Pots-N-Tots adds taste, creativity to mall offerings

September 21, 2018

Pots-N-Tots’ move from “food cart to food court” was a smart one. It now provides a valuable and quirky local option at West Towne Mall, standing out markedly from places like Sbarro, Subway and Steak Escape.

Rob Kratochwill has had his Pots-N-Tots food cart since 2014, and took on his girlfriend, Fancy Roll owner Maggie Jingga, as a partner to open the mall location in April. He said he intends to buy her out by the end of the year.

The distinctive cart he painted himself with Napoleon Dynamite and the iconic American Gothic couple is no longer a presence on the Capitol Square. Instead, it’s being booked for corporate lunches and other private events.

Now, a portrait of Napoleon, tot in hand, is displayed prominently in Pots-N-Tots’ well-designed mall spot. On the other side of the shop hangs a spoof of Grant Wood’s American Gothic, with the man holding a fork instead of a pitchfork. A tater tot is speared through the fork, and underneath it says “American Comfort Food.”

The menu is pure comfort, starting with the signature $7 “pots-n-tots,” with a choice of pulled pork or shredded chicken in barbecue or Cajun varieties. Going “naked” or without sauce is a third option. It can be served with the meat and tots (no bread) in a paper food tray, or as a sandwich.

I’ve had chicken with barbecue sauce (no bread) and highly recommend it. There are a dizzying 25 seasonings for the tots, and my first choice — sweet Thai chili — was spot on. The tot flavor, in dry not liquid form, worked well with the chicken and BBQ sauce.

Pots-N-Tots is expert when it comes to its tater tots. They had the perfect crispness and the right proportion of seasoning.

Kratochwill said only a handful of seasonings have salt, and it’s sea salt. More often, any salt flavor in the tots comes from natural sodium released from the potato during frying, he said.

The menu includes “specialty boats” of tots like poutine; nacho tots called “totchos”; Texas tots with chili, cheese, onions and meat; and monster tots with shredded cheddar, tomato, bacon and sour cream.

In the “presses-n-melts” category, I tried a Cubano ($7) with slow-cooked pork that was tender and juicy. It came on toasted sandwich bread, and was fine for a fast-food sandwich, but on my next visit I returned to the namesake pots-n-tots.

I was curious about the Cajun seasoning, so I ordered the pork version with that preparation, and found I preferred the barbecue sauce. On my first visit, the friendly, helpful employee, working solo, steered me toward the barbecue version over the Cajun, and now I understood why. At least it had the same excellent pork as in the Cuban sandwich.

With this meal, I chose buffalo for the tot seasoning, and, while fine, it couldn’t compare to the sweet Thai chili.

The menu also has three types of mac and cheese, plus a variation on fish ’n chips — fish-n-tots — with catfish every day, and perch on Fridays.

Finally, gambling on the dessert tots with cinnamon and caramel ($5.50) pays off. It sounds like a reach, but somehow works. Still, it’s better to order them on a visit where savory tots aren’t an earlier part of the meal. Otherwise, it’s overkill.

Better yet, head to the new Fancy Roll Plus, which takes up two spots on the opposite end of the food court. The shop is owned by Kratochwill’s girlfriend, Maggie Jingga, and her sister, Dewi Jingga. Kratochwill helped the sisters open their original kiosk location nearby.

The rolled ice cream is labor intensive, so it takes a while to prepare. But it’s also delicious. I’m not sure why it tastes better than regular ice cream, it just does.

Pots-N-Tots isn’t exactly fast, either, and the counter person disappears behind the scenes into the kitchen to prepare the order. On my most recent visit, a group of three approached the counter while he was making my food and tried in vain to get his attention.

I let them know that pots-n-tots are made to order and would be worth the wait.

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