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.