The Blackhawks aren’t the only champions in town. Resi’s potato pancakes narrowly beat poutine from The Bad Apple during this year’s illustrious Spud Crawl from Northcenter to Lincoln Square. And by “illustrious” I mean a group of my friends and relatives who like to eat and argue over the finer points of potatoes, armed only with their amateur palates and loud opinions.
As the pub crawl equivalent for foodies (or just gluttons), a spud crawl takes place across multiple venues within a defined geographic area, with the ultimate potato-inspired dish crowned “King of the Mound.” Judges train for months, honing their taste buds and stretching their stomach walls. As Commissioner, I was responsible for scoping out the venues, planning the route, and making a controversial decision (one that’s almost on par with that umpire who gave away the perfect game in Detroit). Here are a few tips based on our two tourneys in case you want to organize your own.
Tip #1: Make Sure Your Route is Spread Out
You are going to want to keep your metabolism going throughout the event, so look for venues separated by at least four city blocks. Lincoln Avenue between Lawrence and Irving Park gives you one mile of options (including sweet potato fries at Smokin’ Woody’s, tater tots at The Daily Bar and Grill, and pub fries at Gannon’s Pub), and you can always venture west on Lawrence (scalloped potatoes at Restaurant Sarajevo) or east on Montrose (frites at Fountainhead) if you want to burn more calories in between consuming them.
Tip #2: Bring Some Cimetidine
Potatoes dishes are predominantly fried, and their teammates include heavy-hitters like cheese curds, gravy, mayonnaise, bacon, and brown sugar. There are no truly healthy choices, but you can avoid eyes-bigger-than-stomach syndrome by sharing one order for every four people in your group.
Tip #3: Seek Out Diversity
One of the biggest challenges of organizing the spud crawl was trying to include flavors from around the globe, especially when it came to Asian cuisine. Unfortunately, Delhi 6 was already closed that night (I wanted to try their paani puri), but I was able to create vodka cocktails thanks to the exotic assortment of lychee and aloe juices from Nhu Lan (and Polish vodka from Gene’s Sausage Shop). Last year we tried basil- and squid-flavored potato chips from Me Dee, but they did not win many fans. As you can see, it takes a lot of dedication to assemble a balanced slate of competitors.
Tip #4: Set the Ground Rules
Finally, make sure you designate a scorekeeper and create the scoresheet before you start tasting (and drinking, more importantly). We learned that lesson the hard way last year when we tried to read our random assortment of notes culled from cocktail napkins and backs of receipts. If you are the Commissioner, be prepared to make some tough decisions and lose friends. Our top two competitors (poutine and potato pancakes) were separated by half a point near the end, so I called for one last round of voting between the two to settle the score. I continue to receive hate mail from Team Poutine following the outcome.