This holiday season, chef Jennifer Costello, one half of the husband-and-wife team that owns The Bonneville, celebrated her French Canadian heritage by running a special menu on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. She decided to keep one comforting staple dish, adding it to their brunch menu starting this Sunday. Behold: poutine!
Sort of a northern answer to green chili queso fries, poutine consists of crispy, hot French fries topped with a brown gravy and cheese curds. Costello has many memories of enjoying poutine in Canada, where it is traditionally sold from converted milk trucks, called “chip trucks,” on the side of the road. In Ottawa, Ontario, the town where she grew up, a five-mile canal runs through the center of town and ices over each winter. Costello recalls ice skating to work and school, or just for fun, and warming up with the savory snack.
“Poutine is the best hangover cure known to man!” — The Bonneville's Jennifer Costello
“The ice gets so thick that they can line it with little shacks serving hot cider, beer, wine and, of course, poutine,” she says. “So I always remember eating steaming hot poutine out of a cardboard container in a brown paper bag and sitting in the snow along the sides of the canal with my brothers and sisters.”
Her later memories of poutine are from her days as a student at the University of Ottawa. “Poutine is the best hangover cure known to man!” she says. “After a solid night out, we would inevitably wind up at a chip truck and scarf down a large order of creamy, crispy fries, cheese and gravy, then head back home to sleep it off on the couch. After a belly full of goodness and a nap, you'd be right as rain and ready to face another night of shenanigans!”
With a laugh, she adds, “We always knew if you’d had a rough night, because you’d come home and have gravy all over your shoes!” While The Bonneville is undoubtedly serving up the most authentic poutine, there are six other spots around town where you can find it:
Costello says the fries must be a thicker than a shoestring to stand up to the toppings. The gravy has to be a thick, brown chicken gravy layered in between the fries with cheddar cheese curds. They’re currently using Henning’s curds out of Wisconsin. “It sounds ridiculous, but when you chew on the curds, they should squeak against your teeth,” she says. “That’s when you know you have the right stuff.”
Costello serves her poutine in a cardboard takeout box lined with a brown paper bag and accompanied by a fork. “It just tastes better that way. Ask any Canadian,” she says.
Frank was the first place in town to include poutine on its menu. “When Daniel [Northcutt] and I sat down to design the Frank menu prior to opening, poutine was one of the first things I said had to be on the menu,” says co-owner Geoff Peveto, who remembered the dish from his Canadian travels. “Daniel always wanted waffle fries, since you can load them up with toppings, so that's where our version came from.”
Northcutt says he went for waffle fries “because we wanted to do something that would hold sauce and toppings better — little edible plates comparable to Mitch Hedberg’s take on crackers.” Their cheese curds come from Mill-King Creamery in McGregor, Texas, and Frank offers a list of gluten-free add-ons such as Frank sauce, bacon buttermilk and Cajun remoulade.
Though currently closed while chef Allison Jenkins focuses on opening laV, her food trailer, Say laV, will open back up this winter, and they have a delicious braised beef and mushroom poutine on the menu. This version, sold in cardboard boats in the backyard of the Volstead Lounge, features thick slices of beef, fresh chunks of mushroom and parmesan in lieu of traditional cheese curds, a perfectly steamy accompaniment to either a hot toddy or a cold beer.
“I first remember poutine from a trip to Canada when I was in college,” says Jenkins. “It's more typical in Montreal, but they serve it all over. Au Pied de Cochon does one with foie gras. It's perfect for cold weather, and there are a lot of variations you can make, such as duck confit or sausage.”
Midwest-born Chef Troy Nelson has brought several of his favorite regional dishes to the menu of Haymaker, including beer brats and sauerkraut, Chicago-style Italian beef and a hearty poutine using cheese curds sent overnight from Wisconsin.
He offers a traditional dish and a Southern style option, which comes topped with a peppery white gravy and Wright bacon. Try the traditional paired with a slightly sweet hard cider or wash down the southern style with a pale lager like The One They Call Zoe.
Ben Siegel traveled to Montreal for a bachelor party right before opening Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden on Rainey Street. “Montreal is the birthplace of poutine, as far as I know, and I couldn't believe I had never tried it before,” he says. “It is hands down one of the greatest late night foods ever conceived of.”
For theirs, Banger’s uses a housemade brown gravy over crispy fried Kennebec potatoes, local Mill-King cheese curds and a sprinkling of green onions. Word to the wise: share with friends so you can leave room for one of their brats or a seasonal sausage — they make duck, bacon and fig!
Nothing goes better with a pile of poutine than a side of beer. So it was pretty appropriate when Potato.A opened right outside Corner Bar on South Lamar. Get their fresh cut fries "naked" (sea salt and fresh cracked pepper), "barely dressed" (garlic and parmesan), or "smokin' hot" (cumin, cayenne, chili powder), and choose from several poutine options: original Canadian, Italian (bruschetta, cheese curds, bacon bits), Southern (barbecue pulled pork, queso, and jalapenos), or The Glasser (beef and bean chili and cheese curds). $5.00 for a small size is a bit of a steal, eh?
Turns out this campus-area sports pub specializes in more than just wings. Their poutine options range from the original Canadian style to "Wingzup" style (onions and mushrooms), New York style (chili, bacon, sour cream, onion), and an uber-cheesy veggie poutine (cheddar, Colby Jack, and mozzarella cheese with tomato, guacamole, sour cream, and green onion).