Wrangell St. Elias: The Roadside Potatohead

To appreciate this story you must understand the basics of McCarthy, Alaska. It is at the end of a sixty-mile dirt road. That dirt road, depending on conditions, can take three or four hours to drive. Anything that comes in has to be brought in on this crazy dirt road and there aren’t delivery trucks, or trains or other types of mass transit. If you get a bottle of beer, or some ice cream it was driven in on the dirt road. When you think about a restaurant in a city, you can imagine that they get supplied every morning; they get the freshest produce, meat and seafood from someone who is bringing it by on a relatively regular basis. In McCarthy they can certainly grow vegetables, but other than that it’s coming down the road.

One of the establishments in McCarthy is the Roadside Potatohead. It is a little shack that has a place to order and about ten seats as well as a couple outdoor tables. There are potato head toys up everywhere. It has been there for fifteen years and was recommended to us by our Anchorage friend Danielle. She told us that their burritos with French fries were amazing. As a burrito traditionalist I was skeptical of her advice. I avoided ordering the burrito and got a basket of fries to see exactly what I was dealing with….

The fries. The rosemary and garlic covered fries. They were inconceivably outstanding. I’m not talking, ‘oh, those are good’ good. I’m talking ‘holy shit, what did I just eat? Those are the most delicious potatoes I have ever tasted’ good. After eating several I had a moment of deep reflection. Had I ever eaten better fries? Honestly. I thought back. The truffle fries at Citizen Burger Bar in Charlottesville are good, but these were way better. They tasted like actual potatoes, but amplified and with garlic and rosemary. No contest, they were the best fries that I have eaten in my life.

There are these moments when life hits you. It hits you and says, this is an incredible moment and you should remember it. I remember those fries and think that I always will.

The following morning we skipped the plan of making our own breakfast and opted for Roadside Potatohead, and I had a burrito with fries in it. The burrito was delicious. Imagine a regular breakfast burrito and then add in the best fries you have ever had in the world instead of shitty-diced potatoes. Life changing. We also learned that it was the last day of the season and the Potatohead would be closing for the season. It was interesting because he was starting to run out of things, so chalk marks crossed off different items on the menu, and there was no way to pop into a store to pick up the necessary items.

As we left McCarthy we stopped at the Potatohead one last time and brought our friend, Jason, that we met while hiking. I hesitated before writing this blog, because I don’t think that the Potatohead wants flocks of people coming to simply try their fries and burritos. He has had celebrity chefs approach him to do stories about the place and has turned down all the media. I guess I felt alright about it, because if you are going to make the trip out to Wrangell St. Elias and drive the McCarthy Road then you deserve a good meal, and there aren’t that many places that you’ll be able to find them. If you make it out there, let me know, and definitely get the burrito with fries in it.