Tater tots have been around for more than 60 years, spending much of that time on school-lunch trays. It’s estimated that Americans eat 70 million pounds of the little darlin’s annually. And, like mac ‘n cheese, tots have moved from cafeterias to restaurants, and from sides to mains.
This is especially true at burger joints, where fries have long been the norm. But like every other aspect of the American burger meals—from bun to patty to toppings—has been re-engineered, tots are a common and increasingly inventive on burger menus. At Milwaukee’s AJ Bombers, the motto is “When life gives you Tuesdays, Totchos,” a mashup of tots and nachos. Blue Door Pub in St. Paul, Minn., celebrates Totcho Mondays. A recent special was what it called Tots of Time: poutine-style Totchos with Parmesan & herb-seasoned tots, cheese curds, & apple cider braised bacon smothered in cider pork (below).
Increasingly they are hearty entrées rather than sides. The Johnny Rockets chain, for instance, has just introduced a winter menu that includes Loaded Street Philly Tots (tots covered with Cheddar cheese, thinly sliced grilled sirloin steak, caramelized onions and green peppers, below).
The Pincho Factory locations in Florida make tots a topping with its Supper Burger (a burger patty topped with sweet potato tots, melted Cheddar cheese, maple bacon, lettuce, tomato and a shallot crema between a warm pretzel bun, below).
Tots can go upscale, too. Town Hall Burger and Beer, in Chapel Hill, N.C., makes them an appetizer it calls Crab Dip Tots (tots with queso and jumbo lump crab meat). For Halloween, Chicago’s Rockit Bar & Grill created “Not Your Mama’s Tot Casserole” with tater tots, beef short rib, mushrooms and truffles (below).
You can take tots out to breakfast, too. Burger Republic in Nashville has Hangover Hash: tater tots covered in fondue cheese, onions, peppers, bacon, seasoned sausage & beef, and a fried organic egg (below).
The secret is out on tots, including the Cheesy Tots filled with Parmesan and Cheddar at Umami Burger (below). They used to be a “secret menu” item for those-in-the-know to request and enjoy; now they’re on the menu for all.