(Today I’ll be covering a less known beloved childhood food, and Friday I’ll be doing the same with an uncommon seasoning and condiment -Ed.)
I come from the land of meat and potatoes. Potatoes are so ingrained in my diet that on weekends I eat them for two meals a day, and I introduce them as a side to every meal I cook, apart from pizza and pasta. The preferred preparation in my household growing up was mashed, and on the occasions we did baked I refused to touch the skins (I’ve since learned the error of my ways and am a huge fan of baked potato skins). I loved and continue to love french fries in all forms (except for steak fries. GTFO with your mealy asses), and correctly believe that Arby’s curly fries are the pinnacle of the fast food form.
There’s a lesser known type of potatoey goodness I want to talk about today, and that’s the jo jo. Jo Jos* (or Ho Joes as I mistakenly referred to them as a kid) are fried potato wedges, which both accurately describes what they are and completely undersells them. They are more than the sum of their parts, which I’ll get into a bit more in a moment, but first I wanted to touch on their geographical reach. Jo Jos were best known to me as an Ohio and Michigan food, but as I learned in an article from The Takeout, they also have a major presence in the Pacific Northwest, especially in Washington and Oregon. Portland even has a Jo Jo food truck, and I’m going to have to make a trip there for quality control and research purposes. They exist nowhere on the East Coast, which is a crime.
As I mentioned, Jo Jos are fried potato wedges, but there’s a very important distinction to be made: all Jo Jos are potato wedges, but not all potato wedges are Jo Jos. If you’ve never had Jo Jos before you are probably thinking of the side they offer at KFC. The wedges there are good, I admit, but they aren’t Jo Jos. It’s not enough that Jo Jos be fried; they require a certain type of frying. On this point, it’s important to bring up WHERE you are most likely to find Jo Jos. The answer to that question is 1) at a gas station, 2) at a convenience store, or 3) at an increasingly limited number of grocery stores. At any of these three locations, the other thing you are ALWAYS going to find is fried chicken. The reason you will find fried chicken is that the fryer used to make that chicken is also what sets Jo Jos apart. The type of fryer you find in Ohio gas stations and convenience stores is a pressure fryer. Now I don’t know a lot about frying techniques and I’m not going to pretend that I do. Suffice to say, this type of fryer creates a very crunchy batter. Now imagine this craggy, crunchy batter, and inside instead of finding juicy chicken, it’s a creamy wedge of potato. A contrast made in heaven and in Sunocos in Northern Ohio.
There are still plenty of spots in Northern Ohio where you can pick up Jo Jos, such as the aforementioned gas stations and Convenient Food Mart, which carries L’il Chet’s Chicken. The spot that sold me on them growing up, however, was Sparkle Market. Sparkle was our regular grocery store until it closed sometime while I was in middle school. Every time mom decided we were going to have Sparkle chicken, she would also buy two one-pound boxes of Jo Jos. It was a requirement that she buy two, because the other four members of my family would eat one pound of Jo Jos and I would eat the other pound. The entire box. Every time. And then I’d go outside and run it off while playing soccer or basketball because there are few things in the world more unfair than the metabolism afforded to children.
Now Sparkle is gone. Jo Jos remain, but not anywhere within 500 miles of where I live in Brooklyn. I’ve been pricing pressure fryers online though, and one day I’ll convince my wife that 500 dollars is a totally reasonable price to pay to bring home the ability to make my favorite potatoes whenever we’d like.
*Local Ohio spots write Jo Jos with an apostrophe in front of the s. I do not, because in my opinion the potatoes are called Jo Jos and it’s expressing a plural, not somebody or something named Jo Jo whose potatoes are being described.
Have you ever had Jo Jos? No, those are potato wedges. I said Jo Jos. If so, let us know in the comments or on Twitter.