It was a sunny day in 1997 when heaven came to the East Village. Heaven, better known as Pommes Frites, never looked better: a tiny, rickety Belgian fry shop on corner of 2nd avenue and 7th. Inside, piles of thick, fresh, golden potatoes were being tossed into a fryer and topped with a slab of creamy mayonnaise for the next customer. Now, it’s 2013 and the Belgian frites shop is more popular than ever. On a regular day, the line extends to the streets as people wait anxiously to get their dose of frites with one of the shop’s 27 unique sauces.
The chunky fries are crisp, yet extremely gushy and most importantly, they are served in a special cone that could make for a great makeshift birthday hat. The fries are great alone, but what’s so exciting about Pommes Frites is the extensive sauce collection that I mentioned earlier. However, 27 sauces is a lot to choose from, and even though customers are allowed to try sauces before purchasing their fries, I thought I would save you the time. So, I went on a sauce-capade and decided to report back to tell you which sauces are worthy of your potato and which ones aren’t.
(Don’t mind me awkwardly sitting outside in the beginning)
So who is the mastermind behind the ingenious plan to feed everyone extremely delicious fried potatoes in cones?
No, not a Belgian man with a potato fetish. It was Bronx-native, Suzanne Levinson who came up with this creative, yet extremely simple idea, and I was lucky enough to speak with this awesome lady about her shop, success, and (obviously) her favorite sauces.
SB: What would you say inspired you to open Pommes Frites?
SL: As a college student traveling to Europe, I experienced the Belgian fries for the first time in the streets of the Netherlands and in Belgium. I fell in love with the concept – I loved the frites and I loved the sauces. Upon graduating from college, I worked in the European travel industry, which allowed me to travel back and forth between Belgium and the Netherlands, so I would always find myself getting these fries in those countries. It was in the back of my mind for a long time that New York didn’t have a Belgium frites shop, so eventually, I left the job that I loved in the travel industry, made a business plan, and opened Pommes Frites in 1997.
SB: What makes a pomme frite different than the average French fry?
SL: The real difference is that they’re fried twice, so that’s basically what makes them more of a Belgian frite than an ordinary fry. We cook the fries once at a lower temperature, then we set them aside and let them cool off, and then when the customer comes in, we cook them at a higher temperature for a second time.
SB: Why did you choose to open your shop in the East Village?
SL: Well there were 2 things: my budget and the demographic of who would eat pommes frites. When I thought about that, I felt that it was more of a lower Manhattan thing. I happened to find something on 2nd avenue, and believe it or not, those streets were quiet in 1999. I could say if we were a couple blocks up or down the street, we may not have had the same success. I really don’t know why we became so popular in that little spot there.
SB: Pommes Frites has such an extensive and unique sauce selection. Do they serve such a plethora of sauce flavors in Belgium or was it your idea to put a little spin on the traditional Belgian dish?
SL: I definitely modeled my shop off of what they do on the streets of Europe. What stood out is that in Europe, all of the sauces are mayonnaise-based while in the states, people would typically have their fries and ketchup. So I definitely wanted to introduce the concept of mayonnaise and fries. You could find approximately 5-10 different sauces at every frites shop in Europe, but in New York we definitely took it to a different level. For the most part, we have created our own sauces and they are very unique. You wouldn’t find the sweet mango chutney and Vietnamese pineapple in the Netherlands or Belgium. The only thing we do that is very European is our imported Frites sauce – Remia. The especial sauce and the peanut satay sauce could also be found in Europe as well.
SB: So, which sauce is your favorite?
SL: Oh my gosh, I’m telling you they are all really good. This is like having to choose my favorite child! I love the mango chutney, Vietnamese pineapple mayo, and rosemary garlic mayo. Oh, and the black truffle mayo is divine. The pesto mayo is also fantastic. It’s so hard to choose!
SB: Do you plan on expanding your shop anytime soon?
SL: Well, I had a second store in Times Square for literally a year, and it was very difficult. It was just a window onto the street and we didn’t have any seating. Also, Times Square has a lot of tourists who are more into brand identity – if they’re not familiar with what the concept is, they might stray away from it. So it closed after a year, but what we have done now is Friteshop.com. We sell all of our equipment that we use at Pommes Frites. Owning one store is difficult enough, so everything is fine the way it is.”
SB: Are pommes frites your favorite food?
SL: Well yea, I have to say I always had something for fries – they’re absolutely delicious! But with my age now , I don’t eat them as much. Now, I am more dedicated to fruits in vegetables. But of course fries are my favorite food. Pomme frites are a very decadent treat. ♦♦
It is pretty clear that Suzanne knows what’s up when it comes to feeding people potatoes and mayonnaise. Now, let’s all take a moment of silence to thank her for giving us the opportunity to walk around New York with fry cones and more sauces than we can count on our fingers.
VERY crowded from 9:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Best time for avoiding the crowd: weekdays between 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
You can have as many free sauce samples until you know what you want.
No bathroom, so empty your bladder beforehand