Patrick Trautfield

Move over French fries. Belgian fries have arrived in San Luis Obispo.

Cal Poly emeritus philosophy professor Fred O’Toole opened the gourmet fry shop Bel Frites with his wife Joyce Connelly and 13-year-old daughter Oona. Bel Frites serves up Belgian-style fries. The first part of the name, Bel, was taken from the first three letters of Belgium and Frites is the French word for fries.

These are not the typical type of fries found at McDonald’s. These fries are sliced fresh from No. 1 russet potatoes daily, then the hearts of the potatoes are soaked in water and vinegar for a couple of hours to take the starch out of them. The potato slices are then blanched (cooked at a lower temperature). The fries then rest for a couple hours and once ordered are “flashed” fried.

O’Toole said that this type of frying allows the inside of the fry to taste like a baked potato, leaving the outside is crispy. Bel Frites uses pure canola oil for frying. No hydrogenated oils or trans fats are used in the process. This means that the unhealthy elements found in regular hydrogenated oils, like animal fat, are not used.

Prices vary depending upon the order’s size and whether a patron wants only a special seasoning sprinkled on the fries or dipping sauces to choose from, which cost anywhere from $4 to $6.

O’Toole was first exposed to the idea when he was going over The Alps from Italy to France. At the first stop off the gondola ride, there was a Belgium Frites stand, where the fry delight was served in a paper cone.

Since then, O’Toole investigated the concept. There are only a few places around the nation that serve up these Belgian-style fries. Shops are located in New York, Seattle and Westwood, Calif. (supposedly owned by Danny Glover). More astounding is that the Seattle location was voted best fries in Seattle and one of the top 10 restaurants because of its expertise in its one item.

For almost a year, O’Toole and his family researched and experimented with seasonings and sauces until a location popped up.

Anna and John Fergus, both 26-year-olds and graduates from Cal Poly, stopped in one night and made a large size fry their dinner. The couple decided to get the sampler deal and try three sauces with their non-seasoned fries.

“They’re really good fries and are served in a fun little way,” Anna Fergus said.

John Fergus said he has walked by the shop a couple times around 9 p.m. and the place was crazy.

“It’s a nice location for hungry people that come from drinking down the street.”

There’s no doubt about the late night fanfare that partakes in the European delight, with Downtown Brewing Co. only a couple doors away.

Open for a little under two weeks, O’Toole said business is better than what the family expected.

To give Bel Frites a try, the shop is located at 1127 Garden St. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Wednesday from noon to 9 p.m.; Thursday from noon to midnight; Friday and Saturday from noon to 2:30 a.m.; and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m.

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