Canadian Coffee Break: Regarding Poutine
The Canadian Coffee Break brings together some of the finest Canadian minds in Southern California every week for a topical, lively round-tablesque discussion over very dark coffee. Won’t you join us.
TOPIC #12: POUTINE
Week Twelve has arrived. To celebrate, I finally shagged over to Dusty’s in Silverlake and tried the poutine which, from what I understand, roughly translates to “Fuck Me, I’m experiencing coronary thrombosis albeit deliciously so” from QuÃ©bÃ©cois.
Your topic, naturally, is poutine. I would like to know a few things:
- What, where and when was the best poutine you’ve ever had in your life? What made it so?
- Wikipedia suggests that poutine [pronunciation] is very popular at ski resorts, not unlike “steak chili in a breadbowl.” Makes sense; it’s a heavy comfort food. Have you ever had poutine at a ski resort in Canada? Elaborate.
- Have you ever made your own poutine? How was it?
- As cultural ambassador from your province, you have been tasked with introducing poutine into the menu of five (5) Los Angeles restaurants. Which restaurants do you choose and why?
Though you asked for joyous stories of poutine past, I’m going to have to relay an anecdote of the worst poutine I’ve ever had. You see, I’ve been itching to lambaste a certain breed of poutine since late July – the pseudo-poutine of fine dining eateries in Washington state. Though I was uber-close to the Canadian border two months ago, I decided to order some pou at the Steelhead Diner in Seattle, hoping for a truly visceral/flashbacky experience. Steelhead is situated adjacent to Pike Place, perhaps the most heavily frequented tourist attraction in the Pacific Northwest; however, exhaustive approbation for the joint led me to believe that the poutine would surpass expectations. Not so. Though it veritably was poutine – cheese curds and gravy intact – something was horribly amiss. Was it the presentation? I must admit when my poutine was most formally tabled at my table (Figure 1?), I felt slightly estranged; I was used to eating my pou on dirty city streets out of Styrofoam cups (AKA properly – though I’ve never pou’d at a ski resort).
Still, the presentation couldn’t have been the primary catalyst for dissatisfaction. After months of rumination, I have realized what was missing – grease. Lardy, fatty, suety, gnarly grease. Essentially, the Steelhead prep disregarded a vital facet of any poutine experience – the myocardial infarction or heart attack. No one in their right mind orders poutine to flirt with a prudent diet. Fries + cheese curds + gravy/mysterious elements of goodness (lard hybrid) = I don’t really care about my figure. Speaking only from my own experiences, fine dining venues (especially in Seattle apparently) cannot satisfy this equation because 1) they are more susceptible to “standards” 2) they are used to people ordering greenery and therefore are lacking proper quotients of lard and 3) motha fuckas didn’t even smother my frites n’ cheese in gravy – they left it out for me to do it. That means that during the transfer, vital heat (that should have been melting my cheese onto my frites) escaped into the nether regions of the Steelhead Diner. Poor form Seattle, poor form. I truly believe I could have done better within the confines of my own kitchen, which is also something I am yet to try.
For these reasons and more I recommend everyone travel to Quebec or at least east-of-Manitoba Canada for their poutine or just abstain altogether.
I used to live by CarÃ© St. Louis in Montreal, and around the corner was a Lafleur’s, which is considered by some to serve Montreal’s Best Poutine. The fries in the classic poutine aren’t like McD’s thin blond fries, nor are they the skin-on steakhouse style nor even the chunky-soggy style favoured in UK Chip shops. A poutinerie’s fries are extremely greasy and dark with a kind of sweet taste. I think the sweetness comes from the choice of potatoes. The island province of PEI is know throughout Canada for its white potatoes which have a distinctly sweet flavour and moistness to the flesh. The fact that fries are a lot darker in a poutinerie might come from being fried longer or, somewhat less appetizingly, it might stem from the fact that they haven’t changed their frying oil all day and you’re in there at 3 AM as the bars are emptying out. Whatever the case, the fries in a poutinerie have a strong enough flavour to be appreciated on its own, but add to that the brown gravy, cheese curds and, in my case, vinegar and it’s all over. An then, I suppose, if you really wanna go all out rural Quebec styles, you might add to that a Hot Dog Michigan, which is like a steamed dog on a bun topped with a meat sauce, and of course, a Pepsi.
As patriotically Canadian as I consider myself, I must admit I have never tasted the sweet nectar of poutine. Chalk it up to my Nova Scotian roots: we’re more likely eat seaweed pie and anything with a seal flipper in it–thanks Newfoundland–than something as terribly French Canadian as poutine.
And I gotta say, as a simple, countrified Nova Scotian, I don’t cotton to those French Canadians. Not one bit. Now I don’t want to start any cross-canada rumble right now, but God knows out of the many, many visits I’ve taken to Montreal, I’ve never experienced anything but rude dismissals of my attempts to speak French (come on, help a sister out, my French teacher is standing right there and making me do this!), looks of disgust and a complete lack of social niceties. Except, of course, for the one visit when I stayed with an Anglophone family, who were quite friendly. So to me, poutine represents an oppressive, separation-hungry province that can take their zebra-print hooker boots and Roch Voisine and go to hell (by which I mean Alberta).
As for introducing poutine to Los Angeles–well, I say, let those Frenchies keep it. We don’t need them! We’ll eat our chips the way we do in Nova Scotia, from Bud the Spud, a chip wagon in front of the library! Coated in ketchup, salt and malt vinegar, because that’s just how we do it. Sure, we Nova Scotians might be fatter and less educated than you French Canadians, but at least we know how to treat people right!
Since moving to the United States, I’ve learned that Canadians things aren’t readily accepted. This was highlighted and forever imprinted into my memory when I was running out of gas in Pennsylvania and only had Canadian money (I THOUGHT we were close enough to the border that they’d still take it). Thankfully I barely had enough gas to go to SEVEN gas stations, THREE banks, and ONE international airport before a gas station took my American friend’s credit card over the phone.
Little did I know that a restaurant in Southern California would accept, and serve, poutine!!
After hearing about Dusty’s on Monday morning, I discussed quitting my job so I could get eat a poutine immediately. My sister pointed out such an action would make me seem desperate and recommended otherwise. With the help of the will power of 10 men I was able to wait until Tuesday night.
I can officially highly recommend the poutine at Dusty’s. You might think that fries, gravy, and cheese sound gross, but let me assure you they taste fantastic. I was instantly transported back to the days of going to the Centennial in Pakenham, to the days of skiing at Mount Pakenham (which should be called Bump Pakenham) and enjoying a poutine.
I don’t know who reads these, but I would like to invite you to invite me to Dusty’s so I can eat poutine with you. Seriously. Go to my website and contact me because I NEED to eat poutine, and going with you will help justify that.
I would prefer single, attractive girls between the ages of 22-26, but I couldn’t care less about what you look like (after all, by default you’ll look better than the poutine). If you’re a kidnapper, killer, or king, I will gladly risk my freedom, life, or freedom to eat a poutine. They are fantastic.
- UNPRECEDENTED INTERJECTION BY RYAN -
Dammit people. Restaurants! I would introduce poutine to the menus at (a) Matsuhisa (b) McDonald’s (hell if they sell it in McD’s Canada, seems a natural. what’s to lose, ludicrous gigantic market share and I am after all the cultural ambassador) (c) Campanile (Silverton is a trendsetter. Start at ground zero with plans to eventually port it to osteria and pizzeria and watch the copycats follow suit) (d) Oki-Dog Fairfax and (e) Fred 62. Next week: Will Jamie’s shameless, questionable plug for a date over cheese & brown gravy french fries work? FIND OUT . . .
Being a Montreal native, poutine runs deeply in my veins, and upon reading your query about the best serving I’ve ever had, one instantly popped into my mind: A miniature golf course near St. Jovite Quebec. St. Jovite was where my summer camp, The ’Y’ Country Camp, was located, and on staff nights out we’d hit the town. This was years and years ago, but something about this particular poutine stand–the greasiness, the cheesiness, the gravy (which French Canadians call “sauce,” which sounds more like “souse” with their twangy accent)–it all just came together in perfect proportions, and it’s a poutine I’ll never forget. Nor will I forget their Hot Dog Michigan, aka “otdog meeshgehn,” which is a hotdog (grilled bun, steamed dog) smothered in Sloppy Joe. Why it was called that, I have no idea. But they rock.
Yes, Quebec’s ski hill chalets are famous for their poutine, but if you will indulge me for a moment, I’d like to talk about some of the treats I used to enjoy apres ski (usually my favorite part of my weekly ski-school excursion). The “sugar pie” is a uniquely Quebecois delicacy, basically a small pie filled with sweet, creamy brown sugar custard. To f’in die for. Also, I fondly remember getting a special chocolate bar/chocolat chaud combo–I forget what they called it–and you’d basically dip the chocolate bar in the hot chocolate and lick off the melted chocolate.
I’ve never even attempted my own poutine, mainly cause the key ingredient–properly made fries–are impossible to recreate at home. How they do them, and consistently throughout Montreal, I’ll never know. I stopped into Cote St Luc BBQ when I was there the other week, (best rotisserie chicken and fries in Montreal) and made a point to ask the cook what the fries were cooked in. He said vegetable oil, which surprised me, cause they are so soggy and damn delicious and when I use veggie oil at home, the fries come out kind of stiff and not that great. Maybe it’s in the potato preparation.
Were I to add poutine to LA restaurant menus, I guess I’d add them as such: First, a fast food joint, so it was readily available. (McPoutine did exist in Quebec when I was growing up, but was pathetic with McDonald’s familiar carmelized stringfries.) I guess I’ll bestow that honor upon Jack In The Box, who seem to have a quirky, schizophrenic menu already. (Plus their ads make me laugh.) Next: The Kitchen, as its just a default quick bite joint, solid food and a space that seems to contain some of the Montreal spirit. Next, I’ll give one to Pollo a la Brassa on Western and 9th. Why? Cause they have by far the best rotisserie chicken in LA, and their fries, while not quite poutine consistency, are ridiculously delicious. Next, something really upscale: How about Craft, just cause Tom Colicchio is the Top Chef man and if anyone can do it, he can. Finally, how about the concession stand at the Hollywood Bowl, so I can feast on the stuff while watching favorite Montreal sons like Arcade Fire and Rufus Wainwright conquer L.A.’s most iconic perfomance space.