New fries shop tries to fill Pommes Frites void

Katherina Thompson, who had been a fan of Pommes Frites, tries the fare at the new Friterie.   Photo by DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC
Katherina Thompson, who had been a fan of Pommes Frites, tries the fare at the new Friterie. Photo by DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC  |  Could it be the start of a Belgian fries turf war?

Newcomer Friterie recently opened in the East Village at 36 St. Mark’s Place, just around the corner from where the popular Pommes Frites had been at 123 Second Ave. The longtime local starch staple had been open 18 years. But its last day of business came on March 26 when a gas explosion and massive fire that started in the next door building subsequently caused No. 123 to collapse.

Like Pommes Frites, Friterie’s menu consists of Belgian fries, sauces and poutine — a Canadian dish of fries topped with cheese curds and gravy.

Friterie’s owner, Eddie Adi, said in a phone interview that he had been to Amsterdam many times over the years and that he always liked the idea of Belgian fries. When Pommes Frites closed, he said, he saw an opportunity. Friterie opened about a month ago.

Tim Shum, an East Villager since 2007, was eager to try the new establishment. He was a huge fan of Pommes Frites and frequented it often. The staff knew Shum well enough to immediately call out the sauces he wanted — eggplant mayo, roasted garlic mayo and mango chutney.

“Every time I was wowed at Pommes Frites,” he said. “The lines were out the door every single night.”

Over the years, Shum wondered why there wasn’t another Belgian fries shop to challenge Pommes Frites. He had seen ramen shops and pizza joints open and then close, but Pommes Frites seemed untouched by what plagued other businesses in the neighborhood.

One day last week at Friterie, The Villager and Shum ordered a large fries that came wrapped in a paper cone, along with three sauces — chipotle mayo, spicy mayo and roasted garlic mayo. To this reporter’s palate, the fries were good, albeit slow in coming, and the sauces were just O.K.

As for Shum, he was unimpressed by the sauces. He had tried Friterie already when it first opened, and this time when asking a worker about which sauces to accompany his order, the response was unenthusiastic.

“For a business that is daring to convert Pommes Frites loyalists, you can’t be disinterested when a customer asks about the sauces,” he said.

There were other differences, he said, noticeably the blaring music. Friterie is inviting, with one wall plastered with antique ads in French and English and another wood-paneled. Tables, small and round, and wooden stools dot the slender restaurant.

Shum said he hopes Friterie does well since “competition can only be great for us customers.”

Omer Shorshi, who owns Pommes Frites with his business partner Suzanne Levinson, said he has seen many imitators come and then quickly go. In a phone interview, he said some competitors went so far as to copy their name or use some close variation of it.

As first reported by The Villager on June 11, they have found a new space at 128 MacDougal St. and are currently raising money to reopen there.

“We’re grateful for every dollar we get,” he said.

On Monday, Katherina Thompson, from Queens, 26, was trying Friterie’s fries for the first time. She said it was really sad what happened to Pommes Frites, where she went often.

Asked if he was concerned about Pommes Frites’ expected reopening in the Village in late fall, Adi said it was the “same product but different neighborhood” and that there was room for both businesses.

For his part, Shorshi said he wasn’t worried about the competition.

“We have room for everybody,” he said.

Of course, Ray’s Candy Store on Avenue A at E. Seventh St. also serves up tasty Belgian fries.