To make the tater tot ice cream sundae at ChurchKey in Logan Circle, Chef Bill Williamson rolls the fried potato rounds in cinnamon and sugar. Then he plops them on top of scoops of Nutella ice cream, Chantilly-like cream, candied hazelnuts, and Bordeaux cherries. “It’s kind of taboo,” he says. “There’s no middle ground. You either hate it or you love it.”
Williamson grew up playing soccer and hockey in St. Louis. His favorite post-game snack was dunking an order of Wendy’s fries into chocolate ice cream. Later in life, he visited a New York restaurant where the chef served polenta fries with soft-serve and he was hooked. At ChurchKey, the oversized desert costs $15 and is big enough to share.
The sundae isn’t the only way the beer bar serves tots. There are also testa tots with pig’s head, citrus, and garlic aioli ($14); a “tot pocket” with a fried egg, mozzarella cheese, chilies, and bacon ($12); tot poutine ($12); and plain tots ($8).
If you want to tack on a sixth way to eat tots, take a cue from one of the ChurchKey managers, who put a hamburger patty between two tot pockets. “It was ridiculous,” Williamson says. “That would be a $35 or $40 for a plate for tots and a burger, but hey, whatever you want.”
The Canada-inspired tot poutine may be Williamson’s favorite. He discovered poutine while playing hockey in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. But his version at ChurchKey isn’t exactly traditional. The tots are smothered in a gravy made from veal jus mixed with Dijon mustard and green peppercorns, cheddar cheese curds, and scallions.
ChurchKey’s tots taste like fried mashed potato balls because the centers is smooth instead of shredded. Williamson makes them by salt-roasting the potatoes until they’re soft in the center. Then he shreds them, whips them with a little flour, and presses the potato mixture onto a sheet tray. They’re punched out with a ring mold and fried to order.
Sister restaurant Birch & Barley, located immediately below ChurchKey, has several of the tots on the menu. You can get the plain tots and testa tots, plus a new preparation—trout roe tots—that mimics the classic combination of potato chips and caviar.
So how does the sundae taste? Really sweet because of the candied nuts, sweet cream, and rich ice cream. But the cinnamon sugar tots are so good on their own, they’d be great served churros-style with a cream cheese or chocolate dipper.
ChurchKey, 1337 14th St. NW; (202) 567-2576; churchkeydc.com.