There's a handful of foods in Dallas that can cause a chemical reaction in the brain. Some cause lightning storms; some cause emotional responses. A comforting winter soup at Mot Hai Ba recently caused spontaneous hugs and caring back pats to be exchanged between strangers in the restaurant. El Come Taco somehow has the power to make you sing like Josh Groban. But there’s some other force of nature at work with the tater tots at Maple & Motor. They are concentrated, powerful crave-pods; hot and deeply browned addiction poppables.
On a recent trip to Chicago, I found myself daydreaming about them. I caught myself actually drifting off as I thought about tater tots: Waterfalls of them, crisply bouncing in a paper tray as ketchup spurted smoothly into a ramekin. How is it possible that tater tots can be this drug-like?
One of the reasons for the intensity of my affection is the texture of the tots. The exterior is Dante-level crisp — hot, salty and crunchy like no other tater tot known to man. Most tater tots have the texture of a grade-school eraser. Many arrive soft and almost wet. Those are the tots that cause perfunctory eating: You mindlessly toss them into your mouth cavern. Other joints try punching them up with truffle oil or Parmesan, overcomplicating a simple thing. The inside of a Maple & Motor tot is just piping hot, creamy chunks of potato.
Maple & Motor’s tater tots are some other beast. They induce a craving that follows me around like the food version of the Babadook. Sometimes I pick up the phone and a ghoulish voice hisses tater totttttss through the receiver, although no one believes me when I recount this story. If you were to X-ray my brain while I'm eating Maple & Motor’s tots, I’m certain you’d see electrified wires and cables leading to a single, large tater tot that gives off its own glow in the center of my skull. Seriously, how are these things so damn good? (They come frozen, right? I mean, do we really expect our chefs to handcraft tater tots? Would that even make them better?)
On a recent trip to Maple & Motor, a febrile run to grab a BLT (with egg) and some tater tots, I asked owner Jack Perkins why in the name of Santa Claus are these tater tots so addictive? His answer was succinct and simple: “Magic oil.” He smiled, referring to the oil the tots are fried in. Sure, they're frozen, but at this juncture, I ask no more questions. I suspend disbelief and allow the magic to be real. I don't need to know if the oil is a peanut blend or some kind of duck fat or old, melted candles. I don’t want to see how the sausage is made. I just wanted confirmation that the tater tots at Maple & Motor are magic. They are. Help me, they are.