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U.S. News
You want U.S.A. fries with that, mon ami?

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

By Teresa F. Lindeman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A couple of weeks ago, Brian Davis decided he'd heard enough about French opposition to U.S. military action against Iraq.

Brian Davis, owner of Pickle Barrel on Carson Street, stands by the signs on his restaurant's windows, which show his displeasure with countries not supporting the American effort against Iraq. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

Since then, his Pickle Barrel restaurant on the South Side has stopped serving french toast -- it cooks up "freedom" toast instead. Want french fries? Only "U.S.A." fries sold there.

The Pickle Barrel, it turns out, is not alone.

Yesterday, cafeterias at the U.S. House of Representatives began selling "freedom fries" and, yes, "freedom toast." Indeed, resentment over the French government's opposition to the push toward war has triggered changes to menus across the country.

"This action today is a small but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France," Republican Rep. Bob Ney of St. Clairsville, Ohio, said yesterday.

That's right, said Davis, who bought the Pickle Barrel five years ago and has a nephew in the Marines who is at sea somewhere preparing for possible war. Davis also has a sister-in-law in the National Guard.

Unlike Congress, Davis is not limiting his commentary to the French. For the Turks, who so far have blocked the U.S. military's desire to launch a northern assault from bases in their country, the turkey club has become the American bacon club.

His customers have eaten it up.

"Everybody loves it," Davis said. They tell him the change is very patriotic. He says sales of freedom fries and freedom toast have picked up since he put the signs in the window.

Not far away on Carson Street, the staff at the very French restaurant Le Pommier serves plenty of pommes frites (french fries) but hasn't taken any flak for it.

"People mention it," manager Jeremy Carlisle said of the controversy over all things French. "Most people think it's just outright ridiculous."

Last week the Pennsylvania House referred to committee a resolution that calls for state liquor stores to stop selling French wines. The bill expresses bafflement at the French government's tendency "time after time" to take anti-American positions even though the United States has assisted France, militarily and otherwise, on several occasions since France aided the American colonies in the Revolutionary War.

Even vodka has taken a hit. Morton's of Chicago, the upscale steakhouse Downtown, no longer promotes the French-made Grey Goose brand because, manager Bill Ferron told the Post-Gazette recently, "it's made by the French."

It is yet to be seen how far the anti-french fry trend will go.

At Max's Allegheny Tavern on the North Side, they're still serving bratwurst and German potato salad despite the German leadership's opposition to the American military stance. Whatever people's political opinions, "They don't bring it into their food," said manager Diane Smoulder.

A manager at the Original Hot Dog Shop in Oakland, where oodles of fries go out the door, said nothing has changed there, but he likes the idea. "I think it sends a message," said manager Larry Simon. "I don't know if it helps or not."

A French embassy spokeswoman dismissed the menu changes at the House cafeterias as an insignificant sideshow.

"This is very unfortunate," said Nathalie Loiseau, embassy press counselor, in an interview with Hearst newspapers. Besides, the embassy said, french fries are a Belgian invention.

Teresa Lindeman can be reached at tlindeman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2018.

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