Keep Your Eyes on the Fries

Leopold's lip-smacking, Belgian-style Poutine de Merguez comes with mounds of Nordic Creamery cheese curds and house-made bratwurst. (Photo: Leopold)

Chicago is a city obsessed with fries, from the ingenious roasted lobster frites at Paris Club to the crispy beef- and duck-fat fries with cult followings at Longman & Eagle and Hot Doug’s respectively.

Typically presented as a side dish, fries are getting center stage at a number of restaurants and bars. At sleek new Lincoln Park pub Barrelhouse Flat, owner/bartender Stephen Patrick Cole has created a small menu of bar bites to complement his well-crafted cocktails. The Pig Face Poutine certainly eats like a meal even though its base is a heaping of hand-cut fries. The dish comes topped with roasted figs, shallots and, of course, the pig face. If it sounds insane and messy, it is, but worth every bite.

A similar dish is now on the menu at Atwood Cafe, on the first level of Hotel Burnham. Here, Executive Chef Derek Simcik had created Poutine Poulet of duck fat confit fries, foie cream sauce, braised chicken and Grayson cheese. Sinfully rich?! We think so!

Equally offbeat is what’s going on over at Big & Little’s, in River North. The new location for the no-frills sandwich shop is larger to accommodate customers for Po’Boys, fried fish sandwiches and more. But what really grabbed our attention was the Fois Gras Fries, which at $16 is the most expensive item on the menu. The thick, house-made fries are covered with two perfectly seared pieces of foie. Bring a friend; you’ll want to share.

Burger Bar has been around for more than a year in Lincoln Park, but the sweet potato fries topped off with chipotle aioli is worth a mention. Though you probably wouldn’t want to make a meal out of them, they’re a great starter as an appetizer—as long as you don’t share. Yet over at Uncommon Ground (both locations in Rogers Park and Wrigleyville), the sweet potato fries grab the spotlight. The savory, yet slightly sweet spuds come with a goat cheese fondue.

Leopold's lip-smacking, Belgian-style Poutine de Merguez comes with mounds of Nordic Creamery cheese curds and house-made bratwurst (or currywurst). If the portion size is overwhelming, you can now order a half portion on the new late-night menu (9-11pm Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday; 10pm-1am Friday, Saturday).

But most of all, we’re looking forward to the signature spuds debuting at Storefront Company when it opens in Wicker Park in December. What sets them apart from the others is that they’re creatively made from quinoa and paired with house-made sheep’s milk cheese and Madeira sorbet. Bryan Moscatello—one of Food & Wine’s “Best New Chefs 2003”—tweaked the recipe more than 30 times to make the combo taste like Wendy’s fries dipped in its famous Frosty. If he pulls this one off, it might be the breakout bite of 2012 . . .