Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Fast Food Poutine

Fast Food joints typically get a bad rap when it comes to their ability to do the poutine justice. This is likely justified, but I have heard about some shining examples.

Ed’s Sub apparently makes a kick-a** poutine. I’ve been told the same of Dixie Lee and KFC, but I find the KFC endorsement to be … ummm … unlikely.

Wendy’s however, has not been so highly praised. Indeed, a colleague of mine (and unrepentant health preacher) partook of a Wendy’s poutine after reading my blasphemy (to her) praising poutines in general. Why she chose Wendy’s remains a mystery, and I was not surprised to hear her say she was not impressed.

Mind you, she did express that it may have had more to do with the idea that she was ingesting a poutine than where she was eating it from. As I said earlier, she’s a health nut. I mean that in the nicest way. :o)

So, I took it upon myself to see what was up with Wendy’s. Was it simply a case of Where’s the Curds? or just bad fries or poor gravy (sauce) or some combination of these variables?

First of all, I have to give the American fast food chain’s Canadian arm a huge thumbs-up for their Facebook campaign to have the poutine recognized as a national dish in Canada. However, as some commentators have pointed out, it already is a national dish for some people.

But, let’s not get political with the poutine. I believe Wendy’s just wants to share this dish with all Canadians – much the same reasoning for why I am writing this Blog to begin with.

A significant part of this Facebook campaign is Wendy’s Poutition. Just as you likely have, I’ve recently seen commercials on television advertising it. Signing the petition will allow you to print off a coupon that provides a discount on the poutine when you order a combo meal. I did so.

Secondly, I don’t know if it was the low expectations due to it being a fast food joint and the recent remarks of my colleague, but the Wendy’s poutine wasn’t half bad. I actually enjoyed it. It even looked good – not as good as the commercials, but that can be said of all fast food.

Perhaps my only major complaint was the portion size, but given that I used the coupon, value-for-money was certainly achieved.

After all the calculations are made, Wendy’s gets a 0.74/1 score. Not bad. That being said, it scored highest on value because of the coupon.

Without the coupon, the Wendy’s poutine would have only scored 0.66.

So, all in all, if you want poutine now and you want it close by – as Dave made sure every Fast Food Avenue has a Wendy’s – then it is certainly a suitable joint to get your quick fix. This is especially true if you have a Poutition coupon in your back pocket!

May your curds stay squeaky.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Grating on the Curd

Apologies for the title, but that is the best I could come up with.

I first became inspired to start this project when my friend Aloma (formerly of the Times & Transcript) wrote two columns about her quest for the best poutine in Metro Moncton. She also shared many of the elements I discuss and expressed some of the same concerns.

In the intervening years since I read those columns, I have been - off-and-on - preoccupied with a grading system for poutines. How could I best grade a poutine? Should I just pronounce a grade as I eat it, simply on impulse and emotion? Or, should I develop a process that breaks the poutine down into components and attempts to measure each according to a scale?

Over the last few days, I think I’ve come up with something. It has five distinct parts:

1.      Cheese. Assuming that curds are being used, are they squeaky, are they abundant in comparison to the fries, and do they have that salty freshness that make curds what they are? Some people don’t like squeaky curds, and to them I say, curds are meant to be squeaky. Point finale! Furthermore, I always assume curds are being used, so you can imagine my dismay when they are not.
2.      Gravy. I don’t mind if the gravy is of the dark brown or barbeque-ish variety, so long as it is good. By good I mean it’s tasty but not overpowering; it’s thick, but still fresh; and it is just the right amount in proportion to the curds and the fries – I don’t want poutine soup. Hmmm, poutine soup? Fancy it up and call it Soupe au poutine TM.
3.      French fries. Fresh cut French fries are always the best. That isn’t to say that I will ever turn my nose at frozen fries, I just don’t want them to taste like they’re frozen. The difference is hard to explain, but I’m certain many people understand what I mean by that. Finally, given the salty nature of the curds and the gravy, there is really no need to over salt the French fries.
4.      Value. By value I am referring to the simple mathematics of portion size / dollar spent. For example, if portion size = 0.5 and money spent = 1, then value = 0.5 – which would be poor value.  
5.      Expectation. If the restaurant is named World’s Best Poutine, then it better damn well be the World’s best poutine. My previous posting about Cheese Curds is a great example of this, as will be the next posting about the poutine I recently ate at Wendy’s.

Overall, a grade of 1 reflects what poutinerie’s should strive for. I fully anticipate that most poutines will fall below that mark. That doesn’t mean the establishment always makes a less than standard poutine. It simply reflects that the poutine I ate could have been better or that I’ve had better. Indeed, one of the better poutineries out there, at least nearby (Halifax), is Smoke’s. I would rate their Traditional Poutine as a 0.9 on this scale.

The marks above the 1 are for those gems that I hope exist out there somewhere. They highlight that I was served a poutine of utmost quality and quantity or that the stars aligned to make that the most perfect and delicious meal. Nothing suggests it could ever be replicated. In fact, due to raised expectations, the probability of attaining such a high water mark again would be extremely low.      

So, if anyone has something else I should consider in my grading process or feels that my process is overly-flawed, let me know. I’d love to hear about it.

May your curds stay squeaky.