Is poutine taking over the world? It sure seems so. It’s showing up on menus everywhere we go, including here in Frederick Maryland. The word poutine is Québécois slang for a “mess” and as soon as you see it, you’ll understand why.
We developed a taste for this French-Canadian specialty when we spent a few months in Prague. An expat from Ontario has opened a stand that sells nothing but poutine in many varieties served in cardboard takeout boxes. We loved that little poutine stand, called Garage Karlin for its location in Prague’s trendy Karlin district. Now that we are back in the United States, there is plenty of poutine to keep us happy. I’m not surprised…few foods are more comforting.
Poutine was first conceived in a cheese producing region of Quebec in the late 1950s. Classic Québécois poutine requires three things: potato fries, cheese curds, and gravy.
Not just any cheese will do for authentic poutine. It must have cheese curds, a specialty in Canada and some parts of northern United States. Cheese curds are chunks of cheese from curdled milk after the whey has been separated from the curd. Usually eaten fresh, they have a mild flavor with a rubbery texture that squeaks when you bite into them, hence the nickname of squeaky cheese. In a traditional poutine, the cheese curds are warmed by the hot fries and gravy but not completely melted through.
What began as a takeout fast food snack has been elevated to an art form by chefs as they put it on menus at upscale restaurants. The base of fries, cheese, and gravy is perfect for adaptation. We’ve been enjoying creative versions of poutine in the restaurants around Frederick, each with unique twists to make it their own.
Hooch and Banter
There is a poutine for any time of day. Hooch and Banter at 49 South Market Street has adapted the “Claudes Poutine” from their dinner menu into the “Montreal Breakfast”. Thick cut potato fries are loaded with house-cured corned beef, a deep dark brown gravy, and a scattering of cheese curds. Then they top it off with a pair of very sunny side up eggs for an extremely satisfying breakfast. If you wake up with a fierce hunger, this is what you need. Wash it down with a Bloody Mary and you won’t need to eat for the rest of the day. The Montreal Breakfast is only available during Sunday Brunch from 11:30 to 3:00 pm.
Le Parc Bistro
As you can see above, poutine can be a heavy dish. More of an appetite killer than an appetizer if you don’t have enough people to share it with (and let’s face it…it’s hard to leave those last few gravy-soaked fries behind.) I like that Le Parc Bistro at 207 West Patrick Street offers a smaller portion of their Duck Poutine on their Happy Hour menu (Monday through Friday). It is still big enough for two to share and leave room for dinner. The French-inspired poutine features succulent duck confit shredded over thin-cut fries. The gravy is light in color but thick with duck fat and globs of melted muenster cheese. That richness is cut by tart green apples and green onions. A full size Duck Poutine is always available during lunch and dinner.
White Rabbit Gastropub
This is Maryland, so you know that someone had to incorporate Blue Crab into their poutine. Thank you, White Rabbit Gastropub, for being that someone so that we can pair our crab poutine with a craft beer or crisp cider. The hand-cut fries were still crispy despite being covered in a creamy white crabmeat bechamel sauce. Big chunks of lump crabmeat were sweet and flavorful. Mozzarella stands in for the cheese curds and, of course, a sprinkling of seafood seasoning (Old Bay perhaps?) was dusted across the top. If you are not up for crab, you could try their American Poutine: fries topped with mozzarella and peppercorn dijon sauce.
We’re yearning for warmer days and the lighter, fresher dishes that come with them, but as long as the temperature stays below 70 degrees, we’re going for the poutine every time!