Why the fry?
Because it demonstrates how crucial the basics are:
Ingredients (potato, oil, seasoning).
Technique (cutting, cooking, draining).
Service (plating choice, speed of delivery). That's it.
So this promises to be the most volatile series of matchups we've seen in the tourney's three years, mainly because execution is so difficult for simple foods. It's easy for one aspect to be off, losing the game for an otherwise strong contender. And consistency isn't a factor, just as in real tournaments: Each matchup is a competition based on a single batch of fries from each player. So it doesn't matter if a team has produced brilliant fries nine times out of 10, if we're there to try them on Night No. 10. Also: You'll notice no national chains. We're emphasizing our local offerings.
FLAVOR: We want to taste potato. Seasoning is key as well: Salt matters. Add-ons are fine but not necessary; if they enhance the essence of the fry, we'll consider them.
TEXTURE: Crisp exterior and soft interior are ideal; proportion of those will vary and that's expected (thicker fries will have more of the soft, thin less of it, and we like both). Excessive oiliness will be penalized, limpness severely penalized.
TEMPERATURE: They should hit the table hot, hot, hot.
Here are the contenders
POTAHTO BRACKET (Readers' choice)
SkinnyZ: Cajun-seasoned friez are a "taste of Alabama's Gulf Coast."
15060 Idlewild Road, Matthews; 704-893-2157.
Topz: Here, fries are "air-baked"; readers agree it's a happy option.
15025 Lancaster Highway; 704-542-9323.
Cardillo's Kitchen: It's a New York thing for readers.
8624 Camfield St. (off Elm Lane, in Camfield Corners); 704-759-8182.
Nolen Kitchen: This version is "worth skipping a salad for."
2839 Selwyn Ave.; 704-372-1424.
Matt's Chicago Dog: Hearty, potato-y and generous.
435 S. Tryon St., 704-333-3650; and 19732 One Norman Blvd., Cornelius, 704-892-5005.
Moosehead Grill: Battered, medium-thickness, these have that almost-doughnutty, soft-mashed-potato centers with a sheer crispy crust.
1807 Montford Drive; 704-525-4088.
Tenders: Medium-thick with good saltiness and fine flavor.
18341 Statesville Road, Cornelius; 704-895-6017.
Comet Grill: Seasoning is assertive on these square-cut beauties.
2224 Park Road; 704-371-4300.
FRITES (say freet) BRACKET
Cafe Monte: Slender, crisp, salty lengths, these are classic pommes frites.
6700 Fairview Road; 704-552-1116.
Crepe Cellar: Simple, flavorful, seasoned well.
3116 N. Davidson St.; 704-910-6543.
Lulu: Thin, crisp, delectably French.
1911 Central Ave.; 704-376-2242.
Fran's Filling Station: Medium thickness and a selection of seasonings make these stand out.
2410 Park Road; 704-372-2009.
Big Daddy's Burger Bar: Though they're no longer done in duck fat (*sigh*), these are crisp, hot, good.
1626 East Blvd.; 704-714-4888.
The Penguin: A crinkle-cut entry, these bear a bit of salt and a longer life span than most.
1921 Commonwealth Ave.; 704-375-6959.
Rooster's: Dusted with fresh herbs and cooked to brown-gold, these are square-cut and vary in length.
6601 Morrison Blvd.; 704-366-8688.
Sub Corral (Belmont): Fat and crinkle-cut, with crisp edges and soft interior.
6831 W. Wilkinson Blvd., Belmont; 704-825-5466.