Spuddy Hell

Hot Potato Cafe needs to try harder.

By Brian McManus
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 27 | Posted Jul. 18, 2007

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Editor's Note: Brian McManus visited Hot Potato Cafe in 2007 and found the food, as you can read below, less than desirable. He was invited back after Gordon Ramsay's retooling of the restaurant and menu. His review of that trip will appear tomorrow in advance of the third season premiere of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares at Hot Potato Cafe.

There's a scene in Michael Ruhlman's excellent The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute where the author, earning his stripes, is getting killed on a busy fry station. He's backed up, buried in orders and getting his teeth kicked in when he realizes he's left a batch of spuds in the grease too long. He grabs them, but it's too late. They're burnt.

He begins to convince himself they aren't that bad, maybe just a tad crisp. He faces the same dilemma every chef who's ever pulled on a pair of houndstooth pants has had to wrestle with a hundred times: Do I serve this crap, catch up a bit and hope no one complains? Or do I start over and make it right?

Ruhlman chooses the former and is quickly called on the carpet by an irate, red-in-the-face chef who makes an example of him in front of the class. It's a decision he still wishes he could take back. After all, what's the point of cooking for a living if you're not going to try to cook well?

That's the question the folks behind the kitchen curtain at Hot Potato Cafe might want to ask themselves. For it takes an equal amount of determination and possibly more time to ruin a batch of green beans the way they do as it does to cook them properly. Just looking at the beans would make Ruhlman and his instructor weep. But we'll get to them in a moment.

First, let's talk about a few of the less sizable, less incompetent gaffs. "It's good ... just get it!" is the entire menu description for something called "buffalo chicken dip." I do. It's not.

It's not entirely bad--just a bit strange. Chicken and cheese are chopped (almost to the point of puree) into a mush, tossed in tangy wing sauce and served in a medium-sized dish surrounded by thick slices of ho-hum baguette. The additional cheddar on top, browned to a crispy crust in a salamander for texture, is the only thing keeping the dish from being the world's oddest baby food flavor.

Strange as it is, the dip is worlds better than the "specialty of the house" potato soup. An enormous dollop of sour cream floats in a bowl of thick brownish-gray liquid, its color indicating that burnt bits at the bottom of the pot have broken off and made their way into the mix. It tastes more like bacon gravy than soup.

Pierogies suffer from an all-too-short trip to the fryer, and as a result are a rubbery, too-chewy affair. The diced caramelized onions on top are every color possible--some translucent, some burnt, some perfect--a feat I didn't know was even possible.

A linguine pescatore in an overwhelmingly creamy white sauce offers a hodgepodge of seafood over limp noodles. Both the shrimp and scallops show no evidence of being anything more than boiled, and both are tough as tires. And those poor green beans. No cook worth his associate's degree would serve such a godawful, burnt and impotent pile of non-nutrients to another human.

Billed as "Asian green beans," the once raw, crisp little guys are flash-fried into an oblivion only an infant, an Englishman or the most seasoned of citizens could love. They're doused with a quick flash of soy sauce, the sugars and salts of which sear the already pathetic bean into a charred, gummy mess.

What's worse, they're served alongside an overcooked, dry-as-a-bone cheese-stuffed chicken roulade as the vegetable of the day. Roulade is misspelled "rouillade" on the menu, another telling sign that Hot Potato doesn't much care for details.

Dinner is such a disaster that the thought of lunch a few days later is unsettling. I bring a co-worker for comfort, and together we share a crab dip served in the same style as the odd buffalo chicken. Co-worker describes it as "crab snot," but it's passable nonetheless, and my fears begin to ease.

Still, ordering anything that requires much know-how is something I'm unable to bring myself to.

Grilled cheese and fries, please.

Co-worker has a "back in the day salad," a hearty mix of greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, croutons and cheese--not unlike a salad you might find at the Applebee's just up the road--to accompany his burger (overcooked but not bad).

My grilled cheese is burnt, but nothing I can't scrape with the back of a knife. For this I'm thankful.

The fries are a revelation, about 10 pounds served on a platter for $2.50. They're Hot Potato's one culinary bright spot. The place is BYO, after all, and the thought of coming in to split them and a sixer with a table of four doesn't seem too terrible an idea. Lord knows the friendly staff would accommodate.

And that's the thing. The warm and helpful waitstaff at Hot Potato are about as nice as they come, exhibiting the exact tone you'd expect from a joint aiming to be a neighborhood standby. If only the kitchen would give them some help.

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Comments 1 - 27 of 27
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1. Doug McArthur said... on Jan 27, 2010 at 10:53PM

“Classic case of "I want to have a business, I want the fame and the glory, but I don't want to put any of the hard work or meet the level of commitment and professionalism that goes with it"”

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2. Michael said... on Jan 30, 2010 at 12:28AM

“Totally agree with Doug. Zero ambition and care into their work. They want the dollars but don't put any work into it or even care. Awful”

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3. Kanashto said... on Jan 30, 2010 at 04:46AM

“Kitchen Nightmares episode featuring this restaurant is out.”

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4. Ben Willison said... on Jan 30, 2010 at 04:26PM

“For something that cares so much about spelling and attention to detail, it's somewhat ironic that you misspelt the word 'gaffes'.


An Englishman”

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5. Spud said... on Jan 30, 2010 at 10:33PM


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6. Michael Nichols said... on Jan 31, 2010 at 08:44PM

““For something that cares so much about spelling and attention to detail, it's somewhat ironic that you misspelt the word 'gaffes'. Yours, An Englishman”

And how odd you "misspelled" the word misspelled.....

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7. Bubba said... on Feb 1, 2010 at 05:15AM

“I saw the episode, and from what I understand Brian's second review was about 6 months ago. It would be interesting to see how the place is doing now. Has anyone eaten there recently?”

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8. Anonymous said... on Feb 3, 2010 at 11:16PM

“I don't think they're looking for "fame and glory" or dollars. People just don't have a clue the hard work, time and creativity it takes to run a real restaurant.
I'm always shocked at how few of the owners that contact Ramsey for help ever put even a few months actually working in the food industry at any level whatsoever.
I work 2 half-days a week at a freaking Pizza Hut and I know enough to know I know more than most of the owners in this series.”

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9. MadMartigan said... on Feb 4, 2010 at 10:01AM

“6. Michael Nichols said... on Jan 31, 2010 at 08:44PM

““For something that cares so much about spelling and attention to detail, it's somewhat ironic that you misspelt the word 'gaffes'. Yours, An Englishman”

And how odd you "misspelled" the word misspelled....."

Misspelt is a word. A bit archaic, but still a proper variant of the word "misspell". Perhaps if you familiarize yourself with English as it should be spoken/written, you would be more cautious in flaunting your American ignorance.

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10. Anonymous said... on Feb 14, 2010 at 09:52AM

“i love how people think omg cooking is easy and i do it at home every day and dont have a clue how to time a meal from app to dessert and do that for hours with the whole dining room cooking takes 100% love and 80% skill or the love to learn and keep learning till they die its not just a job it is a life style eat sleep dream and work food and with all that you still may not make it

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11. Guest said... on Feb 18, 2010 at 12:25PM

“I saw this episode last week and i think it's a bit ironic that the british are usually stereotyped as bad cooks because the americans send a brit over to help. lol.”

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12. The Silent Diner said... on Mar 13, 2010 at 04:40AM

“I'm so glad to see a food critic standing by his work and yet, in an odd show of compassion, still agree to review the restaurant again after its transformation under Chef Ramsey.

I'm looking forward to trying Hot Potato myself when I'm in Philadelphia and judging for myself if we've left Spuddy Hell or stayed in the same mash of a mess.

For more of my opinions on local dining, check out my blog: thesilentdiner(dot)wordpress(dot)com”

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13. Anonymous said... on May 11, 2010 at 08:15AM

“who ever wrote this article obviously never worked in a real professional kitchen. Its easy for everyone to say whats wrong, but they never fix the problem...why?”

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14. durrrr said... on May 12, 2010 at 02:42AM

“ok this annoys me, its not a food critics job to help fix a restaurants problems. Its his job to tell people whether the food is good or not. His working in a restaurant has no bearing on his job. Also I don't see why its clear he's never worked in a restaurant.”

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15. Halifax, United Kingdom said... on Aug 23, 2010 at 02:32AM

“Just watched the Gordon Ramsay program. I'd be interested to see if the team at the Hot Potato Cafe consolidated their success in the period following the television makeover. Hopefully, they have!

Not being a chef, I get the impression that the new menus introduced in these type of shows involve much more preparation time and are more 'hassle' than the old ones. This is why kitchens rely so heavily on frozen produce in the first place. What do other people think?”

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16. Anonymous said... on Aug 25, 2010 at 01:21AM


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17. Anonymous said... on Mar 29, 2011 at 08:03AM

“It's So SAD that they may not of learned anything for chef Gorden, as they are now closed down.”

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18. Hockneydog said... on May 11, 2011 at 08:08PM

“It's not the critics job to know how a restaurant works, just to honestly judge the food and the dining experience. I started to watch the episode and saw this article in the opening. Brian went to this place twice, the second time with a coworker and was bad then too. I want a Tapas bar so bad I taste it, but I learned through watching these shows, owning a restaurant is brutal, so I don't dare, but maybe I could try a food truck...”

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19. Geo Scotland said... on Jan 8, 2012 at 08:26PM

“Sorry to see this place closed after Gordon gave it a good seeing to..
the young chief had the weight on her shoulders of the whole place??
hope she if no one else gained something from this”

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20. mike said... on Feb 16, 2012 at 07:49PM

“god bless you brian mcmanus... :)))))))looooooooooooooollllll its a nice name for this article ggggg”

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21. Philly Chef said... on Aug 27, 2012 at 01:24PM

“He was a bit extra with the title of the article and some of his descriptions. I am a chef, am from Philly, have eaten at the restaurant, and it is not that bad. It's not spectacular, but it is not nearly as bad as McManus whines in his literary bitchfest of a review. Actually I should say 'was' as Hot Potato is no more. Maybe that egotistical prick McManus will follow suit. Understand the business and basic cooking before you take a job reviewing it. That's the problem with the new batch of food critics that have sprouted up. They don't understand the business and have not earned their stripes.”

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22. Dick Hertz said... on Jun 12, 2013 at 01:39PM

“Saw the saw and it's sad they couldn't make a go of it. Danielle, only 21, while trying her best, didn't have the training and experience to carry a restaurant by herself and never should have been put in that position. The three owners obviously didn't have professional food management experience as well. Hope Danielle find her calling, pretty girl, sweet smile...”

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23. FLAJOE said... on Sep 5, 2013 at 03:42PM

“Danielle was cute and pleasant despite the circumstances she was put into by her "family." Her big sister, who seemed to be in charge of the place, was a whiner, which made Danielle seem all that much nicer.

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24. G. Fisher Australia said... on Dec 7, 2013 at 06:23AM

“I've cooked for 22 years and 20 of those at a professional level. Yes at 36yo I should have been the owner of several restaurants! If it wasn't for the fact that iam a compulsive gambler. raging alchaholic, chain smoking, any drug I can get my hands on taking, big titty grabbing bad ass mofo! They would be right, but I've grinded in greasy burger shit holes to 2 star Michelin and hatted in my native Australia, and it requires blood sweat and tears to get to this level of cookery.
This industry is not for everyone and peeps if you've no experience in hospitality and want to open a restaurant to make money...
I've been traveling for 17 years and I've seen hundreds lose everything .

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25. Anonymous said... on Jul 8, 2014 at 06:43PM


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26. Lex said... on Sep 8, 2014 at 01:30AM

“Gordon did a great job helping them but the problem is more than just new paint and decor, new menu, and free potato's to run their business for 3 months. The biggest problems were the economy from 2005 thru 2012...had to be the WORST climate for any small business that overall is an ordinary restaurant.
People cut their spending and that means less eating out.
So the economy and the fact that they didn't have a basic burger to appeal to kids who get dragged out with their parents to eat out. Sure they had fry's but i saw no classic burger.”

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27. tomasz. said... on Oct 3, 2015 at 10:25AM

“6. Michael Nichols

"Misspelt" is correct, you doofus”


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