Where can a Canadian-in-exile find good poutine in Boston? Just about nowhere, according to Boston magazine, which declared a crisis of bad taste last month after searching the Boston area in vain for an interpretation of the French Canadian, artery-plugging staple that wasn't twisted beyond recognition.
Poutine, if you're unfamiliar, consists of thick-cut fries topped with cheddar cheese curds that are melted by pouring hot gravy spiced with a bit of black pepper all over them. The word "poutine" is literally French for "mess."
The magazine's Canadian-born author tried everything from lobster poutine to poutine atop spaghetti, to even dessert poutine with churro "fries." He was particularly appalled by idea of "chicken pot poutine," which is exactly what it sounds like. Regardless of whether or not any of these tasted good, they really don't come close to matching the template I just described.
Marc Hurwitz, a freelance food writer who documents new and under-the-radar Boston eateries on his sites Hidden Boston and Boston Restaurant Talk, says that area restaurants are looking to experiment with a food that's growing in popularity, rather than serve up an accurate interpretation.
"I'm not sure that poutine has become a hot trend as of yet, but it's hotter than it was a decade ago," Hurwitz says. "It's been tough finding totally authentic poutine in the local area, especially the kind you find in cheap little poutine places in Quebec, and this may be because at least some restaurants in the Boston area are into inventive takes on traditional food items."
Hurwitz says he doesn't mind the liberties that local spots take with the poutine concept. Personally, I've been known to seriously enjoy the stuff with some pulled pork thrown in. All this being said, though, both for the benefit of my fellow local Canadians abroad and to see if I can't find any establishments that might prove the naysayers wrong, I visited a few Boston-area joints recommended by a couple threads on Yelp and Reddit to see if I couldn't find some halfway-decent traditional poutine.
All Star Sandwich Bar: Poutine ($7)
This was perfectly good, though it deviates by using mozzarella. It works, but it's not quite authentic; for me, there's just no replacement for cheddar curds. The fries are thinner than you'll typically find in poutine up north, but they're crispy and I think they work well here. The gravy is delicious, though it could have been applied somewhat more liberally (the gravy-to-fries/curds ratio is, to be fair, difficult to master).
Grub: Traditional Poutine ($6.50)
Unlike the other spots I tried, these guys actually bill themselves as a place to get poutine, not just a place where it happens to be in the menu. I didn't try their more extravagant options, but Grub just about nails traditional poutine. They used proper curds that melted beautifully under just the right amount of rich gravy (not enough to drown everything else, but just enough to coat every fry). The curds weren't so fresh that they squeaked, like they're supposed to, but overall this was a delight that ticked almost all the boxes.
Deep Ellum: Poutine with Duck Gravy ($10)
This was delicious, but so rich I felt like I'd swallowed a bowling ball by the time I finished. The cheddar curds are here - lots of them - but where this opulent dish goes nontraditional is its use of duck gravy. The fries are thick-cut and crispy. I could have done without the extra sea salt they sprinkled on, since poutine is pretty salty as is. They also topped with rosemary, which was an interesting touch but a little overwhelming in my opinion. I recommend sharing this with a friend, because I was ready to tap out halfway through.
These poutine purveyors have this Canadian's blessing and prove that good poutine does exist in Beantown.