, and grated Mizithra cheese.
It sounds complicated, and you probably think the fries are flocked with a bunch of extraneous stuff and dripping with oil, but really, they come across as excellent fries, salty, crisp, and aromatic.
(If you were wondering, Mizithra is a Greek sheep’s milk cheese that tastes a bit like ricotta salata, sharp and slightly yeasty.)
Bililies seems pretty sharp about building excitement around Souvla. For instance, he tells of a secret menu option that, honestly, doesn’t seem all that secret since he’s the one who brings it up, but it’s the kind of thing that fans of a restaurant tend to love. It’s any one of the flatbread sandwiches (incidentally, they’re good) that you can ask for “Greek style,” meaning there’s a handful of Greek fries wrapped up in it.
I like the fries on their own, frankly, and vow to steal Souvla’s recipe, if I ever make fries at home. But with so many good ones out there, I may never, or until the golden age is over.
Photos by Chris Rochelle