We've been traveling around Quebec trying to find an answer to the question: Is there such a thing as good poutine?
Few foods have so horrible a reputation as poutine. It's french fries topped with cheese curds topped with gravy -- or topped with gravy and then topped with cheese curds. If the french fries are flabby, the gravy is from a can and the cheese curds aren't really curds at all but some kind of horrible shredded mozzarella from a bag, it can be one of the worst dishes on earth.
On the other hand, there are many casse-croutes, snack bars, in Quebec that use really good french fries (they double fry them that Quebec way when they are really crisp on the outside and creamy inside), make their own gravy and use fresh, fresh cheese curds that are really squeaky. It's a magnificent dish when done right.
If you travel in northernmost Maine around the international boundary, a lot of restaurants serve what they call a mix, which is the local name for poutine. They use flavorless mozzarella instead of cheese curds and it totally destroys the dish.
We were asking, "Where can a person get really good poutine?" Someone sent us right over the border into Clair, New Brunswick, to a restaurant called Maple Leaf. It's actually a Chinese-Canadian restaurant. When we sat down and asked for poutine, the waitress asked, "Do you want shredded cheese or Quebec style?" You can get either the crappy mozzarella or the really good cheese curds. So guess which one we chose?
1. Maple Leaf
Clair, New Brunswick
2. Chez Micheline
St. Augustin-de-Desmaures, Quebec
The curds squeak if you look at them, the gravy is grainy and fresh, and the french fries are those really good twice-cooked french fries. You really understand when you eat this dish how good it can be.
New Haven, Connecticut
This cheese restaurant has the greatest poutine outside of Canada. They make french fries minutes after you order them. The cheese is fabulous. The gravy is homemade. It's just a fabulous dish.
They make a super deluxe poutine -- it doesn't really count. Instead of gravy, they have slices of filet mignon. It's an awfully good dish.
[Ed. note: If none of these restaurants is close to you, scan the list of everything the Sterns have mentioned on The Splendid Table over the years.]
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Jane Stern is the co-author of several books, including Roadfood and 500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late. For Roadfood.com, she drives around America looking for good food and exploring popular culture. From the hottest restaurants to the quirkiest out-of-the-way gems, the site lists the best and most interesting food spots the country has to offer.
Michael Stern of Roadfood.com drives around America looking for good food and exploring popular culture. From the hottest restaurants to the quirkiest out-of-the-way gems, the site lists the best and most interesting food spots the country has to offer. He is also the co-author of several books, including Roadfood and 500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late.