As the Gershwins have been reminding us since 1937, I say “potato,” you say “tater tot.” Luckily, no one called the whole thing off, and now it’s official: the tater tot no longer toils in high school. It’s graduated, and we couldn’t be prouder of its success. Ladies and gentleman, we’re calling this the Year of the Tot.
Once a school cafeteria mainstay, most at home in a pile on a styrofoam tray, the tater tot has gone on to an illustrious career. Across the region, this kid-favorite comfort food has reached cult-status among the food cognoscenti, and is showing up as anything from a sobering late-night snack to the foundation of a gourmet meal. Some of our favorites are below.
Duck Fat Tater Tots from Merchant’s (Nashville)
If you’re used to the Ore-Ida oven-baked tot, you might want to bring a defibrillator to save you from the shock of Merchant’s rich, crispy variety. Fried in duck fat and served with chipotle mayo, béarnaise, and ketchup–for the Philistine amongst you–these will open your world. At $7 for a full order and $5 for a half, it’s basically the same price as those frozen imitations.
Redneck Totchos from The Nook (Atlanta)
The Nook doesn’t waste time by separating a meal into parts, a tasty timesaver the restaurant apparently considers a “redneck” trait. The dish, which uses tater tots as a base before loading them with smoked pork, Coca-Cola BBQ sauce, jalapenos, and cheese sauce, ensures you won’t need to order anything more.
The Tomminator from Fox Bros BBQ (Atlanta)
From the same twisted minds as deep-fried smoked ribs comes The Tomminator, a plate of tater tots dressed as strangely as Kanye West on a Tuesday. Chili-cheese tots are older than the SEC’s winning streak, so Fox Bros swaps out that tired chili for a Georgia classic: Brunswick Stew. Which it then smothers in melted cheese for the most Southern tots on our list.
Debris Tatchos at 13 (New Orleans)
13 or 13 Monaghan, depending on who you ask, is a godsend for anyone hoping to soak up a regretful Hurricane at 4 a.m. The Marigny bar is open well after the brass bands have retreated and the cleaning crews have hit Frenchman Street–an experience all New Orleanians have at least once. It serves up a number of tatchos i.e. nachos with tots instead of tortilla chips. Go with Debris, which turns said tots in a dressed po’boy of sorts: roast beef, gravy, mozzarella, swiss cheese, and house-made bread and butter pickles.
Truffled Tater Tots at Tillman’s Roadhouse (Dallas and Fort Worth)
Bridging the physical gap between Dallas and Fort Worth might be Arlington, but the truffled tater tots found at both locations of Tillman’s Roadhouse bridges the emotional one. Truffles. Goat cheese. Pickled okra. Tots. This has to be Miriam-Webster’s first example of “comfort food.”
Duck Fat Rosemary Tots at KoKyu BBQ (Somewhere in Durham)
If you can find this wandering merchant of tot, you’re rewarded with rosemary tots deep fried in duck fat. If you can’t find it, you’re bad at the Internet and don’t deserve rosemary tots deep fried in duck fat.
Tots with Pimento Cheese at Southern Culture Kitchen and Bar (Greenville)
Sure, you might think the name of these South Carolina tots gives everything away, but there’s more there than meets the eye. The tots are covered in pimento cheese fondue, because why wouldn’t they be? If that’s not enough, Sriracha’s added to the mix to offer an ambrosial kick in the teeth. It’s a perfect complement for South Carolina’s other smothered gift the world, the pimento cheeseburger.
Those might be our top tots, but we say “potato” and you say “my favorite tots didn’t make the cut!” If not, tell us your favorites in the comments below.