Days Gone Bite: Potato Skins

Some say that T.G.I. Friday's invented the potato skin.

This was back in 1974, with the country reeling from Watergate, the withdrawal of combat troops from Vietnam, inflation and--worst of all--the introduction of all those sluggish mid-70s cars. Chrysler was, in fact, buying up the world's production of rich, Corinthian leather as the launch date for their new Cordoba approached.

Really, the only thing American's could look to for some sort of affirmation that good would eventually prevail was the crew of Happy Days. And with the exception of Fonzie and Mrs. C., they all on the nerdish side.

No wonder potato skins hit it big.

If the idea of filling a semi-hollowed baked potato with bacon, cheddar and sour cream was, indeed, a new idea (it's hard to believe they spent several months perfecting the recipe), this city can take some credit for making it a success. T.G.I. Friday's started in 1965 as a Manhattan pick up joint and restaurant. Two years before they introduced potato skins, a location opened in Dallas on Greenville Avenue.

It was Friday's third venue--and one so popular it raked in $2 million in net profit that first year in operation.

Anyway, over the next decade and a half, it was almost impossible to avoid skins. Restaurants began packing them with broccoli, smoked salmon or anything else they could find. While in grad school at Mizzou, I lived off the version served at The Old Heidelberg. The craze even spread to Europe--my favorite ever version being one I ordered in a former communist state that amounted to a piled of boiled potatoes, minus skin, with a slab of ham placed on top.

Not sure what happened then. Maybe it was the wings frenzy that raced through the 80s. Perhaps the arrival of sushi on a mass scale or the availability of other ethnic fare that came with better times--whatever. While they are still around, it's tougher to find potato skins--or anyone getting excited over them--these days.

Yeah, T.G.I. Friday's bills them as an all-time restaurant favorite--which isn't saying much. Supermarkets stock frozen skins with the Friday's logo. And our vending machine here at the office offers bags of those horrid skin-flavored chips.

It's just hard to get interested in them anymore. Guess they're passe...until some upscale chef doing a retro menu decides to turn out a truffled-up version.

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