10. Fried oysters
As I watch my friends suck down $1 oysters by the dozen, indulging in the latest food craze to hit summertime in Brooklyn, I fear I may never be able to jump on that bandwagon.
It's not as if I've had a bad oyster experience. The last time I swallowed the slimy little things was at the fancy Parisian restaurant Bofinger, where they cost god knows how much apiece. But that's just it - no matter how fancy or popular they may be they will always remain slimy little things to me, like eating cold, wet cartilage in mignonette.
That's why I tried them deep fried in New Orleans. I thought maybe the breading and time spent in hot oil would make them more palatable, but alas, they tasted just as I feared, like warm, wet cartilage in a crunchy, panko shell.
9. Fried pickles
It was at a similar restaurant in New Orleans that I was coaxed by locals to try the deep-friend pickles, served in a red plastic basket lined with waxed paper.
I didn't even need the accompanying dipping sauces to thoroughly appreciate the sweet and sour briny taste and the tender, almost al dente bite of these deliciously crispy bread and butter pickle slices.
Before this moment I looked upon pickles, their dill-like odor and sickly green pallor with derision, but from then on I became a devotee, consuming pickles of any size and shape, from the cornichon to the big daddy-on-a-stick.
Ordering poutine was high on my tourist's Montreal to-do list. Never one to balk at offbeat flavor combinations, I happily tucked my fork into the local specialty, making sure to get a little of everything - french fry, cheese curds and gravy - in one bite.
The final judgment? Underwhelming. Perhaps it was because I had been anticipating the Canadian take on the notorious late night drunk snack (aka disco fries) for about a week leading up to that pivotal moment when I sat table side with a beer on a breezy Fall afternoon, hungrily awaiting what so many had exalted.
So maybe poutine just never stood a chance against the fantasy poutine of my imagination. Give me regular ol' french fries and ketchup any day.
7. Steak fries at the Ritz Carlton, Pasadena, CA
Speaking of regular ol' french fries and ketchup, the steak fries at the now out of business Ritz Carlton Hotel in Pasadena I got to try when a posh friend invited me to spend the day with her poolside easily make the list. I was eight-years-old, but already I'd determined that steak fries were definitely the best kind of fry around. Forget shoestring, curly, and crinkle-cut - biting down on a wide slab of fried potato, especially after a day in the perfect pool waters of the Ritz, was just about as good as life got. No wait, it got better. This being the Ritz and all, you aren't served ketchup in anything as pedestrian as a squeeze bottle. Even a glass Heinz bottle is too common place. No, the Ritz doles out individual, serving-size glass jars of specialty ketchup. They're so small, in fact, that if you even have only a moderate appreciation of ketchup you'll require at least half a dozen to make it through your generous order of steak fries. Nothing feels more luxurious than sitting back in your patio chair with the sun on your shoulders and a gold monogrammed pool towel around your waste while you gaze upon the carnage of the six individually-wrapped, miniature ketchup containers you slayed for your afternoon feast.
This one might come as a surprise, but back before KFC was frying up genetically-mutated chickens, or at least before everyone knew they were, the thin, crispy, greasy skin of a KFC drumstick, dipped into a side of mash potatoes and followed with a bite of soft, buttery biscuit was the best thing that ever came out of those nights when mom was just too tired to cook dinner.
Though I haven't stepped foot inside a KFC in more than a decade, I swear, I still look back on the memory of that big paper bucket on the kitchen countertop of my childhood - a place normally never tainted with fast food - with absolute satisfaction.
5. Ham croquettes at Porto
For someone who can't start her days now without a big, green vegetable juice, I've eaten a lot of croquettes. Ham croquettes, specifically.
I've eaten ham croquettes in Spain at restaurants famous for them, and I've eaten them in cramped houses, cooked by grandmothers fresh off the boat from Cuba, but the best ham croquettes can be easily had by residents of Southern California at Porto's.
The Cuban bakery used to be something of a locals-only secret back when I was a kid, but a few bites of one of their fat, luscious, crispy, salty, breaded, juicy ham croquettes and you'd be singing it from the rooftops.
Even though the restaurant has expanded, their recipe is still the same and so are the prices. One ham croquette will set you back just $0.78.
4. Fried ice cream
This is by no means my favorite dessert, but I genuinely appreciate its determination to bend the laws of nature. The quest to achieve hot ice cream has stumped head chefs the world over; Jordi, the famous dessert chef at the even more famous elBulli in Catalonia is still attempting the chemistry-defying concoction.
(Personally, hot ice cream - who needs it?) But deep-fried ice cream gets pretty close, and actually, it's pretty good, for the first few bites at least, satisfying that desire for a broad spectrum of texture and flavor in each bite with its crispy, savory outer shell and cool, sweet, creamy core.
If it was considered less tacky I'm sure more restaurants would serve it, but as of yet it's confined to the cheap eats list, unless, of course, Jordi decides to whip out the upscale version as a parting gift when the restaurant closes this weekend.
3. Fried shrimp at the Shrimp Shack, Carlsbad, CA
My family and I have been going to the Shrimp Shack every summer for years on the last day of our annual migration to the sleepy little beach hamlet of St. Malo, and only just last year, after looking through our vacation photos (that's my parents in front of the restaurant), did we notice that the restaurant we salivate over for weeks in advance is really called Harbor Fish South.
But we like the Shrimp Shack better, besides, that's what we all get when we go there. Admittedly, it's probably not the best fried shrimp in the world, but after a lazy, sun-drenched week on the beach there's nothing better than sidling up to one the wooden benches at Shrimpy's (we call it that, too) and indulging in a paper basket filled with fat pieces of fresh caught shrimp, deep-fried, of course, and served with lots of lemon and cole slaw.
It's our final treat, our summertime sendoff before we pack up our beach blankets and head to the city to settle back into our real lives.
2. Fried Mac n Cheese at Lodge, Brooklyn, NY
Until recently I held, in addition to a string of other jobs and a full-time commitment at grad school, the esteemed position of waitress at Lodge in Brooklyn, where, in my three and a half years of servitude I readily sampled a menu that relies heavily on the deep-fryer. On slow nights one winter we used to play a game called What-Can't-You-Deep-Fry. The answer is: nothing. We threw everything from candy bars to chili peppers in those wire baskets and dunked them in hot, bubbling oil to see what would come out. That was all in fun, but in earnest one night not too long ago, the chef handed me the special of the night to try: Deep-Fried Mac n Cheese (with bacon, of course). At first I recoiled, appalled that he had stooped so low, but eventually - and bravely, too - I brandished my fork and tried a bite. I can't remember what he used for breading, but the dish itself looked not wholly unappetizing, like a puffy, fried croissant. I sliced it in two, whereupon the cheesy, melty filling oozed forth. I tasted it, savored the banquet of textures on my tongue, and then, struggling against every salad-loving fibre in me, declare that it was, indeed, good. Good enough to order one to-go after my shift was over and eat it shamelessly at home.
1. Beignets made by my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. DeFrancisco
One of the great things about the South is if you didn't get your fried fix at lunch or dinner, don't worry. You can have it again for breakfast, too. I'm not talking about donuts, which got bumped off the list in favor of the beignet.
If you've been to New Orleans then you've had the beignets at Cafe du Monde, which are good, don't get me wrong. But unless you were in my fifth grade class and came to school on Celebrate Your Heritage day, you haven't had Mrs. DeFrancisco's beignets and you haven't truly lived.
I've tried beignets wherever I can find them, but nothing equals the pure perfection of the soft, fluffy powdered sugar-coated ball of dough fried just enough to leave a little gooey pocket of warm, sweet, uncooked batter in the middle.
If heaven is a food when I die I want to go to Mrs. DeFrancisco's beignets and live in that sweet, womblike core of fatty goodness for all eternity.