Yesterday was National Potato Day, an occasion that the United States has yet to observe as a federal holiday. (Write your congressperson.)
I love potatoes—and as an Irish-American with a passing knowledge of the Great Famine, it's personal. For years, I've wanted to go to Potatopia, a restaurant chain devoted to showcasing the potato in all the beigey colors of its rainbow. When better to visit than on National Potato Day, and how better than by trying every single dish they serve? Don't feel like you have to answer that.
Potatopia first launched in 2011 in Edison, New Jersey, and opened its first and only Manhattan location in the West Village in 2013. I arrive with an appetite a few minutes after the restaurant's 11 a.m. opening.
My first mistake was having a plan.
Though Potatopia invites customers to build their own potato-based delicacies (working from 10 possible potato preparations, 14 toppings, five cheeses, and 14 sauces), you can also order off their signature menu of pre-designed dishes. I'd seen such a menu in a Yelp photo from 2013, which lists seven protein-optional items, five of which come in a reasonable-sounding "mini" size. I could handle that, I thought—if I couldn't polish off the standard items in their entirety, I could surely power through the minis.
Unfortunately, I am an idiot. I quickly learn that Potatopia now offers 11 signature items, all but one of which comes complete with a protein, and the mini option is no more. May God have mercy on my soul.
My first emotion is panic, but my second is hunger. National Potato Day comes but once a year. I could make this work: it might not be physically possible to consume every dish in full, but I'd finish at least a third of each of them, more than enough of a portion to know whether I'd eat it again. I decide to stagger my orders two meals at a time, both to pace myself and to make sure the potatoes don't get soggy.
Potatopia's is a bright and appealing space, with a lot of light wood, but one that seats only about a dozen guests. It's obvious that I have no hope of carrying this out inconspicuously, so—trying to sound as stable as possible—I tell the young man taking my order what I'm up to.
"I'm going to try everything on the menu," I said.
"Okay!" he said. Already, I like it here.
This emerges as a major theme of the day: the people who work at Potatopia are great. So great. Nadine, the general manager, is chanting my name before I've taken my first bite. "This is a serious day for you," she says. "You're going to be in bed by 5:30, sleeping like a baby."
I appreciate her optimism. At this point, I'm not sure I'll make it home.
$8.49 – Smashed red potatoes, roasted chicken, asiago/parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese, scallions, red onion, fresh garlic, cilantro, and roasted pepper aioli
It takes exactly one bite of the Smashed Hit—generously strewn with red onion and garlic—to ruin my breath for the day, but I'm not going to pretend that I care. It's good. I like the smashed red potatoes (which, despite what their name might lead you to believe, aren't mashed, but wedges) in and of themselves, but they don't strike me as an ideal cheese-and-aioli delivery system.
THREE OUT OF FIVE STARCHY TUBERS
$8.99 – Waffle fries, spiced beef, 3 pepper mix, roasted jalapeños, cilantro, roasted corn, sour cream, and melted sharp cheddar sauce
It's 11:30 and suddenly, shit is serious: the Nacho, Nacho is a bowl of waffle fries smothered in sour cream and molten cheddar. Both Nadine and Brian, who's manning the register, tell me this is their favorite dish off the signature menu, and boy, do I get it. The roasted corn is an unexpectedly delicious addition, and a fun way to pretend you're eating something other than one of the most exorbitantly unhealthy dishes mankind has ever conceived. (This is a compliment, obviously.)
FOUR OUT OF FIVE STARCHY TUBERS
I've only tried two out of 11 dishes so far, and the sheer volume of food that awaits me is humbling. These are not meals you eat, say, before a hike. They're what you eat once you've been rescued after three weeks lost alone in the woods.
$8.74 – Shoestring fries, double smokehouse bacon, red onion, smoked gouda, scallions, and chipotle aioli
I'm sorry, but this stuff is next-level fucking delicious. I know I should be pacing myself, but it's hard to stop eating the Bacon Overload. If reincarnation is indeed a thing, you could do a lot worse than to be reborn as a shoestring fry drowning in gouda and bacon.
FOUR AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE STARCHY TUBERS
$8.69 – Baked Idaho potato, pulled pork, sharp cheddar, Jersey coleslaw, hot pepper relish, scallions, and chipotle aioli
I don't love this one myself. The pork is tender, but both the coleslaw and BBQ sauce get lost and the chipotle aioli feels out of place. It's becoming increasingly clear that Potatopia is as much a potato restaurant as it is a temple devoted to the veneration of anything you could conceivably put on a potato.
TWO AND A HALF STARCHY TUBERS OUT OF FIVE
As my blood is now too busy with my digestive system to bother feeding my brain, I spend noon to 12:20 p.m. staring into space. Nadine comes over to chat. She's been at Potatopia for seven months, and she really loves the company, which she tells me started out of a food truck.
I have never really felt like a regular anywhere, but after just an hour, I'm wondering if Potatopia could be my Cheers. (I would love to be a Carla, but deep-down I know I'm really a Cliff with Diane rising.)
It's about now I realize I can squat on the free wifi from the Starbucks next door (you didn't hear this from Potatopia, you heard it from me), which I'd probably take more advantage of if I weren't feeling so dazed.
When I order my next two dishes, Nadine spots me a free Diet Coke. Please, Potatopia, give Nadine all of the promotions.
$8.79 – Idaho "thick cut" chips, shrimp, double pepperjack, roasted mushrooms, scallions, roasted jalapeños, fresh garlic, 3 pepper mix, and roasted pepper aioli
I don't care for whatever seasoning is happening on these mushrooms, and the shrimp are decidedly unspringy. But I really like the thick cut chips, more than I'd expected.
TWO STARCHY TUBERS OUT OF FIVE
As I'm working on the aptly named Comatoser, Nadine brings me over some delicious fresh-fried potato chips, still hot, with ranch dip. She's the best. She may also be trying to kill me.
$8.79 – Cajun curly fries, shrimp, 3 pepper mix, roasted corn, roasted mushrooms, garlic aioli, and chipotle ketchup
After exploring the wide world of potato toppings, it's a little weird to go back to ketchup, my usual condiment of choice. Because, like a child, 80% of my food preferences are determined by color, I'm put off by the uncanny shade of pink it forms when it combines with the garlic aioli. Yech. That said, the curly fries are great.
TWO STARCHY TUBERS OUT OF FIVE
My fellow patrons are an interesting mix, including an NYU student, her visiting mother, and her vaguely hungover-seeming friend (note to self: eat this food when you are hungover) and a sixtysomething man reading the New York Times op-ed page while downing a baked potato.
Would it be weird if I took a nap? I don't think Nadine, who is rapidly becoming my favorite person ever, would mind. She might even cover me in a blanket woven from delicate potato fibers.
At 1:30, I return to the cash register to order more food and chat with the young woman who's taken over for Brian. "How many of these have you eaten today?" she asks me. "This will be my seventh and eighth," I tell her.
"Is this for a blog?" she guesses correctly, because that is apparently the only possible explanation for my behavior besides a mental break.
$9.99 – Smashed red potatoes, marinated sirloin steak,
mushroom beef gravy, smoked gouda, roasted corn, roasted mushrooms, scallions, parsley, and creamy horseradish sauce
Sadly, they're out of mushroom gravy today, which is likely a blessing in disguise. The Steakhouse is salty and cheesy and all-around pretty good, though the horse-sized kick from the horseradish sauce makes me glad I ordered it on the side.
THREE STARCHY TUBERS OUT OF FIVE
Nadine gives me some water. I love you, Nadine.
$6.99 – Tater tots, broccoli, red onion, 3 pepper mix, cilantro, fresh garlic, pepperjack, and garlic aioli
It's almost physically impossible for me to stop eating these tater tots, like a rat pressing a lever that electrically stimulates a pleasure center in its brain, forgoing food till it starves. (The key difference being that I am at this moment the furthest anyone, rat or human, has ever been from starving.) I love garlic, but this dish has a lot even for me.
THREE STARCHY TUBERS OUT OF FIVE
I order my final three dishes at 2:20. I'm finding it difficult to keep my eyes open, rocked to sleep by the gentle vibration of the subway beneath us.
$6.99 – Baked Idaho potato, broccoli, roasted corn, cilantro, fresh garlic, roasted jalapeños, red onion, scallions, sour cream, and roasted pepper aioli
Okay, I regret saving a dish with the word "heavy" in its name for my final push, because they're not kidding around. I'm not sure I want to try digesting another mayo-heavy sauce, and the raw onions are fairly acrid. As advertised, the Veggie Heavy certainly doesn't skimp on the veg, but the buttery, perfectly baked potato is the star here.
ONE AND A HALF STARCHY TUBERS OUT OF FIVE
Shoestring fries, fresh garlic, double mozzarella/provolone blend, and mushroom beef gravy
I'm from New Jersey, a paradise of diners and disco fries, so I'd really been looking forward to this one—I'd even strategized at what point in my feast I should eat the Jersey Boy, the way a runner might choose at which mile to station her cheering loved ones during a marathon. But again, there's no gravy today, so I improvise. I really want to try the mashed potatoes, which don't appear on the signature menu, so I sub them in for the shoestring fries
The result is a gorgeous perversion of cheese, butter, and garlic. I want to cry it's so good. I would like to eat 11 of these, please.
FIVE OUT OF FIVE STARCHY TUBERS
$8.79 – Sweet potato crinkle cut fries, roasted chicken, asiago/parmesan cheese, red onions, fresh garlic, and garlic aioli
The sweet potato crinkle cut fries are fantastic, to the point that the chicken, aioli, and cheese are totally superfluous. I ignore them and chow down on the spuds. Have I accidentally trained my body to exclusively metabolize potatoes?
THREE STARCHY TUBERS OUT OF FIVE
Nadine gives me a hug when I leave, almost exactly four hours after I arrived, and sends me on my way with a sweet potato cake pop.
I head home, sweating a liquid that I'm pretty sure is pure butter, and change into the most forgivingly elastic pair of pajama pants I own. I'm exhausted, but I'm alive. And on the bright side, I've banked enough calories to hibernate for at least a month.
The fact that I want to go back to Potatopia, after a full afternoon of gorging, is amazing to me. It's a testament not only to their fine work, but to my genuinely disgusting tolerance for junk food, and perhaps most of all to the enduring magic of the noble potato.
Here's to you, potatoes.
Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.