Tater tots, along with burgers, fries, and hot dogs, became cool during the recession as local eateries pushed to reposition these foods as “gourmet”. Google searches for the phrase “gourmet hot dog” were practically nonexistent until right around 2009 when the trend started to catch on.
Local Nashville burger joints, like Burger Up, The Pharmacy and Burger Republic, have clearly profited from this gourmet trend and fittingly emphasize that their meals are made with care. Healthy, locally made, and ecologically sustainable meals…sounds a lot like the headline for Burger Up’s website, “We foster thoughtful consuming through community.” This kind of care, illustrated by handmade and home-cooked menu items, has paved the way for a value proposition new to traditional American fare: higher price, higher quality.
For example – tired of ketchup with your tots? Try them fried in duck fat and dipped in your choice of bearnaise sauce or chipotle mayo, courtesy of Merchants of lower Broadway. These tater tots sell for five to seven dollars per order, but the unwritten rules tell us that we get what we pay for. More money, better tots. Prior to the rebranding of the tater tot, paying such a price would have seemed unreasonable. Now, though, Burger Republic lists the extravagant and delicious-sounding “Tator Tot Fondue!” as its best-selling item.
Another good old American favorite, the cupcake, became suddenly gourmet in the early 2000s before recently falling out of favor. With the market saturated and consumers getting bored with cupcakes, big players like Crumbs Bake Shop, Inc. were forced to close. But burger and hotdog restaurants may not be subject to the same market forces as the tumultuous dessert industry. Their variety of menu offerings could stave off consumer burnout, and even McDonald’s is now recognizing the staying power of the conscientious consumer.
The gourmet burger trend on the other hand, has made successes of both local gems and fast-casual chains like Smashburger. Even so, many of Nashville’s iconic local restaurants, like The Pharmacy, are less than five years old. Such newness begs the question: is the gourmet movement only a trend, or is it here to stay? Is endurance in the cards for a burger joint that uses the word “accoutrements” on its website?
In any case, if the trend continues, we may see even more elementary school cafeteria favorites reimagined as posh new dining options. Over here at FoxFuel, we’re rooting for the corndog. Because who wouldn’t want to stroll down 12th Ave. South and grab lunch at the Maize Doggery?