I recently took a trip up to Cape Cod for a friend’s wedding. It was my first time in the area and, as I’m wont to do, I intended to eat my way through the seaside towns, stopping at roadside shacks for lobster rolls and fried seafood goodness. So I pulled into the first restaurant I saw: Marc Anthony’s in Onset. It was midday and the checkered table cloth-clad joint was awash in Red Sox cap-wearing locals. I ordered a lobster roll, which the cashier yelled out for the grill-slaving cooks behind him and then a side of French fries.
“And an order of Freedom fries,” he yelled out. Just then a needle scratched across a record from somewhere in the heavens above. Huh? Freedom Fries?
Remember those? If not, here’s a brief refresher: the anti anti-war politicians (and those who loved them) spent the lead-up to Iraq war by trumpeting this name change in 2003 because of the French government’s refusal to go along with the Bush Administration’s plan to invade Iraq. Two of those legislators, congressmen Bob Ney (R-OH) and Walter Jones (R-NC), had the House cafeteria officially change the name of French fries to freedom fries seven years ago last week. They weren’t the first to do this, but the press coverage of the event inspired many restaurateurs to jump on this jingoistic bandwagon. In my old Brooklyn neighborhood, a diner suddenly began serving “Freedom onion soup.” On a trip to California, I saw “Freedom toast” on a breakfast menu.
Two years later, Walter Jones admitted he was wrong for backing the justifications for the war and put the French back in fry in his workplace cafeteria. And so, much like the reasons given for the war, this ridiculous burst of anti-Gallic liberty-spewing re-monikering quietly went away. At least I thought it did.
Apparently not everyone got the notice. In fact, once I started searching for freedom fries, they weren’t hard to find. I even found Congressman Bob Ney who now has a talk radio show. I requested an interview with the congressman and he responded with another question: could we do it on the air? I agreed. And so later that day, I asked Mr. Ney on his radio show if he had any regrets.
“Would I do it again? Yes, I would,” he told me and then said something that kind of surprised me coming from the man who helped give us freedom fries. “Would I change my vote if I knew what I know now about weapons of mass destruction? I would not have given full authority to President Bush to do what he did.” Ney went on to say he really became the face of freedom fries for the troops, not really for the war.
So with this edible anachronism still around, it’s possible to go on a freedom food tour of the country. If you want to party like it’s 2003, your first stop should be Cubbies in Greenville, NC, the supposed first restaurant in the country to serve up these calorically terrific fried potatoes with a side of good ol’ American liberty. Geno’s, the famously “English only”-loving Philadelphia cheesesteak spot proudly serves them too. I called to find out if they were still on the menu, and when I asked why they haven’t gone back to the original name, gruff-voiced Geno (or some guy who sounded like his name would be Geno) hung up on me. The outcome was very similar when I called Marc Anthony’s in Onset. Other places where you can still get a dose of your freedom and your, uh, pommes frites in one basket are the mini-chain of Toby Keith-owned restaurants (now there’s a big surprise), I love This Bar & Grill (locations in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Thackersville, OK.
And when Congressman Ney goes out to a restaurant how does he order his fries these days?
“I’ll order French fries,” he said.
Let’s just hope the Italians don’t offend us next. A slice of pepperoni freedom pie or spaghetti with Uncle Sam’s meatballs just doesn’t have a very edible ring to it.