When I began planning a trip to Quebec, poutine surfaced a number of times in my foodie searches. Stories about the origin of this dish conflict according to MontrealPoutine.com, but it boils down to this: At some time in the late 50s or early 60s somewhere in Quebec, somebody decided it would be a good idea to combine the French fries we all know and love with a sauce or gravy and cheese curds, a snack common to the region. Somehow, this concoction took off and even made its way as far south as New York and New Jersey, where it was sold as "disco fries."
I’m all for fries, and cheese makes everything better. But you have to admit, this just sounds odd. I couldn’t go to Quebec and not try a dish they’re so know for though. So when we stumbled across a tiny joint jammed into an alleyway on St Vincent one afternoon in Montreal, we were an easy sell. I don’t actually eat meat and I've read conflicting views on the usual base of the sauce. But a guy lounging around outside evidently looking for customers at 2:30 in the afternoon on a weekday swore the "brown sauce" had no animal product. I rather doubted that, but he swayed us, and we took a seat in the long narrow room. I was a little put off that they wouldn’t serve tap water-–Aquafina’s no better than the perfectly nice tap water in Quebec--but the waitress said she’d let us have it since "the boss was out."
Still somewhat full from lunch at Olive et Gourmando, we shared an order of the $7 poutine. And yep, it was exactly what I expected, French fries smothered in a brown sauce, topped with the funny little cheese curds. My first impression was that it was way salty. I liked the cheese curds as they melted into the sauce, but the fries closer to the bottom had gone a little soft. A crisp fry is a perfect fry so I wasn’t crazy about poutine. But hey, I tried it, and could’ve even taken home a T-shirt were I so inclined.
[Photo: Dana McMahan]