Apparently it’s the year of the sauce-slathered french fry. As Forbes points out, in recent months, several fast-food chains have launched competitors to Wendy’s Baconator fries (aka french fries topped with cheese sauce, shredded cheddar, and bacon) and Taco Bell’s Nacho Fries, which top the deep-fried potatoes with ground meat, nacho cheese sauce, sour cream, and chopped tomatoes. Per Forbes, relatively new to the dance floor are Jack In the Box’s “Sauced and Loaded” varieties (one version has bacon and cheese), Taco Bell’s “Steak Rattle Fries” (with steak, jalapeños, and two sauces), and McDonald’s non-potato doughnut fries, which are officially called “Donut Sticks” to avoid comparisons with Dunkin’ Donuts’ version but certainly designed to evoke a classic french fry.
What these fast-food chains have inexplicably neglected to add, however, is this country’s best iteration of a fries-with-topping dish (sorry, Pittsburgh salad) — disco fries, which New Jersey diner devotees will recognize as french fries topped with brown gravy and melted cheese. Disco fries are poutine without the squeak of cheese curds; remove that textural distraction and it’s easy to imagine each bite as the perfect mashed potato, only slightly crispy and doused in cheese. Thanks to New Jersey’s Italian-American population, most people would recognize mozzarella as the de facto disco fry cheese, but I can confidently attest that other variants — cheddar, provolone, gruyere, American — work just as well, so long as it’s properly melted into the gravy. (I have a soft spot in my heart for disco fries featuring full slices of Kraft American on top, gently wilted under a broiler but still retaining its square form.)
And like its close cousin, chili cheese fries, most disco fries don’t bother with wan vegetable garnishes like a diced tomato or a pinch of parsley. Gravy. Cheese. Potato. That’s all you need.
So it’s particularly surprising that no fast-food chain — all of which have cheese easily on hand — has launched disco fries onto its menu. KFC, with brown gravy and cheese sauce already featuring prominently in its side dishes, would be the most likely contender — in lieu of french fries, it has seasoned potato wedges that could act as the base. (The wedges, however, would likely not have quite the crisp that a regular fry adds, so there’s a risk of this tasting like a baked potato.) Arby’s, which already features mozzarella, cheese sauce, and jus in places on its menu, could add a thicker brown gravy into its repertoire. The textbook-perfect french fries at McDonald’s, the best in the fast-food business (this opinion is unimpeachable, fight me), would be the ideal base for whatever natural beef flavor gravy the mega-chain could whip up. Jolibee, which has cheese on hand to top its pasta, as well as a mushroomy gravy on its menu, could totally do this like right now oh my god.
Perhaps, like in many things, America’s fast-food juggernauts should look to Canada for inspiration. Poutine is admittedly more of a cultural touchstone in Quebec than a NJ diner staple might be to the entire U.S., but fries topped with gravy and cheese curds are available at several major fast-food chains in Canada, including Burger King, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s. Satisfyingly topped fries can be done, and we don’t even need to worry about ingredients like bacon and steak and jalapeños — though a nacho cheese sauce paired with fries and a brown gravy? That I’m very curious to try.