Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
Youth and Tater Tots are wasted on the young.
School cafeteria lunches don't have their bad reputation for nothing. Those of a certain age remember when ketchup was declared a vegetable and meatless Fridays meant frozen fish sticks or pale, Styrofoam-y squares of pizza. Still, did you secretly revel in those fish sticks and their accompanying tartar sauce packets? Was there shameful pleasure to be had on Sloppy Joe day even as you groaned over your Melamine tray with your classmates? Perhaps. But one staple of the hairnet set inspires unabashed nostalgia and occasional TV-adjacent binging: the Tater Tot.
Essentially cork-sized hash browns, they are a perfect frozen finger food, crisp, savory and soft. To resist a hot pan of tots is to resist the joy within your grasp. If you don't have children whose plates you can prey upon, you might be missing out on the adult enjoyment of Tater Tots.
Enter the Mad River Brewing Co.'s (101 Taylor Way, Blue Lake) Loaded Tots ($8). Unlike the ones you dutifully dump onto a baking sheet, these are deep fried for an audible crunch, liberally doused with cheddar cheese, sour cream, green onions and a mix of minced bell, Serrano and habañero peppers. The little jolts of fresh pepper preserve the illusion of maturity as you regress to junior high-era munching, mining for cheese and scooping up sour cream. The heat also makes these a bit much for small children. That's OK. They'll get plenty at school.