Saturday, 21 April 2012

You say Poo teen, I say Pu'tin

Yummy! Mmmmm!

There’s no wrong way to say delicious and there’s no wrong way to say poutine, however I do get a kick out of the various ways folks pronounce the dish and the equally various accents. By accents, I’m referring to every meaning of the word.

This month, I returned to the Halifax area and, of course, stopped by Smoke’s Poutinerie. I actually tried a poutine italienne however I should note that at Smoke’s they put gravy on everything, including their italienne, so I made sure to ask that it not be included.

Maybe I’m just weird, but the idea of beef gravy and meat sauce coalescing over French fries and curd cheese disturbs me.
That being said, I also took a trip over the harbour to the Dartmouth side of the HRM to partake in the newest craze over there called Cheese Curds, Gourmet Burgers + Poutinerie. Well, it’s no wonder that the New Brunswick burger chain Relish is setting up a Shoppe in Halifax.

There were 18 people in front of me when I entered on Wednesday! I also saw at least a dozen people come in and leave rather than wait as I progressed toward the cashier to place my order.

If you’re looking for a great burger – this is the place to go. But “poutinerie” they are not!

First, while some people enjoy really salty fries, I am not one of them. Secondly, after four bites, it was done. The gravy was delectable, but it was overpowered by the saltiness of the fires and there were so few cheese curds that they melted into stringy goo before I even got to my seat. 

To place so much emphasis on cheese curds in the name of the restaurant and on the names of many dishes, it’s too bad I didn’t get a chance to actually see any. Have I had worse? Oh, certainly. Were my expectations too high? I don’t think I can over-emphasize that when a restaurant names itself after the main ingredient of a dish, you expect that it will serve that dish as near to perfection as possible.

The burger was fabulous, but if it’s poutine you’re after – pay the bridge toll and go to Smoke’s in Halifax.

Before signing off, I want to thank everyone for sending me their poutine stories last week – keep on sending them in. I see a number of themes emerging that I will certainly touch on over the coming months.

Now I need to walk off some of my excess over the last couple of weeks. Pants are starting to feel tight!

May your curds stay squeaky.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Much Ado About Curds

No one I know hearts food like I do and I have a number of particular weaknesses: Mexican, everything beef – especially donair, but occupying the top of the list is the mighty and complex poutine.

Now, let’s be clear: I’m not referring to the poutine râpée that has a certain cultural following in parts of New Brunswick. I’m not saying one is better than the other either. They are so vastly different, that comparison is impossible, plus having never eaten the Acadian dish and not having any plans to subject my pallet to balls of mushy dough, I wouldn’t be able to say either way.

I’m talking about the Québécois delicacy that is, of course, the better of the two. In fact, it is so well known and loved it has superseded its home province to become a genuine piece of Canadian culture, cuisine, and even politics – some may recall the name of a former Canadian Prime Minister – Jean Poutine.   

So, I am in search of the ultimate poutine story and the definitive compilation of poutine stories. This quest to harden my arteries may have begun when I was a child and a die-hard poutine purist. I remember the days quite well, sitting in a cold hockey arena with a steaming pile of poutine in my left hand, using my right hand to schooch the squeakiest and coldest cheese curds over, saving them for my final mouthful.

In those innocent days, poutines consisted of three ingredients and three ingredients only: French fries, curd cheese, and beef gravy. While there has always been the lesser-known poutine italienne – basically replacing the beef gravy with a spaghetti meat sauce – and it is a favourite of my wife, it has never been my first choice.

As I have aged, I have grown less rooted in my ways, rather than more so. This is good, because the face of poutine has changed as well.

Chain restaurants, such as Chez Ashton in Montreal, have brought the poutine beyond these two varieties to include the addition of chicken and even hotdog wieners. The Toronto-based franchise of Smoke’s Poutinerie goes even further with categories of toppings that contain such delicious beauties as Nacho Grande, Chili, Pulled Pork, and even a Veggie Deluxe!     

So, you may be asking yourself – why now? What is the desperate need for someone to share the ultimate poutine story?

I don’t know if this has always been my calling or if it’s a combination of the Robocall scandal linked to some guy named Pierre Poutine, the South Park character Eric Cartman suggesting that McDonald’s fries dipped in a tub of KFC gravy is what Canadians call poutine, the Burger King commercials advertising their new poutine, and the fact that Vladimir Putin (spelt Poutine in French) keeps getting elected in Russia.

I don’t have the answer. It just feels right.

Furthermore, I have been experiencing an ever greater sense of poutine-envy. Living in New Brunswick I have always yearned for the poutines I used to get at the small roadside hamburger stands in the summer or in the local hockey rinks during the winter when I lived in Quebec. But, while I love my poutines, it certainly isn’t a reason to pack up and head north to la belle poutine province.

My poutine-envy has taken a new twist lately because Halifax is now home to a Smoke’s Poutinerie franchise. I’ve been there. I will return.

Across the harbour on the Dartmouth side, a new restaurant – Cheese Curds Gourmet Burger & Poutinery – has opened its doors to great reviews and fanfare. I haven’t been there... yet.  

So, come on folks. Where is the best poutine in New Brunswick? Send me your suggestions and your experiences both good and bad. I am looking to amass the epic poutine story so this goes beyond just simply writing reviews about poutine platters in Moncton. Let me know about your special poutine moments at from where ever.

Note: While I could write a daily blog, the frequency of the blogs and reviews will be less regular and certainly less frequent. The reason is two-fold – that is, I am trying to keep my chin from developing two folds. More than that however, just as healthy eating is about moderation – with two baby boys in the house, a wife who also has two baby boys in the house, a full-time job, a wife, graduate studies, and a wife – healthy writing is similarly about moderation.