IdleRye's housemade tater tots are served with an oniony dipping sauce.EXPAND
IdleRye's housemade tater tots are served with an oniony dipping sauce.
Nick Rallo

The Tater Tots at IdleRye are Perfect (and the Burger's Good, Too)

There are no secret recipes at IdleRye. The kitchen window is permanently open, allowing a glimpse into the work. Co-owner and executive chef Ray Skradzinski dives into the inspirations behind his food with exuberance.

“I enjoy doing stuff that reminds me of home,” he says.

Skradzinski grew up in Alloway, New Jersey, a tiny town, devouring pierogis with his grandfather. Ask and he’ll tell you that he has a deep love for French and Italian food, despite his Polish-German background. He’ll tell you that he loves a good potato gratin with warming nutmeg. If you want to know how something’s made, all you have to do is pose the question. It’s worth asking because you’ll have an immediate and comically intense need to know everything about what are maybe the best tater tots you’ve ever had.

“Anything we make ... if anybody ever asks for recipes, I’ll email them exactly how we made it," he says. "We’re kind of past that age of 'Oh this is our secret recipe.'”

Like Frankenstein’s monster, the tots are, in part, an accident. They’re enormous: hand-shaped into a size somewhere (roughly) in between shot glass and the canister that held the ooze in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze. Like the Turtles, IdleRye seems to be having a damn good time.

For consistency, Skradzinski starts with a shredded potato hash product. The restaurant sells about 20 to 30 orders per day, so shredding Yukon potatoes per order was the “bane of his existence.”

He shaves good Gruyère cheese into the hash, dashing in nutmeg, cayenne and a pinch of salt. He lets that sit with some cornstarch; flour leaves a gummy texture in this tot arena, and cutting it has the added benefit of keeping things gluten free. Skradzinski scoops the mixture and hand-forms it into mini barrel shapes. Then, the barrels get a light coat of cornstarch and slide into the deep fryer. A crisp shell forms, and they’re ready to go. The size, smaller and more portable than a Hot Pocket, is the accidental part: Skradzinski had a more traditional tot size until a new hire accidentally used the wrong scooper, resulting in a few tots that looked like radiation mistakes from a Godzilla movie.

“Holy shit, who made these fucking tots? They’re huge,” Skradzinski says in his telling the tots' origin story.

The size is actually a feat of tots engineering. They’re not light, but they're not bowling-ball heavy like a croquette. They are crisp and portable, like you could toss one around in the yard with your kid. You could probably slip a few into a backpack, and they’d keep their shape all day. The mega tots are served with a dipping sauce, a concentrated blast of creaminess and onions, that induces sudden blackouts.

The fire-grilled cheeseburger with fries at IdleRye.EXPAND
The fire-grilled cheeseburger with fries at IdleRye.
Nick Rallo

“It’s pretty much an onion dip, but I couldn’t bring myself to write onion dip,” says Skradzinski, backing up his home-inspired roots. This ain’t the soft, Lipton onion strands dip: He grates onions with a cheese shredder and stirs them into garlic aioli (garlic, egg, canola oil, a splash of lemon and cider vinegar) along with the forever-lovable combo of sour cream, salt, pepper and chives.

Dip and crunch these tot pods. The brittle exterior jails a pillow-soft, nearly creamy with cheese middle; potato shreds add texture; and nutmeg roars in the corner like a hearth. Add the onion dip, and you’ll have treated yourself to a complete and vegetarian meal.

Still, the burger’s good. The patty is a 78 percent Angus chuck blend with 22 percent fat, formed into an 8-ounce disc and grilled over an oak fire. After melting Tillamook sharp, white cheddar and an onion marmalade — a deeply sexy blend of house chili paste and flat-grilled and caramelized onions — everything is served on a grill-toasted onion roll.

It’s comforting food with an open-door policy. Simply put, it’s fun to eat — because this is the kind of food that should be fun.

IdleRye, 2826 Elm St.

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