I love potatoes. My favorite potato is the most common, basic, and boring: the Russet Burbank. A raw russet potato looks like a child’s art project if the child hated art. A baked russet looks like a child’s art project if you baked it.
Potatoes are the fourth most common crop on the planet in terms of fresh produce. They’re a ubiquitous filler food, yet it is my personal mission in life to treat the potato like the star it is at every meal. Especially Thanksgiving.
Each year, I bake, scallop, and mash my potatoes in hopes they might rival a juicy turkey or a smoked oyster or a delicately flaking pie crust. That never happens, so this year, I decided to really do my research. The outstanding contenders for potato dishes that can be recreated at home are below.
Caveat: I’m not about to set up a deep fryer in my crowded Thanksgiving kitchen, so I’ve kept french fries—a contentious subject anyway—off this list. That’s a whole other debate.
Salt Potatoes from Grain & Gristle and Old Salt Marketplace
The basic logic behind salt potatoes is unimpeachable: Potatoes should be salty and stupidly easy to cook. The recipe for this upstate New York traditional preparation is simple: Put way too much salt in some water, add more salt, then boil the hell out of some small potatoes until they’re cooked through. They cook hot this way, putting all that starchy potatoey liquid inside to good use. When you pull them out and drain the water off, they should dry quickly and sparkle with a light crust of salt. Serve them with melted butter for dipping. Honestly, the G&G and Old Salt salt potatoes could be saltier, but for texture and pure potato flavor, they’re hard to beat.
Mashed Potatoes and Duck Duck Potatoes from Tasty N Sons and Tasty N Alder
Mashed potatoes are the best. It’s just a fact. The rest of this list is lip service to avoid appearing biased. Creamy, fluffy, richly buttery mashed potatoes are perfect, but their best feature is that they can be molded into a vessel for gravy. At the Thanksgiving table, it’s typically turkey gravy, but the mashers with rich, spicy oxtail gravy at Tasty N Sons make a compelling case for oxtail as a holiday tradition. Meanwhile, downtown at Tasty N Alder, the Duck Duck Potatoes are cooked in duck fat with a gritty crunch not unlike a fast food onion ring and topped with a sunny duck egg. Tough to pull off at Thanksgiving, but if you do it, nobody’s going to remember the actual bird.
Smoked, Smashed, and Fried Potatoes from Trifecta Tavern
If you’re smoking a bird for Thanksgiving and you’ve got room for some taters, Trifecta’s pile of fingerlings is a worthy goal for the home table, too. The trick, apparently, is to not stop at smoking the spuds. Trifecta’s potatoes gain an extra dimension by being lightly exploded and then fried to a further crispiness. Matching the soft, subtly sweet smokiness imparted by Trifecta’s huge wood oven may be an impossible goal, but it’s a worthy one. (And for the love of god, don’t try to get fancier than Trifecta: serve these with ranch dressing.)
Nuestras Papas Bravas from Bar Casa Vale
I know I said I wasn’t including french fries, but these deep fried treats are clearly Spanish, so... it’s an escapatoria, which Google tells me is Spanish for loophole. Bar Casa Vale’s papas, in fact, are notable for just how very fried they are. The corners of these are all crispy potato crust, no fluff at all, and instead of being served largely unseasoned except for a spicy red sauce, these are covered with a powdered spice blend, sweet and lightly smoky, and served with an aioli. The same effect could be achieved in an oven, but look: If you’re for some reason doing Tapasgiving, just fire up a deep pot of oil and cross your fingers.
Dirty Taetoe from Dirty Taetoe
Despite my devotion to plain potatoes, I love piling a baked potato high above the plate with nonsense extras. So I adore the Dirty Taetoe cart, currently at the Prost! Marketplace on North Mississippi. Dirty Taetoe’s menu of meats (hotlink!), sauces (alfredo?!), and extras (bacon! egg! broccoli!) is more a dare than a list of offerings, and one you should extend to all your Thanksgiving guests.
Guns from Chicken and Guns
Crispy wood-fired potatoes kicked into overdrive with a hearty tang of lemon. In the words of my fellow Mercury food critic, Andrea Damewood: “CHICKEN AND GUNS POTATOES ARE BAE.”
Vegan Potato Salad from Sweetpea Baking Co. and Victoria
When Mercury art director Kathleen Marie Barnett advised me to try vegan potato salad at Sweetpea and Victoria, I admit I silently freaked out, as separating sour cream and potatoes seemed an immoral thing to do. I was wrong, and these potato salads zing along with the best dairy-inclusive ones.
Kartoffelpuffer from Stammtisch
Some guy on Yelp posted a bad picture of Stammtisch’s delicious, crispy potato pancakes captioned: “hash browns and applesauce!” and I don’t know if it was a good review or a bad review—but it was basically accurate.