Tomorrow’s Tater Tots, Today!
If I had things like motivation and drive, business acumen, fistfuls of startup cash, and stuff like that, I’d be a restaurateur. Not a super-duper schmancy one, or a nasty, egotistical one like those you see on TV, but simply a gal who makes some food and serves it up to people. I have an entire notebook full of ideas and sketches, and reminders of places where I can find vintage lighting and glitter vinyl booths.
I’d start with one thing, and I’d do it well. In fact, I’d over-do it well. And that thing is Tater Tots, those crispy bits of potato-ey heaven. I would rock them so hard. The Tot Spot would be an all-tots, all-the-time sort of a place. The sign would be a hypnotically animated neon bulls-eye with Tot Spot written on the arrow.
Ideally, The Tot Spot would be located on some not-quite-busy roadway, just far enough off the beaten path to be a destination, but close enough to town that the drive isn’t prohibitive. In a perfect world, I’d be able to take over an old drive-in theater lot. There would be a cement dinosaur on the property, of course, and possibly a 1940’s-style playground complete with metal slides, monkey bars, teeter-totters, and a personal indemnity clause. I would hold themed movie nights in the summertime, and a special winter holiday edition drive-in Saturday featuring Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” with free mugs of hot chocolate at midnight.
Tot Spot Two would be the hip, uptown branch that would cater to the slouchy, diffident hipster kids. It’d be a nice place and all, but it wouldn’t have quite the same ambience. The kids would love it, though, especially when the laundromat next door offers its irresistible “Tots-N-Wash special.”
The menu, though, will be the kicker. Naturally we’ll offer tater tot casseroles, in styles ranging from Plain Midwestern to Mormon Funeral. Casserole dishes will be filled to the brim with cream of chicken/mushroom/celery concoctions and topped with everything from cornflakes and crisped onions to potato chips and panko. There would also be tater tot scrambles, mixing tots and scrambled eggs and a variety of veggies and cheeses into a delicious, albeit messy delight.
For the health-conscious, baked tots would be available (by special request), and all orders could be split, half on a plate for now and half pre-packed into a takeout container for later. We would also offer soups and salads and hearty breads with ingredients sourced from local farmers; I’d prefer that my patrons not die of heart attacks too soon.
A few signature dishes would round out the menu:
Totchos: Traditional nachos, made with tots instead of chips, and topped with salsa, cheese, avocado slices. Black olives and jalapeños on the side, of course, as well as a few dishes of sour cream, extra salsa, and chipotle ranch sauce.
Totdue: Made for sharing; a small dish of melted cheese, a pair of long-handled forks, and tots.
Tots Au Gratin and Scalloped Tots: Vegetarian versions of tater tot hot dishes.
Grilled Tot Sammich: A grilled cheese sandwich with a layer of tater tots inside.
Shepherd’s Tots: A traditional shepherd’s pie, with a tater tot top crust.
Fishsticks ‘n’ Tots: Pretty self-explanatory. Comes with pots of tartar sauce, malt vinegar, curried ketchup, and garlic aioli.
Totka Masala: Could tots stand a spicy tomato cream sauce? There’s only one way to find out.
The Lotta Totta Pinata: A crisp churro-type pastry shell filled with tater tots, suspended over… I dunno, something. Could be Elisabeth Moss. The real fun happens when you smack it with your fork and the tots cascade down onto your plate.
I’ve given some thought to tots-forward desserts — bite-sized bits of fried ice cream that come with a deep red raspberry dipping sauce, or sweet tots made of grated apples. But I think those may be a little bit too heavy-handed. You can only stretch a theme so far before it crosses the line between kitsch and psychosis. Or can you?