Ode To Cheese Fries (or, why I can't go back to The Fifty/50)

To say that I love cheese fries is an understatement. I have to put chocolate in the freezer or else it’ll go bad. Months after the candy expo’s over I still have suckers and gummy bears and taffy gathering dust. I skip dessert 9 times out of 10, and have never been in the chocolate shop around the corner. But put a plate of fried potatoes topped with melted cheese in front of me and I’m done for. With summer coming up I need to avoid this devilish creation that accounts for 90% of my excess body weight.

That makes me sad, because now I don’t know if I can ever go back to The Fifty/50 (2047 W Division St, 773-489-5050). They have the best cheese fries I’ve ever had. Waffle fries swimming in a creamy cheese sauce, topped with melted shredded cheese. Ranch dressing or ketchup on this masterpiece is an unnecessary waste of condiments. I’m craving them like a rock star craves adulation.

I recently stopped in this new restaurant/bar in the hot Division and Damen corridor with Julie Cameron of Urban Shop Guide. The Fifty/50 has gotten some buzz because of its selection of 40’s served in brown paper bags (I only saw one served and it was bagless), but I was mainly there to see my friend John. After 6 years bartending at a downtown steakhouse he made the switch so I figured this place must be something special.

The menu is bar food with an upscale twist. All the sauces are made in-house and they smoke the meat themselves. If you don’t feel like a full sandwich just get a “slider”. Julie and I tried the Triple Secret Burger and the Pulled Pork. The burger was good, but didn’t really knock my socks off. The pork, however, was tender and flavorful and had a hint of smoke without reminding me of a campfire. We also tried the wings and ordered half hot and half teriyaki. These had to be some of the meatiest, biggest wings I’ve seen. Granted, my wing knowledge is nowhere near as extensive as my cheese fry knowledge, but I’ve had a few in my time. Warning – the hot is HOT. Tasty, but hot. The teriyaki was also good and not the sweet caramel-y sauce that tends to coagulate prematurely.

Although they didn’t have to pry the food away from our cold dead hands, we were reluctant to give it up. When we finally did, we were served hot towels with lemon.

Huh? Hot towels with lemon? In a bar?

I know at least one of the owners and one of the managers came from Joe’s Stone Crab, and it seems that they’re bringing that upscale commitment to providing quality cuisine AND service to a genre not typically associated with such detail. Sure, wet naps are easier to hand out, but hot towels step it up a notch, or two, or three.

The space itself feels comfortable. Julie and I remarked that it was like hanging out in a friend’s home (a rich friend’s home, but a friend’s home nonetheless). The upstairs is more of a dining room, and downstairs is more of a lounge. As a woman I appreciated the crowd – heavy on the men, light on the frat-boys. When it warms up they’ll have the largest patio on that stretch of Division, perfect for people watching.

It’s a shame, really, because I think The Fifty/50 could be one of my favorite spots. If it weren’t for those darned cheese fries.






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