This July, five members of The State News, along with two non-staffers who provided transportation and therefore received an invite to the tasting, sat around and tried french fries from nine different East Lansing restaurants. The Fry Fest, as it was so fondly and accurately named, allowed each of us to rate our favorite fries on a scale of one to 10.
We primarily hit East Lansing hot spots, avoiding fast-food chains. We hit all of the local bars, assuming their grills were open (sorry, The Riv), and restaurants in the area.
As a disclaimer, you should know all food was received as takeout orders and some fries sat out longer than others. We tried all of the fries once and then tried them again, rating them. Also, no alcohol was consumed during the fry tasting, but assuming you sat in the restaurant and were of age, you probably would have something to sip on. We did not consider prices when trying the fries, which may have impacted the rankings.
Despite this, we think the best fries should be able to hold up and be able to be consumed with or without a beverage on the side. So with that said, here's The State News' official ranking of the best fries in East Lansing.
The ones that got the job done, but left little to be desired
Ninth place — Crunchy's
The Crunchy's french fry: proof you should always get their tater tots. Maybe we just got a bad batch, but the few fries we each had were not what they needed to be. Maybe it was due to them sitting in the container a minute too long, or they were just simply bad, but Crunchy's did not score well.
When a fry was picked up, it had so little structural integrity and flopped down like a mostly cooked spaghetti noodle. Words that were tossed around the table to describe it included "sour" and "uncooked."
Crunchy's has great karaoke and tater tots but should give fries another shot.
Final ranking: 2.6/10
Eighth place — Dublin Square
Dublin was another East Lansing bar that left us pretty disappointed. The fries would've benefitted from a few more minutes in the fryer because they were slightly underdone as well.
They weren't necessarily bad, but could've stood to have a bit more salt or other seasonings for a better flavor profile. They were very simple, and again, would more than likely come with a better experience had we had them fresh at the restaurant, but they weren't our favorite after a 15-minute wait.
Final ranking: 3.8/10
Seventh place — Harrison Roadhouse
Harrison Roadhouse was simply there. The fries were nothing special but still weren't the worst. They didn't have a lot of flavor and had a thick cut, but they were cooked all the way through and were the perfect accompaniment to another meal. They're not good enough to stand alone, but they would be fine.
They were just fries, which really is all you need sometimes.
Final ranking: 4.7/10
Middle of the road
Sixth place — Tin Can
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Tin Can gained some major bonus points just based on the plating. Sitting on a nice red checkered paper, the fries were some immediate eye catchers.
However, their visuals didn't match their taste. The fries weren't bad by any means, but they looked like they would have a stronger flavor. Compared to the fries around them, the Tin Can fries had a much more red or orange look, so we all went in expecting them to have a more cajun-y flavor. Instead, they were pretty average and had the same energy as the other fries before them.
Final ranking: 5.4/10
Fifth place — Peanut Barrel
Peanut Barrel was the perfect representation of what it was. They looked like they tasted. They didn't push any limits, but they were pretty good.
Peanut Barrel has the perfect fries to order at dinner and to just have as the last final little snacks as you're waiting for the server to come back with your card. Their salt to fry ratio was pretty good, and ultimately, they were fine.
Final ranking: 6.1/10
Fourth place — Jolly Pumpkin
Honestly, we all expected more from Jolly Pumpkins fries alone. Jolly Pumpkins fries were on the more expensive end of our orders, but they provided us with a pretty big box, so it was OK. What helped push Jolly Pumpkin up in the fry rating was the sauces that they had.
Jolly Pumpkin's fries were specifically shoestring truffle fries, which were a bit different than their competitors, and they did come with sauces that other places did not offer. They always come with rosemary aioli sauce, but different add ons you could try for 50 cents each were red hot sauce, ranch, smoky aioli or turmeric aioli.
We had the rosemary aioli along with the smoky aioli.
These fries were good, but could not compete with the top three.
Final ranking: 6.7/10
The Big Leagues
Third place — Conrad's Grill
Conrad's absolutely did not disappoint. The only waffle fry we got to try, Conrad’s has the perfect flavor profile in their order. It makes sense why it's the MSU students number one drunk food drop off location. We could tell the fries were made in the same oil they used for onion rings, but the flavor was great and they were left in the fryer the perfect amount of time.
They don't come with a ton of fries, but they are the perfect side order's worth.
Final ranking: 7.6/10
Second place: Reno's Sports Bar and Grill
Reno's was the major shock of the night. A majority of the people had never had it, and it's not exactly in downtown East Lansing. A little but further out, Reno's is the perfect place to get a little bit away from campus and stop for a quick bite while family is visiting.
And WOW. The fries were so good that our rankings for the top two were actually an exact tie. In a final vote, three people voted for Reno's while four people voted for our first place recipient.
Reno's fries were a shock. We got their truffle parmesan fries, which also came with a roasted garlic aioli dipping sauce. The fries themselves were sprinkled with garlic, parmesan, fresh herbs and cracked pepper.
When the first bite was taken, one of the staffers described it as a "glorious fry." And it was.
Final ranking: 8.7/10
First place — HopCat
Listen, we didn't want this to be the winner either. We fought it hard. We checked our biases and preconceptions at the door. We went in with an open mind thinking something would lay claim to the throne.
But there's a reason HopCat is known for their Cosmik Fries.
The beer-battered, black pepper-covered fries were amazing on their own. But when they were accompanied by the classic HopCat cheese sauce, they truly were unmatched.
The fries were delicious, and are perfectly sweet and savory at the same time. Four of the seven of us rated HopCat as our favorite fries of the night, which seems to be proof that they truly do live up to the hype.
Final ranking: 8.7/10
This article is part of our 2021 Summer Mail Home Issue. View the full digital issue here.
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