Jews eat potatoes in everything. There’s cholent, potato kugel and potato knishes. There’s even tzimmes. However, the absolute most perfect use of potatoes, better even than French fries, is to turn them into potato pancakes — latkes, which have crunchy mahogany edges, crispy golden midsections and tender, rich, meaty interiors.
Hash browns on steroids.
When it comes to latkes, the best recipes are always those that started with great- (or great-great-) bubbie in the Old Country. But today, with our busy lives and microwaves, it’s easier to get latkes to go.
The JT editorial staff decided to do just that. Late last month, our team went on a hunt for the tastiest latke at four local kosher eateries: Accents Grill on the Atrium, Carmel’s, Knish Shop and Tov Pizza. The winning latke: Accents Grill.
“The latkes at Accents Grill are spectacular,” said Patrice Williams, editorial intern. “They are large, filling and tasty.”
Second place: Tov Pizza.
“The texture was pleasantly crispy, but oily,” said Simone Ellin, staff reporter. “The customer service was really good.”
Carmel’s and Knish Shop were tied for third place.
“The Carmel’s latke was hands down the most original of the bunch,” said David Snyder, staff reporter. “Rather than a crunchy disc, it was light and fluffy — almost resembling the texture of a coddie. However, when it came to sheer taste, the Carmel’s version tasted more like a hockey puck than a potato pancake.”
“I loved the smell, and the texture was what I hoped for in a latke,” said staff reporter Ron Snyder on Knish Shop’s latkes. “But it lost some points for being too greasy. I want to taste the potato, not the oil.”
Larry Franks of Accents Grill on Smith Avenue said he started making latkes about eight years ago, when the establishment opened. Today, he sells 2,000 to 3,000 latkes in three sizes throughout the Chanukah season.
Franks was not asked to reveal his recipe, but he noted that he “made it up,” using his potato kugel recipe as a base. He added certain spices and other ingredients until he found one that works. The true secret of his latke success, however, is the way he shreds his potatoes.
“Most people in Baltimore use a grinder, a vertical cutting machine. You throw in the potatoes, and it just minces them. That gives [the latke] more of a mashed potato texture,” Franks explained. “If you shred the potatoes, it is aesthetically more pleasing — it gives it almost a braided look. It also gives the latke a firmer texture, so you are biting into something more substantial.”
Franks allocates two full-time staff to latke duty. One of them, Orby Marquez, spends three to four days making nothing else all day long.
“She’s never complained,” said Franks.
This year, Franks rolled out a new kind of latke: sweet potato. He said he tried them out at a recent Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore event to rave reviews.
“We had really great reports on it,” he said, noting they will now be available throughout the Chanukah holiday.
Franks’ tip for latke makers: “Use your imagination. If you have a favorite ingredient, throw it in there.”
Tov’s Good, Too
The second choice was not far behind the first, and that was the potato pancake at Tov Pizza on Reisterstown Road. Owner Ronnie Rosenbluth said the store has been frying them up for 27 years, but “like everything else, the recipe evolved over time.”
Rosenbluth said Tov’s sells as many as 3,000 latkes over the eight-day period, and all of his staff gets in on the action.
“Different people take care of different parts of the job. Some people peel, some grind, some fry — everyone chips in,” he said.
Rosenbluth said what puts his latkes toward the top are that they are homemade and handmade: “We form them and put them into the frying pan on premise.” He said that for every four or five latkes he makes to sell, one is tossed aside for taste-testing or giveaways.
“If it is not large enough or thick enough [we don’t sell it],” he said. “We have to have some quality control, and presentation is important, too.”
This really is a labor of love for Rosenbluth, who has burned himself more than once while popping the potatoes into the pan. He said the oil splashes when you are working close and quickly.
Rosenbluth’s tip: “Preheat the frying pan and the oil. Be careful!”