frito be
you and me

124 Avenue C
January 15, 2014




Fritos are oily, salty chips shaped like large confetti that have been packaged by the Frito-Lay company since 1932 (although sometimes they've been known to make a fresh batch). They are an essential ingredient to the Frito Pie, and all of the dishes at Frito Be You and Me on the Lower East Side. It’s a restaurant that is a curious blend of Tuscan cooking and excessive sodium (each table has two pitchers of water, both vital to the dining experience).

For primi consider the Frito misto: radishes, kale leaves, and parsnips chopped into tiny bites, breaded in Frito crumbs, then fried to a golden-umber perfection. Then there is the bruschette con Frito fagioli cannellini; a toast with refried beans and fritos, which may be the crunchiest bruschette I’ve ever had.

I was not daring enough to try the Fritozanella salad, which is Fritos, stale bread, red onion, garlic, and basil, in pepper, olive oil, and vinegar, but I’m told it’s transformative. And that’s exactly what I’m afraid of.

I asked chef Marcel Versmith if this health-hostile fare was a sign of the End Times and he quickly dismissed the idea: “Just by living you're already closer to the End Times. Closer than someone who hasn't been born yet. You know?”

This existential ennui isn’t what I would expect of a chef who named his restaurant with a pun and says “Frito” about a thousand times a day, but it is just the kind of moral relativism that I can really get into. So how is it exactly that a corn chip shaped like a plano worm inspired Versmith?

“I’ve always liked the food that you find in vending machines,” says Versmith, “or food that's given to you on a plane. You’re always more grateful for it, which is also how I feel about Tuscan food.” It’s in keeping with this idea that all the Fritos in the restaurant are all dispensed from a vending machine that stores only Fritos, and is about a foot away from the kitchen. “They just taste better that way,” says Smith. And so the sounds of change being dropped into the coin slot, or a chef slamming against the machine when the chips do not properly dispense, will be heard throughout the evening.

“When I first heard about Shopsins,” says Versmith, referring to the legendary Greenwich restaurant that has played by its own rules since the early seventies, “That’s what interested me in being a chef. The idea that there was a lot of attitude, a real idea about what tasted good or compelling instead of what was considered restaurant fare: that’s the kind of thing that lures you into creating food, or anything, really. Once I’d had their Frito pie, I just kind of knew that I wanted to try something that was less high concept and something more fun. Something distinctive.”

“And it's funny,” he continues, “You take these stands in life, like, ‘I will not give my restaurant a silly name’ or ‘I will never wear sandals’ and you think it gives you all this integrity when really all it means is that you’re hung up on not trying something. What good is that? I would rather try something and then move onto something else.”

Which might be Versmith’s way of saying that if you are going to try his margherita pizza with roasted plum tomatoes and a Frito crumb crust, it would be better to make a reservation now than later. I recommend that you do.

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