Now that fried Oreos are practically commonplace, chefs are dipping almost anything into boiling oil -- from butter to beer. A cable TV show, Deep Fried Masters (Destination America, debuting July 12 at 10 p.m./9 central), explores the deep-fry state-fair circuit—the Wild West for calorie-rich eating. One of the show's judges, Jim Stacy, owner of Palookaville Fine Foods, an Atlanta restaurant and gourmet corn dog and tamale wagon, believes everything tastes better battered. "There's nothing more satisfying than something that's been perfectly fried," he says. The chef, whose creations include a Bananas Foster corn dog, shares some other favorite fried restaurant offerings with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
Chip Shop Pub, New York
A good portion of the menu – from mac and cheese to fish and chips – is offered fried at this English-style eatery, which also serves fried Snickers bars and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. "It's definitely an odd thing for modern New York, where a lot of the funky and weird is slowly disappearing," Stacy says.
The H & O Café, Pensacola, Fla.
Stacy swears by the fried grouper sandwich at what he calls a classic soul food café. "It's tiny. It's grubby. It's shabby, and it serves some of the most mind-blowing seafood I've ever eaten," he says. "It's something absolutely sublime and beautiful."
Goodson's Café, Tomball, Texas
In a region celebrated for chicken-fried steak, the version offered in this town northwest of Houston still stands out. "It's hand-pounded. The thing is huge," Stacy says. "It's a giant plate of fried beef and perfect Texas gravy. You can't go wrong there."
Los Dos Molinos, Phoenix
Whenever Stacy visits his wife's family in Phoenix, he makes this New Mexican eatery his first stop. The relleno starts with a green chile pepper coated with egg batter, stuffed with cheese and fried, then smothered in green chili, and served with rice, beans and handmade flour tortillas. "You have to like spicy things," he says.
Canter's Deli, Los Angeles
Stacy is a huge fan of old-fashioned delicatessens and considers this one the best on the West Coast. The fried attraction here? The Monte Cristo sandwich, a brunch favorite that starts as a ham and cheese club. It's cut in half on the diagonal, battered, fried, and served with a fruit compote and sprinkled with powdered sugar. "It requires a lot of technique to get the sandwich fried and held together and no one does it better than Canter's."
Chai Pani, Asheville, N.C.
This Indian street food restaurant adds spice to dining in this food-loving Appalachian Mountains town. Stacy swears by the fried kale pakoras, an appetizer coated in curry chickpea batter and served with green chutney and sweet yogurt. "It's absolutely a thing of beauty. You'll mow through an entire plate of it," he says. "It's a perfect example of how you can take something super healthy and make it an indulgence."
Wegner's St. Martins Inn, Franklin, Wisc.
Every region has its go-to comfort foods, and in the Upper Midwest, the fish fry stands out as a favorite. This old-fashioned Milwaukee area eatery goes all out on Friday nights with perch, haddock and shrimp, all served with coleslaw, rye bread and choice of German potato salad, a potato pancake or fries. "Everything they sell is rock solid and done really well," Stacy says.
The Busy Bee Cafe, Atlanta
Few fry houses can also claim to play a role in civil rights history. But this restaurant, which opened in 1947, was a regular stop for Martin Luther King Jr., who would meet (and eat) with his colleagues here, and discuss strategy. Stacy says visitors should expect a line. "They serve a perfect fried chicken leg like nothing else on the planet. The whole experience is humbling – and delicious."
Carnitas' Snack Shack, San Diego
This casual Mexican eatery is all about pork. Stacy loves the Triple Threat sandwich, a caloric concoction of pork loin schnitzel, pulled pork and bacon served with pepperoncini relish and aioli, that cuts through the grease. "It's one of the most staggeringly good sandwiches I've ever eaten. The chef knows his way around pig."
The Sports Center, Augusta Ga.
A city known for Southern gentility also has what Stacy considers the country's best onion rings, served out of what he calls a little dive bar. "It's just battered slabs of onions, but they do something to it that's other worldly," he says. "It all comes down to the basic techniques, the recipe and the batter." The hamburgers, he says, are just as good.