Ottawa's got a whole lot of poutine. And me and my team of intrepid poutiners are gonna get fat trying all sorts of combinations of potatoes, cheese and gravy. It's going to be a bit like that documentary, Supersize Me. Only probably - probably - we won't change your world or anyone's perceptions of anything. Oh, and we won't criticize overly fattening foods. Poutine, while wonderfully edible, is no Mother Theresa or Gandhi... But that's just 'cause the world outside Canada doesn't know about it yet.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Guest Post: Pataterie Hulloise, Classic Poutine After-Dark

Obviously I can't try all the poutine in Ottawa-Gatineau myself. And plus, I've promised myself a relatively healthy fall 2010. So beyond vegetarian poutine, which is made with mushroom gravy and is definitely good for you because of the word "vegetarian", poutine will - out of necessity - become a treat rather than a lifestyle choice. Which brings me back to my point: I can't do it alone, so guest bloggers will just have to help me fill the void.

My first guest blogger, Jason, visited the Pataterie Hulloise just over the bridge in Quebec. He promises to keep Poutine Scene updated while on the road this summer. And for the record, he referred to this poutine experience as "poutine baselining" before he leaves the Ottawa-Gatineau region... and that's my kind of poutine guest blogger.

Pataterie Hulloise: Classic Poutine After-Dark

Since 1982, Hull's been serving up the good stuff at 303 Saint-Joseph Blvd. This is the classic brown sauce 'bold' poutine; tonnes of squishy curds, well-balanced sauce, and great homemade fries. I'm not sure how many potatoes the fine folks at the Pataterie go through but every time I'm in there, someone's peeling more. It's that kind of poutine that leaves your stomach all comfy and saying, "just a little more, you can do it".

Great for late night cravings while out and about. They make poutine the right way; they build it up in layers. Good base of fries, generous scoops of curds, then comes the sauce... and then, they do it all again (and depending on the size... again). No 'unhappy endings' in these poutines; lots of cheese all the way to the last bite. You can get extra cheese or sauce but I've never needed to. .Noticed tonight there are different sauces; classic, BBQ, white... I've always gone classic. I'll have to try the others now that I know.

One of the capital region's favourite poutines. If you haven't done it... do it. MMMmmmmmm.

The portions are excellent bang for the buck.
Go big or go home: Familial $12.32 (tax-in)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Austin, Texas: Canadian Waffle Poutine

Sometimes the poutine is not about the fries, cheese and gravy - it's about the journey, you know? Going to Texas in search of poutine means that when you find that poutine - it will be delicious, no matter how wrongly it is made, because finding poutine in Texas? So improbable that it's bound to be delightful.

Admittedly, Google use was employed pre-trip. As soon as my sister heard of my poutine endeavours, it became a mission. San Antonio, her city of residence, was immediately ruled out. San Antonio is all about grilled food, fast food and Mexican delights. Canadian fare? Homey don't play that. Luckily, we had already decided to take a road trip to Austin - land of the young and hip, live music and sushi. Surely in a city like this, poutine would be possible. After a bit of research, we found a place called Frank, a trendy-looking diner just off Austin's hip 6th Street (and for the record, with a URL like, I would have gone even if there was no poutine promised).

After checking into our hotel, we were ready for hotdogs, cold beer and poutine. Hell yeah, eh! And I was ready to experience Austin. Walk to 6th Street and eyeball the Texan excitement? Yeah! Just one problem... Texas in July? Freaking. Hot. I'm not entirely sure, but I think it was 500 degrees that day (Fahrenheit, not Celsius - don't be ridiculous). The people slowing down in their cars? No, they weren't checking us out - they just looked confused. Worried, maybe; like two young women out walking in the Texas heat should be feared and studied in a lab, or maybe pitied and escorted back to the special home from whence they came. I could feel the telltale maple leaf burning into my forehead like a scarlet letter A.

All this exposition, by the way, is to explain a few things. 1) By the time we made it to Frank, we basically ran in to our salvation. I took no photos of the restaurant itself. 2) We were hot and tired and I so very badly wanted a beer. 3) I was starving when we left the hotel, but the sweat had wiped away most of my appetite. I suddenly wasn't sure I was capable of properly critiquing Canadian Waffle Poutine. Yes, readers, I doubted myself.

However. Rikki has been absent from Canada for approximately eight months, and likely has not had a poutine in over two years. She was ready for this moment.

In the end, we agreed on a basket of poutine (yes, the poutine came in a basket - cute!), a Cobb salad and a jalapeno cheese hot dog (side note: I get jalapenos on everything when I'm in Texas. Everything. I briefly considered jalapenos on the poutine, but figured we should keep it pure to give it a proper chance).

The poutine came out first, along with the beer. After a few grateful slugs of cold brew (me on the Stella, Rikki on the Blue Moon), we eyed our poutine. A few notes: the fries were, indeed, waffle fries. I have no issue with that; I've never been of the school of thought that poutine has to be served with freshcut or shoestring or any other specific potato (hell, I love breakfast poutine, served with hashbrowns - but that's another post). But I did take issue with the fact that the cheese did not appear to be curd. A look back at the menu confirmed that it was supposed to be curd... but it clearly was well-disguised, melted mozza. I considered calling the server on it, but didn't want to be "that" Canadian (I mean, who else orders Canadian Waffle Poutine but a Canadian, right?). And anyway, it was a good, hearty, quite delicious serving of waffle fries, cheese and gravy... it just wasn't poutine.

My friends, I learned this in Texas: any poutine must have cheese curds in order to be considered a proper poutine. I don't know why this is; I don't make the rules. Poutine can have brown gravy, orange gravy, chicken gravy, powdered gravy, showstring fries, waffle fries, freshcut fries... but that second layer between those other things? Gotta be cheese curd. There is no other cheese, and anyone who tells you different is sellin' something.

So Frank, solid effort, and a big Canadian Eh for effort... but if you serve your poutine with mozza? Any Canadian's gonna call you on it. But you know what? Let's not part as enemies... your city is a lot of fun, and after several hours, many beer and a few jell-o shots, we got through the pain. So thanks for that. And hey, you know us Canadians - we're just grateful to be noticed, so keep that "poutine" coming... and please don't take us off your menu. We're sore-y.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Double Decker Diner & Dairy Bar (Manotick)

Regular: $4.75
Large: $6.00
Overall rating: 7.2 non-scientific points out of 10

My second foray into the seedy underworld of Ottawa poutine began much like any other day (by waking up and wondering if it was too early for poutine). I tried to repress the inner whispers of the poutinaholic ("just a little one can't hurt...") but others were complicit in making me break my one-a-week promise to myself... and after all, it's not a problem if you aren't poutining alone. Right?

After breaking the news about my poutine blog to my cousins, they were pretty adamant that we needed visit the Double Decker Diner and Dairy Bar in Manotick, just south of Ottawa. If you don't know about Manotick, it's this idyllic village comprised mainly of an upper-middle class, family-centric commuter population (side note: I did no journalistic research whatsoever into this; it's an assumption that I consider true until proven otherwise). The Double-Decker Diner & Dairy Bar actually is a double-decker bus, kitted out as a chip stand and painted red for visibility, parked at the corner of Manotick's Main Street and Clapp Lane. The upper deck is purportedly a seating area for nastier weather conditions, but it was another beautiful day in Eastern Ontario so our group (five plus corgi puppy Finn) opted to sit at one of the picnic tables.

Side note #2: Considering the corgi addition to our group, I was immediately taken by the diner's menu, which listed the hot dog menu as "Palace Corgis." It doesn't take much, and I am officially enamored.

Service was fast and friendly for the mid-afternoon clientele and while I was mainly focused only on poutine, I noticed a number of people were opting for the vanilla shake, so I think we can be suitably impressed by the menu's "other" items. A sign stating that clients should take note of the reflections caused by the red umbrellas over the picnic tables before fearing that their burgers could lead to salmonella mayhem (admittedly very loosely paraphrased) made us laugh - you have to wonder how often the owners had heard that complaint before resorting to signage.

To the poutine: as with any respectable chip stand trying to make a mark in the oversaturated Ottawa Valley, the fries were served hot, fresh and crisp and the cheese was all curd. Gravy was a bit thicker than I am used to in the chip stand market, but one of our group was insistant that it should be even thicker -- another split opinion. Cheese portions were decent but again, not generous enough to take this poutine over the top. In the end, the poutine was just decent and entirely too much like the chip stand poutine in my last post.

It's just this: there are dozens of chip stands and trucks in Ottawa, and to make one stand out above the others -- well, you gotta work for it. Ottawans and Quebeckers love us some good poutine, and we want tasty, stand-out gravy and massive amounts of the gooey cheese curds that make our mouths water with pouticipation. While the Double-Decker may do stand-out burgers and 'dogs (I'll probably never know), the poutine was basic and fairly unremarkable. I definitely have no credentials in food critiquing, but I do know excellent poutine. And this wasn't it.

Overall, the standout on this poutine location is just that - location. The double-decker bus is great and makes me wonder how Londoners would take to poutine. I'd like to think the English would be accepting and that if only the Queen had the chance, she would take the word of poutine back to her people. Preferably on a red double-decker bus.

Coming soon: Quest for Poutex: Finding Poutine in Texas. Can it be done? Can it be done right?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

First experience: T&L's Fries

My inaugural poutine blog visit was well attended, with more than half a dozen colleagues from Health Canada (yes, the irony. Please feel free to judge.) taking part in the tasting and lending their opinions. T&L's Fries sits just off Scott Street, neatly tucked in behind The Beer Store - very much out of the way for anyone who doesn't live or work in the area. There are a host of reasons I could give to explain choosing T&L's for my first blog post, but in reality there is only one - convenience. It's around the corner from work, it was hot, and it seemed like a good opportunity.

With our work set out for us, we headed out and lined up at the chip stand (some of us noting with relish the welcome sign depicting a monkey - how that related in any way to poutine, I do not know. But it immediately endeared me to the chip stand.).

I can't help wondering if it was the low rent or the hungry government workers with nowehere else to turn that drove T&L's (side note: the abundance of initialed chip stands/wagons in this city drives me nuts. Timothy & Leanne? Tommy & Lefebvre? DEAR GOD, WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!) to set up shop in such a seemingly remote space, but I won't fault them. We were hungry and they were there. What else matters?

The whole group ordered a round of poutines, save our "control group" (Matt), who chose a small bag of fries. Would the fries be as delicious sans cheese and gravy? And could the crisp factor withstand a mountain of cheese and gravy? Service was quick and efficient ("curdeous" as poutiner Mary remarked), which is all one can ask for at a chip stand -- they're busy and it's hot. The sooner they can serve the crowd, the sooner they can go in the back and stick their heads in the freezer for some salvation from the humidity (I mean, that's what I would do. And did do working the fryers at Burger King throughout high school. Story for another day -- the poutine there had orange gravy. I mean, really orange.).

Inital musings were that the poutine was "good". Keep in mind, we were all extremely hungry and the smell was mouth-watering. So a mere "good" didn't satisfy my criteria.

Fries: Decision split. Clearly a matter of opinion, half the group seemed to think the fries were wonderfully crispy and golden, and the other half were disapointed in how soggy they became partway down.
Cheese: Cheese curds were basic, but didn't have that squeaky "fresh" taste that makes for a truly great poutine. Group consensus was that cheese was seriously lacking - an abundance of fries and gravy could not make up for too little cheese.
Gravy: Beef-based with a good consistency, but again lacking the flavour that defines a fantastic poutine. The best I can say for the gravy was that it wasn't too thick or too watery - but flavour was lacking.
Presentation: Served in small styrofoam containers, I was pleased that the poutine wasn't all "top" - fries were coated most of the way down, but again: lacking extra cheese and with almost too much gravy, this was only small consolation. Bonus points to staff for heaping extra cheese and gravy into the container when one of us ran out halfway down.

Overall opinion - we will go back. But this owes more to the fact that T&L's is so close to our work and less to the fact that it was in any way a remarkable poutine. Service and poutine were satisfactory but standard. Stomach pain and lethargy reigned all afternoon (admittedly normal after a poutine gorge). Many thanks to Jen, Mary, Jerri, Matt, Michael (doubly for the iPhone pics), Steve, Marc and Ian for joining me in my first expedition. Please don't sue me if you gain 80 lbs by end of summer.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

City of cheese curds

Ottawa's a got a whole lot of poutine. And me and my team of intrepid poutiners are gonna get fat trying it all. It's going to a bit like that documentary, Supersize Me. Only probably - probably - we won't change the world or people's perceptions of anything. Poutine, while wonderfully edible and horrifyingly fattening, is no Mother Theresa or Gandhi. But that's just 'cause the world outside of Canada doesn't know about it yet.

We've got a number of places in mind to critique - from Elgin Street Diner, a staple for poutine in the Ottawa Valley, to the many chip trucks parked tantalizingly around Ottawa. We will likely drink-and-poutine here and there (I don't know how to eat at Elgin Street unless it's after-bar) but I promise this will be mainly sober, and possibly sobering depending on the strength of our hearts, blogging.

So bring on the suggestions, and bring on the fries, cheese and gravy.