What says Canadiana more than fries, cheese, and gravy?
This year for La Poutine Week 2021 (February 1st-7th), writers in our Arts and Culture team assembled to review some of the best, most creative, and downright delectable poutines across Canada. Thanks to curbside pickup and food delivery apps, COVID-19 restrictions couldn’t stop us from sampling some of the trendiest restaurants and greasiest spoons in both Ontario and Quebec. Here are some highlights from our culinary adventures.
Henry Ceffalio — Buffalo Chicken Poutine + Bacon Poutine — Chef on Call, Montreal
Henry Ceffalio — Poutine Samplers — Chef on Call, Montreal
“Let them eat poutine.”
The best poutine stories come not from eating poutine, but from reliving memories of times we ate it. Picture this: a vibrant Montreal night, pre-COVID, after the clubs on St. Laurent let out. You’re starving, and you and your friends need greasy food to re-enter reality. You stumble into the restaurant, hear the orders being yelled in three different languages, and then, finally, you devour the curds, fries, and gravy in the sacred ritual of drunken poutine splendour.
I wished to relive the rhythms of my first year poutine memory during 2021’s Poutine Week. Confined to my apartment, I ordered Chef on Call: my treasured poutine spot from before I aged out of residence. I requested three things: a standard bacon poutine (the first poutine I ever ate), a buffalo chicken poutine (what would later become my “usual”), and the food that fed my nostalgia of Friday-night first-year poutine bliss. I ate both poutines. They were acceptable: shapeless, cakey, dense. But I failed to transcend. I was still in my apartment at 12:30 on a Wednesday, not on a barstool staring at poutine like it was the holy grail.
Isolated with nothing but empty poutine tins, I realized that poutine is not good food. It’s a gaudy, puzzling, and seemingly meaningless marriage of uninspired components. But poutine is symbolic, its three ingredients forming the Quebec holy trinity. It is the defining emblem of Montreal nightlife, and its consumption is a ceremony commemorating the wildest university memories. I wish not to eat french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. I wish to eat poutine.
Overall, Chef on Call gets a 5/10.
Hannah Murray – Le Bacon — La Banquise, Montréal
As a first-year McGill student from the US, poutine existed as a mere legend in my mind before my arrival in Montreal. In my hometown of Boston, Massachusetts, poutine is basically non-existent. This summer, however, whenever it came up that I would be going to school in Canada, I almost unanimously received one specific question: “Have you tried poutine?”
To be blatantly honest, I originally had no intention of trying poutine while studying in Montreal, despite its legendary status. Now, I know what you might be thinking… How could I even think such a thing?! Something about the combination of cheese curds, gravy, and french fries just put me off. However, during the week before classes started, when outdoor patios and restaurants were still open, I finally gave up my resolve and ventured to try this legendary Montreal dish–– the fact that I had a couple of drinks beforehand also boosted my sense of adventure. That night, my life changed. As my friends and I dug into my first ever poutine, it felt like I had an out-of-body experience — a revelation, if you will — about how wrong my initial assumptions about this classic Quebecois dish were. As of February 2021, poutine is by far one of my all-time favourite foods.
As for the best poutine I’ve tried so far in Montreal, I would have to give that title to Le Bacon from La Banquise. La Banquise’s take on the dish consists of expertly crafted french fries, the squeakiest cheese curds I’ve ever tried, exquisite gravy, and, of course, bacon. Their french fries are really what hold the dish together. They’re not overly heavy and greasy, like the fries you might get from some other places. The ratio of bacon to cheese was nearly perfect. My one critique would be that more gravy could be added, but overall, this is an amazing poutine.
I stuck with Le Bacon this week, but La Banquise also offers other unique poutine combinations, from La Mexicaine (with hot peppers, tomatoes, and black olives) to La Savoyarde (with bacon, onions, swiss cheese, and sour cream), and even to a vegan version of poutine with vegan cheese and gravy! Despite the fact that I dropped my poutine on the ground while walking home from La Banquise, Le Bacon remained just as good, if not better, due to it being the reward for my struggle home!
Overall, I would give Le Bacon a 9/10 rating!
Jonathan Smilovitch – Taka Taka Poutine – Taka Taka Souvlaki, Montreal
Taka Taka Souvlaki’s Taka Taka Poutine is no laughing matter. The dish is a huge, classic poutine adorned with three meats: shredded chicken, grilled pork, and Greek sausage (loukaniko). This dish satisfied me, but I was hoping for more synergy between its various elements. At times, the fries and meat overpowered the dish, and I found myself searching for cheese curds and gravy. When ordering poutine from a souvlaki restaurant, one should expect exceptional meat, and Taka Taka does not disappoint in this regard. The highlight of the meal is undoubtedly the shredded chicken, which is no surprise. The chicken is light, soft, and delicious, as if it were taken straight out of a souvlaki and dropped right into the poutine. The grilled pork chunks are also a great addition, despite being slightly heavier and more filling than the chicken.
My biggest problem with the poutine comes from the sausage. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great tasting sausage, but I found that it did not really belong in this poutine. In contrast with the bite-sized pieces of chicken and pork, the Greek sausage pieces are huge, with a strong flavour that overpowers the whole dish. If this poutine had only the previous two meats, it would be much better and more balanced. I would definitely recommend this meal for anyone who loves poutine and Greek food. However, be sure to order it with friends or family. This massive poutine was not meant to be eaten alone, which I made the mistake of attempting. Eating the Taka Taka poutine solo is like fighting a war with absolutely no chance of winning. Despite my astonishing loss to this poutine, I am looking forward to slowly conquering it, ration by ration, in the form of leftovers throughout the week.
I give this gargantuan Greek poutine a 7/10.
Sam Shepherd — Dungeon Poutine — Storm Crow Manor, Toronto
Storm Crow Manor is like Versailles for geeks. Located in the centre of Toronto’s gay village, this self-described “nerd bar” embraces and celebrates all things science fiction and pop culture-related. The exterior of the building resembles the haunting gothic manors of a Shirley Jackson novel, with alien-themed stained glass windows adorning the side of the building. The menu is also delightfully dorky. Bar patrons can order Harry Potter themed Butterbeer (i.e. root beer and butterscotch schnapps) or Teenage Mutant Deep Fried Pickles (my new Instagram bio?). This is where I imagine the I.T. department of McGill might flock after a long day of assisting McGill students struggling with remote learning.
With COVID-19 lockdown in effect, I was unfortunately only able to order for takeout, not dine inside the bar itself. Nevertheless, I ordered in their signature Dungeon Poutine with a vegetarian, mushroom-based gravy, and I was not disappointed. The fries were thin and crispy, and the cheese curds were the perfect degree of squeaky, but not too salty. While the plant-based “gravy” tasted more like a mushroom bisque than your traditional decadent poutine topper, I appreciated the bar’s commitment to providing alternative options for vegans and vegetarians. Likewise, I also appreciated the freedom to customize my poutine with my preferred toppings. Caramelized onions and banana red peppers were the poutine flavour enhancers I didn’t know I needed in my greasy, but delicious dinner.
Altogether, this gothically good poutine deserves an 8/10.
And that’s all from us this year! To see the complete list of vendors, check out the handy “Browse Poutine” tool on the La Poutine Week website.