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A New Hot Potato


Nobody foresaw the long-range ramifications when NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, moved its headquarters to Brussels, Belgium, in 1968.

We're not talking military or political consequences. We're talking frites (pronounced freets ), or as they are known in this country, French fries. And we're talking about right here in Long Beach, where Belgian-style French fries are being served at Benita's Frites.

Follow closely. When NATO made the move, Hughes Aircraft transferred system analyst Dan Halliday to the lovely Belgian capital. There, his 8-year-old son, Matt, fell in love with the French fries. (They might with more justice be called Belgian fries. They originated in Belgium but became known as French fries, says Matt, because the potatoes are "Frenched," that is, cut into strips lengthwise).

Four years ago, with frites still on his mind, Matt, now 30, opened Benita's Frites in Santa Monica. Named after his sister, Benita's was such a success that Halliday was able to open a second restaurant last year near the Pine Court's movie theaters in Long Beach.


The potatoes are fried twice: once to cook them through, and once again to crisp them. Then there is a vast array of dipping sauces, including andalouse (mayonnaise with grilled bell peppers, fresh garlic, tomatoes, and a touch of sugar), purple mayo (mayonnaise fresh opal basil and garlic) and even a warm peanut-based Indonesian satay sauce. The house sauce is a spicy ketchup with cayenne, malt vinegar, oregano, garlic and curry powder.

In addition to frites ($1.95), Benita's offers sandwiches from Jody Maroni's Sausage Kingdom, the Venice Beach landmark. Two big sellers are the hot Italian sausage sandwich and the Yucatan, which is made with duck, chicken, cilantro, Serrano chile, and beer ($3.50 each).

Note: Management of the AMC theater allows moviegoers to bring in their own snacks . . . including frites.

Benita's Frites is at 245 Pine Ave., Long Beach; (310) 437-7329. Open Sunday and Monday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to midnight.

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