Disco Fries- Nothing Good Happens at 3 am unless...
…you are at the diner.
Growing up in New Jersey, it wasn’t until I started traveling around the country that I realized how many culinary traditions I took for granted. I’m not talking about the obvious like great pizza or a breakfast meat so good that it may one day cause a civil war between North and South. It is the little things that I undervalued. I just assumed that everyone lived within a 10-minute drive from a diner. And naturally I expected that said diner was the universal after party to sober up on greasy food. Sure, a Waffle House will work if you are down South, but a plate of scattered, smothered, and covered hash browns is no substitute for Disco Fries.
Am I right?
WHAT THE HELL IS A DISCO FRY?
I was just a little kid when my mother was blasting Blondie’s Rapture throughout our garden apartment. My only exposure to Oxford heeled shoes and flared pants was when I watched repeats of Tony Manero strutting his stuff on HBO. By the time I was old enough to hang with friends at our local bar, I was usually listening to Wu Tang and Mary J Blige and there was no shiny glass ball anywhere in sight. My point is, Disco was dead, as dead as … well Disco. But not everywhere.
Throughout Northern New Jersey and the five boroughs of NYC, the 24-hour diner has become the afterparty spot. Roughly 30 minutes after last call, dining rooms like the Tick Tock Diner in Clifton NJ swell with overserved party goers mixing with townies and past-their-bedtime high school students looking to stuff their faces on the greasiest and most comforting of foods. Since the late 1970’s, the rich gravy of Disco Fries has been the sobering elixir of choice, poured over plates of crispy French fries and topped with mounds of gooey melted cheese. Traditionalists will insist on a light brown turkey gravy and the molten stretch of mozzarella that soaks into the potato without making it soggy. Others, myself included, prefer the well-done melt of a yellow American cheese and how it sticks to each individual fry protecting it from the savory saltiness of the demi-glace.
BUT WHO CREATED THIS MASTERPIECE?
It is impossible to confirm the precise origin story, but this late-night treat is undeniably related to poutine, a French-Canadian dish of fried potatoes, beef gravy and fresh cheese curds that squeak when bitten into. According to an incredibly in depth lachance.org, the Canuck concoction was created in 1957 when a truck driver stopped off at Fernand LaChance’s restaurant in Warwick Quebec and randomly asked the owner to throw fresh cheese curds onto his fries. And voila, just like that late night snacking would never be the same again. At some point, it only seems logical that the recipe travelled down the New York Throughway, aka I-87 into New Jersey.
By the time Bianca Jagger was prancing through the hall of Studio 54 on a white horse, Disco was the dance and music trend du jour in the New York/New Jersey area. Places like Roseland, GG’s Barnum Room and the Loft beckoned “bridge and tunnelers” into the city every weekend and after a night of partying, a stop at the diner became a nightly ritual. And asking for Disco Fries became the food of choice.
While no one really knows the truth, I was listening to New Jersey’s 101.5 show with Michele Pilenza and Jeff Edelstein a few years ago when a caller incredibly took credit for originating the name. His story seemed plausible, a young 18-year-old DJ in the 1980’s doing the club circuit in Staten Island would stop by the Colonnade Diner every night after his gig and started asking for fries with cottage cheese. The owner joked around and called them Disco Fries. The cottage cheese eventually became mozzarella and the gravy soon followed. Listen to his story and judge for yourself. While the Colonnade still stands strong as Staten Island’s oldest diner, sadly there is no mention of this creation story anywhere on their website or socials and while French fries, with gravy and cheese remains on the menu, Disco is nowhere to be found.
Although there is a renegade diner in Ridgefield NJ that sells Techno Fries, thankfully Disco has fended off decades of fad music trends. You are not going to find Emo Fries, Grunge Gravy or Trance Taters on any menu, but who knows, Tiktokers might have something to say about that.