When White Swan -- currently the most notable restaurant serving chowder fries -- opened in fall of 2016, Seattleites immediately embraced the dish. The Stranger heralded it as evidence of the new spot’s awesomeness. The Seattle Times praised the thick chowder and smokiness of the bacon, suggesting diners use empty clam shells to scoop the soup. And Seattle Weekly, presciently, declared it what “could become a Seattle signature dish." (Not long after, Saveur took note of the dish across the country, calling a Charleston, South Carolina version a “sleeper hit,” life-changing, and “the poutine of the future").
Josh Nebe, the opening chef at White Swan (who has since moved on to his own okonomiyaki pop-up, Oko), seemed overwhelmed by the initial praise, wondering, “Am I going to be remembered for good seafood, or for making fries with gravy on them?” But he was enthusiastic about the dish’s instant popularity. “We got lucky that we had this silly idea that caught on,” he tells Thrillist. “People like messy food, big hunking bites of flavor... It’s kind of stoner food.” He speculated that the fried potato has ceased to become a dipping food, and graduated to a role of vessel -- for gravy, salsa, and whatever else. He sees it as something that could become a Seattle staple. “I think it would be great if people played with it, put their own spin on it... there’s a thousand things you can do with it.”
But the fundamentals of the dish are the same everywhere: “The key is a good fry,” says All Water's Mickelson. All agree that a soggy French fry is the death of the dish. Cook says they dedicate themselves to making the fries crispy, so they best deliver the chowder and keep their texture throughout the meal. And the chowder texture is essential, as well: “Not paste-y gloop,” adds Mickelson. Finally, Nebe points to the flavor of the chowder as important: “Otherwise you’ll just have bland fries on the bottom.”