Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Poutine Done Right

INGRID THOFT

Last week I arrived in Montreal a poutine skeptic.  I'd had it before, the Canadian comfort food of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds.  My first and only experience with the dish was in Vancouver, which seemed like a reasonable place to try it.  I wasn't wowed by the concoction, but my niece in Montreal insisted that I hadn't had good poutine, and she knew just the place to remedy that.


At Dirty Dogs, the lighting was low and the menu extensive.  French fries, gravy, and cheese curds were just the bases of the poutines on offer.  My niece opted for the Soprano:  bruschetta, bacon, mozzarella, and pesto.  My mom—always up for an adventure, culinary or otherwise—opted for the Eastwood.  It was topped with caramelized onions, barbecue sauce, cheddar cheese, monterey jack cheese, and bacon.  The Dirty Sanchez featured crushed corn tortillas, four cheese sauce, sour cream, salsa fresco and green onions.  I decided to go all in or whole hog as it were:  Le Pig Mac was a heaping bowl of the french fries, gravy, and cheese curd base  topped with mac n' cheese, pulled pork, barbecue sauce, and caramelized onions.


It was very dark in Dirty Dogs, hence the poor photo
Did I lose you?  Probably.  You're probably thinking that the combinations I've described sound disgusting and weird.  I thought the same thing, but I put my hesitation aside and was rewarded for it.  It was delicious.  We sampled one another's, all of which were great, but I have to say that my Le Pig Mac was so tasty, I had to stop myself from eating the whole thing.  Sure, my arteries had hardened and I'd ingested enough calories to fuel a Canadian hockey team, but it tasted fantastic!  This weird, messy heap of food was just the ticket for a cold Montreal night.

My mom, of course, wanted to learn about the origins of the dish, but an online search netted little information.  The best we could find is that in 1957, a truck driver in Quebec asked that cheese be sprinkled on his french fries, and a tradition was born.  It seems a bit flimsy to me, so maybe some of you Canadian readers could enlighten us?

Lest you think that all the food in Montreal falls into the drunk or hangover category, I can assure you that we had many delicious meals with nary a cheese curd in sight.  At a Spanish restaurant, I had a bowl of bright orange carrot cumin soup that was creamy and flavorful.  A plate of jet black squid ink pasta at the art museum was delicious as was the salmon tartare.  Before heading across the border, we tucked into eggs benedict that was as beautiful as it was tasty.


I would return to Montreal in a heartbeat.  It's a beautiful city with friendly people, amazing street art and fabulous food.  And I would definitely make a return visit to Dirty Dogs.  I need to try Le Angry Goat (roasted red pepper, arugula, baby spinach, goat cheese, pesto, and balsamic glaze)!


Have you tried poutine?  Or is there another dish that made you a believer, despite your reservations?

44 comments:

  1. I can’t say I’ll be rushing out to try this, Ingrid. I’m not a gravy fan in the first place . . . I make it but I don’t eat it unless it’s milk gravy.
    I’d be content with just the cheese and the bacon on my French fries, thank you very much . . . .

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    1. I'm not a gravy lover either, Joan, but somehow that didn't matter!

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  2. Your Le Pig sounds delicious to me. Just leave off the gravy and onions. I really don't like either one of those, but the rest? Sign me up now!

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  3. Ha, I'm getting in early here as I am on UK time!

    Ingrid, I haven't tried poutine but have read about it and been curious. I'm very adventurous, and I like learning about regional specialties, so sign me up. I think I'd start with Le Angry Goat. I also really want to visit Montreal, one of the cities on my bucket list.

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    1. I loved it, Debs. I would love to make a return visit!

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  4. I haven't tried poutine, it has always sounded interesting to me but I don't know that I will ever try it. I've learned that I'm really a plain and boring kind of eater. I don't like much in the way of extra stuff on my food.

    When I get a sub, it is bread, cheese, meat. No vegetables or mayo or anything that will contaminate the food. My chicken tenders are always PLAIN, no sauce of any kind.

    I know, I know...you won't be seeing me host a show on the Food Network anytime soon.

    As for foods I've tried that have converted me, I really can't think of anything because I'm a fussy eater. I like what I like and would rather eat something I already know I'm going to enjoy rather than risk getting something I end up hating.

    So...bacon cheeseburger for me tonight!

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  5. Canadian here, but I'm no help as I've not ever had poutine. I can't actually believe that myself, but it's true. I must get on that! It certainly is the right kind of comfort food for a cold Canadian winter day (and they'll be coming soon enough).

    As for the origin of the dish, I found this in the Canadian Encyclopedia online: "The word poutine is commonly believed to have originated from the English word pudding (or as it were in French, pouding) used to describe a mixture, typically messy, of various foods. In Québec, the term poutine is slang for mess. More than a dozen other explanations have been offered, including the root of the French words potin (pâté) and poutitè (potato ragout)."

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    1. Mess definitely describes it, Amanda! A delicious mess, though.

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  6. French fries, cheese curd and brown gravy... what's not to like :-P
    But I really should hold my nose and take a few bites, because it sounds like the perfect amalgam of salt and fat. And if its that popular there's usually a good reason for it. I also need to get to know ramen.
    LOVE Montreal. But last time we were there our dinner treat was French.

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  7. This was a new one for me so I did a google search on "curds". ("Curds and whey"?, "Little Miss Muffett"?) and, lo and behold, welcome to Los Angeles! There are at least four places in the area where I can experience poutine. I don't think I'll take the chance. I'm pretty sure what makes the dish so special is eating it in Montreal with people you love. Am I right Ingrid?

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    1. I think you should try it, Lyda! You can report back to us!

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  8. Man, I miss cheese curds! It's really hard to find them here in Texas, but up in Missouri I used to eat them all the time.

    That said, a growing thing here in Texas dive bars and honky tonks is cheese fries, which sounds to me like we're headed straight into poutine territory. Cheese fries are simply a mess of fries, topped with cheddar cheese, bacon, chopped jalapenos, and green onions, which you dip into ranch dressing as you eat them. Sooner or later I'm sure that will evolve into cream gravy and we'll be off to the races. Texas being Texas, the next thing you know we'll be claiming to have invented it.

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    1. Gigi, my daughter is addicted to cheese fries.

      Mary/Liz

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    2. In-N-Out Burger, order the fries "animal style". You get the fries topped with grilled onions, their sauce and cheese. Yum!

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  9. I love basic poutine (fries, cheese curds, and gravy), as long as the cheese curds are NOT breaded. I'm from Michigan and made the mistake of ordering poutine in Wisconsin. EVERYTHING in it was breaded. Ug. (I am allergic to soy and breading is often made with soy flour.) I could hardly wait to get home so I could make good old-fashioned poutine.

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  10. Poutine looks so good. Cincinnati, of course, is the home of 5-way chili and its many variations. Regional specialties define a city.

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  11. We have something similar hereabouts--usually a breakfast dish--fries with gravy, sausage or bacon, cheese, eggs--can't think what else--it is a mess! And, no thank you. I prefer my gravy with biscuits. Also the cheese fries as Gigi described--in every bar and sports eatery around. I'll pass on those too, unless you are sharing with 4-5 other people!

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  12. I'd try it, especially in its natural habitat. But I rarely eat gravy, only once or twice a year at holidays.

    Eating is an adventure to me, especially when I travel, and I enjoy trying new things. Celery root salad in Paris, just shredded raw celery root lightly dressed with remoulade, recommended by our guide, was such a revelation that it's now one of my favorite vegetables. Who knew?

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    1. That's my approach, Karen. When in Rome or Paris or Montreal...

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    2. Karen, I discovered celery root salad in Paris years ago, and love it. But I don't think to make it because I live with a picky eater. Will have to do it just for myself.

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    3. Debs, I make a chicken stew with winter root vegetables that includes celery root. So good. The recipe came from one of the last chefs of our local five-star restaurant, The Maisonette, before it closed.

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  13. I haven't tried poutine but imagine that fries topped with a flavorfully sauced meat, cheese melted over it and sprinkled with green onion would be similar. But, thereafter, I go wild on the hot sauce over it and if there is diced avocado and sour cream....*sighs* However, I have not yet tried cheese curds so maybe my dish would not be so similar. Oh, and in the dead of night after a long day, I do this with tater tots. Please, don't judge.

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  14. Living in Maine, I'm (relatively speaking) close to the border, and have visited our northern neighbor many times. If it's cold weather, I'll try to have poutine, which really hits all the major human food push buttons: grease, salt, fat, etc.

    The time I MOST enjoyed it was once when we went for a ski vacation to Mont Blanc. Ross and I had spent most of the day bombing down the slopes, and we took the kids (who had had their own fun with beginners lessons and the kid's club) to a bistro as soon as we'd all gotten changed into dry, warm clothes. I ordered poutine and finished the entire plate off by myself - a first. It was the best poutine I ever had, and I'm pretty sure the difference is I at it as it was intended to be eaten - after a long day of exertion outdoors.

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    1. I think either after a long day outside or a long night drinking!

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  15. Good poutine is an oxymoron in my estimation. When in Canada I tend to eat PEI mussels as often as possible in as many different sauces as I can find. They are fabulous.

    But poutine? Please. I'm that person who doesn't thing french fries are worth the calories, never mind loading them up as if they were nachos. However, cheese curds are a delight. I'm off to weggies in a bit, and I just added cheese curds to the list. They are easy to find here in the land of NY cheddar, and they make a great snack. Gigi, I used to get them all the time in Texas, too. No longer available?

    Rochester has its answer to poutine, the infamous garbage plate. French fries, macaroni salad, baked beans, topped with a Zweigle's hot dog, a cheeseburger, with hot sauce liberally dumped over it all. Talk about a heart attack on a plate. I hear it's a hangover cure. Yikes.

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    1. Ann your mussels remind me of another gastronomical surprise: oysters. I spent most of my life avoiding them like the plague, until I had some really good ones. When we were in Humboldt Bay two years ago I gorged myself on them, my favorites!

      And yes, heart attack city. Yikes.

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    2. We've been in Canada many times, but I cannot work up enthusiasm for poutine. (Husband loves it) Cheese curd however? What a treat! Ann Mason, I grew up in the "land of NY cheddar" too. If you have cheese curds, who needs the fries and gravy?

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  16. I like fries, I like cheese, and I'm okay with gravy. All together? I think I'd pass. In fact, I know I'd pass, because the only thing I like on my fries is sea salt. Not even ketchup, thanks.

    In Pittsburgh, the "thing to eat" is a Primanti's sandwich. Two slices of sourdough bread (thick). Then you put the sandwich makings (there are several), fries, and slaw on the sandwich. Eat...carefully.

    It's a lot and it's a lot of carbs. And salt, and grease, too. Most popular are steak, ham, and pastrami. Urban legend says it dates back to the steel mill days, when mill workers had to eat fast, so the slapped all the meal components between the bread and ate with one hand, in a rush. Don't know if that's true or not.

    Mary/Liz

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    1. And fries from The O can't be missed!

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    2. Would you believe I've never had fries from The O?

      Mary/Liz

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  18. Although I’ve been to Montreal, I didn’t eat poutine, and I never heard of it until the last few years. It doesn’t sound like something I would ever order, and I’m an adventurous eater! Within my family I have a reputation for eating “weird” foods, but poutine will just have to go untasted by me!

    DebRo

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  19. I don't particularly like gravy, but it wasn't a deal breaker in this instance. Either it was really good gravy or I didn't even notice it with everything else going on!

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  20. Count me as a big fan of poutine. We have to stop at the first little cafe when we cross the border into French speaking Canada so I can get my fix. And the restaurants in Montreal are outstanding. A real foodie city!

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    1. It was foodie heaven, Rhys! I can't wait to go back!

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  21. When I was in Nova Scotia this summer, I had the Lobster Poutine at the Lobster Pound and Restaurant in Hall’s Harbour - SO GOOOOOOD!!!

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  22. I haven't had poutine, but I'd be willing to give it a try after reading your descriptions of the different kinds, Ingrid. It was good to read the comment above where you said that you didn't notice the gravy because that's the one thing that bothered me most about possibly eating poutine sometime. I thought the picture of your Eggs Benedict looked delicious, and I know I'd have some of that.

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  23. My phone hates me. It won't let me comment. So again, I've never had poutine. There is a new place in Houston called that which serves it but I'd be hesitant to try it so far from its natural home. I happily ate fried cheese curds when we lived in Minnesota. Gigi, I saw cheese curds at Sprouts just a couple of days ago.

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  24. The Main Street Diner in East Orange, NJ used to serve fries with gravy (back in the day).
    My husband had a friendly waitress who'd slip extra gravy under the fries for him!
    Libby Dodd

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  25. Just landed in California. Poutine. Does not sound good at this very minute. But Montreal sounds fabulous. Can we go one step at a time? My voice is gone, I have rest before tonight.. xoxo.

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  26. I had poutine in Quebec and liked it. When I traveled I tried most of the local food. I miss that now but luckily more types of cooking are available at home.

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