There is no situation in which I do not want a baked potato. Fluffy, buttery, showered in cheese, sour cream, and bacon, the baked potato is an objectively perfect food whether you’re pairing it with a steak in the most classic of dinner combinations, or feasting on a massive russet at a build-your-own baked potato bar. But I’ve noticed that lately, when I’m too impatient to wait an hour for my oven to preheat, it can be pretty tough to satisfy a hankering for a giant baked potato.
The mighty baked potato straddles an odd line between side dish and entree, which means that its presence on restaurant menus is pretty rare outside of the steakhouse setting. Baked potatoes, while being a food pretty much everyone is familiar with, are almost niche at restaurants, and that’s perhaps why a few businesses entirely devoted to the baked potato have opened — and closed — in locations across the country.
I dream daily of hopping on a plane and flying to Tennessee to visit One Spunky Spud, a Nashville baked potato spot with more than a million followers on TikTok. There, in addition to being an effervescent presence on TikTok, owner Michael Harvey offers up potatoes drenched in herbed butter, topped with a mountain of cheese, and finished with garnishes like Alfredo sauce and chicken. I’m also, sadly, a thousand miles away from the Baked Potato, a jazz club that’s been serving upwards of 20 different baked potatoes in Studio City, California since 1970.
And so, for those of us not in driving distance of one of these establishments, where does one procure a great baked potato?
At barbecue establishments across the South, it’s not uncommon to see a hefty baked potato loaded down with brisket or pulled pork, plus the rest of the traditional fixings. These smoke-tinged potatoes are always welcome, but not always available thanks to the weird hours and long lines at many popular barbecue joints. I guess I could go to Wendy’s or, here in Texas, Jason’s Deli for my baked potato fix, but those don’t come close to the magic of a baked potato from a good mom-and-pop that prepares the potato with care to ensure that there aren’t large chunks of unbuttered potato within and that toppings are doled out in the right proportions.
It’s unclear to me why exactly baked potatoes have fallen out of favor as a restaurant offering. Is it because they lack the textural contrast of crispy roasted potatoes with fluffy interiors? Does its boring brown jacket simply not look good enough on Instagram? Are we still avoiding carbs? Whatever the reason, it’s not good enough, and it’s time for the giant, loaded baked potato to make a comeback.
It might be impractical to demand more baked potato-themed restaurants in the style of One Spunky Spud. Such specialization is likely impossible in this economic climate, but there’s nothing stopping restaurants from putting baked potatoes back on their menus. They’re cheap, impossibly easy to make, and a universal crowd-pleaser. Who among us wouldn’t be delighted to find a baked potato on the menu alongside basically any cuisine?