Disco Fries Are Like Poutine With An Italian Twist

When it comes to comfort food, few things can rival a well-executed plate of fries. Top a pile of perfectly golden, deep-fried potato-y goodness with gooey cheese and a rich, savory gravy and you're likely to ascend to cloud nine after taking your first bite. While you may know that combination of ingredients by the name poutine (a dish hailing from Quebec that is now considered one of Canada's unofficial national dishes), you may be surprised to learn that New Jersey pairs these same three components in a dish all its own. Its name? Disco fries.

For those who aren't too familiar with New Jersey's culinary landscape, which includes delicious creations like the tomato pie, salt water taffy, and the pork roll sandwich, disco fries may be something you haven't encountered before. Unlike poutine, which has become an increasingly well-known dish among international foodies, its Italian-American cousin has largely flown under the radar. Although they share the same key ingredients, the general cultural sentiment around these two dishes is vastly different.

How disco fries differ from poutine

There are a few key points of difference between these two dishes. The most obvious is the type of cheese used. Poutine is made solely with cheese curds, the squeaky little nuggets that form as a byproduct of the cheese-making process, when the rennet causes whey to separate from coagulating milk solids. This ingredient is non-negotiable, with some Canadians going as far as to say it's the very soul of the dish (via Daily Hive). 

For disco fries, however, the cheesy go-to is shredded mozzarella, which isn't really a surprise given the strong influence of the Italian immigrant community in New Jersey. Mozzarella gives the dish an overall creamy, gooey effect, as opposed to the larger curds used in poutine, which deliver definitive, squeaky cheese bites.

The potatoes and gravy vary in the two dishes as well. Poutine uses thick-cut fries — something that won't be drowned out by gravy or hefty curds — paired with a rich, brown gravy. Disco fries traditionally use crisp, crinkle-cut fries and the gravy base is a homemade affair that can have a range of ingredients. 

But perhaps the most fundamental distinction is the cultural approach to these dishes. Poutine may have different toppings, but there is an established foundation that Canadians take seriously — some even wish to obtain reserved designation status for the dish, authenticating it as a regional Quebec food. Disco fries are far more variable — you can swap mozzarella for American, gruyere, or even cheese sauce. Don't like the standard crinkle-cut fry? Choose an establishment that uses waffle or steak-cut spuds instead! But whatever you do, just don't call it poutine.

The history of disco fries is very '70s too

New Jersey may be known as the Garden State, but it could also reasonably be called the Diner State. Despite being the fourth smallest region in the U.S., it has more diners than anywhere else in the country. These diners are a hot spot for those passing through on their way to New York City, but their reasonable prices and late hours also make them popular among working-class folks and those looking for a hearty late-night snack after a night out — including enjoying a night at the disco.

Disco fries are said to date back to the 1970s when people frequently requested this comforting combination after dancing the night away. While it's unclear who made it first plate or which diner originally sold it, the Tick Tock Diner in Clifton, New Jersey is a fair contender. Serving customers around the clock since 1948, they are well-known for their disco fries where they've become an all-day favorite and a labor of love, with some chefs taking almost a whole day to build the flavor of their signature gravy.

If you're not able to visit New Jersey, you can still experience the joy of disco fries — you'll just have to work a little harder for them and likely make them yourself. First make some crispy, golden homemade fries and a delicious gravy. Once done, layer these ingredients with shredded Italian mozzarella and dig in!