Friday 5 May 2017

Poutine! The Best in Montreal & Quebec City

For my 2013 visit to Quebec I was hosted by the Canadian Tourism Commission.

On my most recent visit to Montreal and Quebec City with Narrelle Harris, I had a bright idea.

Poutine! Visit a number of places serving the classic Quebecois dish comprising chips, gravy and cheese curds, and rank them according to highly scientific categories.

So I did. These were the results.

1. Méchant Boeuf, 124 Rue Saint-Paul Ouest, Montreal

Decor Wannabe nightclub
Vibe Loud and energetic
Fill factor Far bigger than expected for a side
Score 3 (out of 5)

"Wicked Beef" is a noisy lively place with a dimly-lit restaurant area and a bright bar lit from beneath, with people rushing around and lots of loud conversation. Not a great place for a first date, but a great place to eat a burger, or seafood from the raw bar.

It doesn't specialise in poutine, instead it comes as a side to the burgers and other dishes. We order a burger with poutine as a side, expecting it to be something small. Instead we get an excellent tasty burger done medium, with a large plate of curds, chips and gravy in the classic style.

We feel we have to eat it before the burger, or it will go cold – and it looks like the kind of dish that shouldn't be eaten cold. It's tasty though not quite as hot as could be, topped with a non-conventional serve of pulled pork.

The only problem is, once we tackle the poutine, it's difficult to eat a whole burger.

2. Montreal Pool Room, Boulevard Saint-Laurent 1217, Montreal

Decor Minimalist diner with a long steel counter and photos of famous Quebeckers who've dropped in
Vibe Trucker stop
Fill factor Perfect late-night drunken fill-up
Score 4 (out of 5)

This century-old institution in the former red light district (actually still somewhat red light - there's a strip-teaseur joint across the road) serves up simple fare. Its highlight is the hot dog steamé, a steamed sausage in a bun with toppings including chopped cabbage and onion, and relish.

It comes, of course, with an optional serve of poutine. I order the combo of two dogs (they're fairly small) and poutine with a drink [see photo above], and focus on the poutine first.

Served in a polystyrene container, it's a sizeable serve of chips, gravy and curds. The curds are nicely firm, the chips aren't too soggy and the gravy is hot; so hot that I burn my lip, a hazard for the novice. On the counter are shakers of cayenne pepper and salt, and I apply the hot stuff to pleasing effect.

After that, the dogs are almost an anti-climax, plain-tasting in soft buns. It's a good combo; but I think the poutine upstages the dogs.

3. La Banquise, 994 Rue Rachel Est, Montreal

Decor Colourful tables and jumbled architecture
Vibe Cheap and cheerful
Fill factor Good way to refuel before hitting the Le Plateau district's very walkable streets
Score 4 (out of 5)

We hit this 24-hour poutine emporium about 9am on a Sunday, when it's nearly empty except for a steady stream of taxi drivers pulling in for a post-shift feed.

What else to order but a breakfast poutine? There are several options including one with the kitchen sink, Le Cassoulet, but I order a version called L'Ensoleillée involving chopped up bacon and sausage mixed in with the poutine, and a serve of scrambled egg on top.

It is, as you'd imagine, even more filling than a standard poutine (if that's possible), with the full, comforting flavour of bacon and sausage clearly evident. It's like a full English Breakfast has been broken down to its constituent parts and added to chips, curds and gravy.

Narrelle chose La Savoyarde, poutine with bacon, onion, Swiss cheese and sour cream. She said it reminded her quite a lot of her Dad's version of bubble and squeak.

4. Chez Ashton, 54 Côte du Palais, Quebec City

Decor Reinvented '50s diner
Vibe Colourful but quick
Fill factor Filling and nominally healthy
Score 4 (out of 5)

Quebec City is often visited after Montreal, and so many locals have told me to try Chez Ashton that we give it a go when we drop into town. Some say this place is the best poutine in Quebec, or at least the best in the provincial capital.

I'm confronted with a poutine menu offering just three choices: standard poutine, Galvaude (with chicken and peas on top) and Dulton (with spicy mince).

I go for the Galvaude, reckoning that the peas will allow me to regard it as a health food. It's actually very tasty, and the combination of chicken, peas and gravy, along with the chips and cheese curds, makes it taste not unlike a Sunday roast chicken and pea combo that your grandmother might have cooked up.

The gravy is particularly tasty, not too salty or thin, and it's a satisfying end to my poutine adventure.

As much as I enjoyed it, I don't feel the need to eat poutine again for a very long time. Or at least not until I next visit Canada.

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