Arthur Gordon had too much produce.
In 2012, his Raleigh institution, Irregardless Cafe & Catering, purchased a 1.5-acre garden a few miles from the restaurant, intending to increase quality control and decrease the distance between the plant and the plate. But the seasonal surpluses perplexed him, forcing him to find new ways to use what he had—or preserve it for later. So Gordon started pickling and fermenting and soon found he couldn’t stop. These days, he even talks loftily of fermenting Irregardless’s own blackberry wine.
Coincidentally, perhaps counterintuitively, the interest in pickling paralleled another new Gordon curiosity: deep-frying. Last year, after forty years in the Irregardless kitchen, he offered his first-ever fried items—calamari, falafel, and, after investing nearly fifteen-thousand dollars on twin industrial-size fryers, the restaurant’s latest wonder: salt-and-vinegar French fries.
After slicing potatoes into quarter-inch rectangular strips, Gordon pickles them in a solution of salt and sauerkraut juice for at least two days. After they’ve adequately soaked, the kitchen fries them twice in rice bran oil at escalating temperatures. The outside is crisp but yielding, as though the potatoes have an invisible thin skin. The inside is supple and hot, with the mild vinegar tang arriving early in the bite before forming a sort of delicious cloud as you chew. It’s not overpowering like a salt-and-vinegar chip (“The big boys use flavor enhancers,” Gordon reports) or too soggy, like British chips doused in malt vinegar. These are the shoestring potatoes of a giant, laced with just enough pickle zest that you need to eat the next one and the next one and the next one to verify the taste. Not a problem, really.
“I don’t want to get too heavy into fried foods. We didn’t have them for forty years because I don’t think it’s a healthy lifestyle,” Gordon says. “But they certainly taste the part. And everything in moderation is OK.”
This article appears in print with the headline “Oil and Vinegar.”