Or, 'Two Poutine- and Montreal-Virgins Share Their Thoughts'
Words and Photographs by Kathy Park and Rob Price | After a seven-hour road trip from New York City with only one food stop for breakfast, we were ravenous when we arrived in Montreal for Labor Day weekend (it was Canada's Labor Day, too!). For the drive, we had printed out pages of Montreal food chatter from Serious Eats and Chowhound, and learned about poutine. After many jokes about the word poutine, we decided that the dish Montreal is famous for, made of fries, gravy, and cheese curds, was the equivalent of chili cheese fries in the U.S.
Once in Montreal (for the first time), we asked a friendly local where we should go for poutine and he said, "Trust me, Patati Patata." Another friendly Montrealer said, "The best poutine is at La Banquise." We decided to live life to the fullest and go to both establishments for our first tastes of poutines.
Walking up to Patati Patata, we saw the line extending out of the small and welcoming shack of a place. It looked like a well-established East Village joint and we took the familiar feel as a good sign. After waiting only about 10 minutes we got two seats at the bar (there are maybe 15 seats total) and ordered a Poutine Classique ($4), two plain sliders ($1.75 each) and a half pitcher of Boreale Blonde ($6.50).
Our eyes widened as the poutine was served from behind the counter. In front of us was a healthy-sized mound of fries, a handful of cheese curds scattered in the nooks, and a ladle of creamy gravy poured over everything. Is it possible to go wrong with this combination? The fries were crisp, the gravy subtle and not too thick (or thin) and the cheese curds were squeaky. And guess what, the plate was clean in two minutes. The sliders were also satisfying, although one of us thought the bread was too thick.
Then it was off to La Banquise. Our first impression: this place is as laid-back as Patati Patata with its neighborhood feel, but more families and groups come here. If Patati is East Villagey, La Banquise is Soho-ish. Certainly, the space was a lot larger at La Banquise and a more extensive menu of poutines and other foods. We ordered the Poutine Trois Viande (regular size, $7.25), a pogo (which is called a corndog in the U.S., $1.75), a small green salad and a Cheval Blanc beer.
Although we had ordered the classic Poutine at Patati Patata, we couldn't deny the three-meat extravaganza at La Banquise. For the purposes of this review, however, we tasted several fries/gravy/cheese curds-only bites. We excitedly anticipated the second round of poutine even though we had eaten at Patati Patata. And it arrived with a glorious mountain of meat on top, into which we excitedly dug. The poutine at La Banquise was good, especially because the gravy seemed more well-seasoned. But, the fries were slightly on the soggy side and the cheese curds weren't as springy.
It was a tight competition. We discussed the merits of both poutines. We loved both poutines and both poutines loved us. At the end of the day, however, we had to give our poutine props to Patati Patata. Those sexy and crisp fries are what broke the tie.
We'll be back to Montreal for more. A tout a l'heure!
994 Rue Rachel East, Montréal Canada (at Lafontaine Park; map) 514-525-2415
4177 boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montréal Canada (map) 514-844-0216