Boston could be beyond Peak Poutine

With Romano's in Roslindale having given up its version of poutine months (years?) ago, word reaches us that Grub in Brigham Circle is shutting down and taking its "variety of poutine options" with it.



Free tagging: 


Never meant to be fancy

Poutine was designed as simple and nourishing drunk food, originally served from small residential area huts and windows to revellers stumbling home late.

It is very simple to make at home, too. My grandfather used to make it and he rarely cooked anything.

Not sure how it got all fancy, and I didn't mind the trend, but now we can go back to fries, curds, and gravy and call it a snack.

I like modest poutine, and I like fancy poutine.

Quoting my Devil's Dining Awards from 2010 (too bad I don't have the time to do these anymore), I gave the:

Ludicrous Food-Nerd Elitism Award: to anyone who dismisses gussied-up versions of lowborn food as “inauthentic”. In my accounting, the urge to glorify foods originally served from street carts, food trucks, carnival tents, and ballpark concession stands isn’t pretension. Rather, it's natural for creative, restless chefs to apply skill and quality ingredients in the interest of elevating ignoble dishes. By all means, diners should understand and appreciate these foods in their traditional incarnations. But spare me the reverse snobbery that says that poutine stops being poutine the minute you add foie gras. If you’ve ever paid more than eight bucks for a burger, you’re already down that rabbit hole.

Exact quote from above

I didn't mind the trend

Words not used: inauthentic, foie gras ruins it, etc.

Words used now: I've probably been eating this stuff with varying add-ins since before you were born. I only get snobby about the cheese curds.

The title of your post was, "Never meant to be fancy".

My old quote there is about countering that exact sentiment. Food isn't just what some people think it's supposed to be, including the notion that humble food should always stay humble.

Saying how long you've been eating poutine sounds like an assertion of authority on the subject. You don't call yourself a "foodie", by any chance, do you?

Oh boy

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Saying how long you've been eating poutine sounds like an assertion of authority on the subject. You don't call yourself a "foodie", by any chance, do you?

You're knowledgeable, I give you that -- but you're also the last person to be calling anyone else out about indulging in a food-related pissing contest.

If I have a hobbyhorse about food opinions,

it's deflating people's self-styled pretensions to expertise or authority. I have never asserted any expertise or authority of my own.

I did once collect my thoughts on writing better online restaurant reviews for the benefit of Yelpers and their ilk.

To quote it, "Skip the outline of your credentials. The fact that you are 100% Irish (meaning your great-great-great-grandparents emigrated 160 years ago in the Famine) doesn’t mean you can tell cottage pie from shepherd’s pie. Even if you did speak fluent Gaelic, you still might be a food ignoramus with lousy taste. Let your knowledge, passion, and discernment speak for itself. You may in fact be an expert on Irish cuisine, but it's not because of your genes."

But that's what "inauthentic" literally means

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Authentic means genuine...from the origin. How far "from the origin" can you get before that bond is broken?

Is a quesadilla an authentic cheese sandwich?

I think there's room for debate. I've seen "improved" poutine that changes out the gravy for sauce and curds for melted whatever. It's okay if you are serving saucy cheese fries...just don't call it poutine. You can add foie gras..if it's amid some kind of curd and gravy.

There's elevating a dish and there's altering it into a derivative that no longer functions as the original. The fries don't need to be limited to basic Idaho potatoes, but sprinkling powdered parmesan on mashed potatoes and gravy isn't poutine.

AND that doesn't mean that parmesan-y mashed potatoes and gravy is bad food (ok, it sounds pretty gross though). Maybe it turns out it's a great dish...and you were inspired by poutine...but don't call it your "take" on poutine because you should be getting all the credit (good or bad) for your concoction, not poutine at that point. Nobody says Weird Al is good just because the artists he parodies are great.

This is something I talk about in the poutine blog piece:

"I also believe that despite its relative youth – most sources agree that poutine first emerged sometime in the 1950s – there is a genuine canon or tradition associated with poutine, a classic recipe, any variance from which will offend purists. (I’ve gotten an earful on the depravity of American poutines from a Québécois in-law of mine.) So I think it's perfectly germane to note a widely-held set of expectations about a dish from the regional or ethnic group that originated or popularized it. I have no problem with chefs breaking from a canon -- our food world would be pretty sad if this never happened -- but I think it's important to understand the tradition as a reference point. Maybe nobody cares that spaghetti and meatballs isn't often served in Italy, but it doesn't help your credibility in a discussion to pretend this isn't so, or to market your version as 'just like they do in the Old Country'."

Understand the original and honor it, but don't marry it.

Had me some excellent

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poutine at a restaurant in Vermont this past summer.

Too bad it never really clicked down here I guess.

Poutine definitely had a moment here, probably five or six

years ago. The Gallows featured it prominently on its opening menu, and it became increasingly easy to find at all kinds of restaurants (fine dining, modest student-oriented joints, everything in between). I remember when the bygone Pops did something that was effectively a luxury poutine that it called "mix grill sausages": beautiful hand-cut fries with cheese curds, short ribs, and sausages of rabbit, duck and wild boar. Eat at Jumbo's was an early adopter. Saus near Faneuil Hall has always done a decent one.

I still see it around, most recently at the new fancy French-Canadian restaurant Cafe du Pays, whose version is fantastic.


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You go to a lot more restaurants than I do, but was it really at that many places? I knew of two or three, which is hardly everywhere. Seems to me it was always uncommon. And yeah, Saus is my benchmark, and I will have to try Cafe du Pays. I am a poutine traditionalist.

Those are ones I can vouch for from personal experience,

and I suspect I'm forgetting a couple, but poutine was a much-discussed food-nerd trend for a good few years. I imagine you'll like the Cafe du Pays version a lot. Also, don't miss their vegan simulacrum of pork rinds, made with mushrooms, tapioca, and modernist-cuisine magic, the best mock-meat product I've ever tasted: really convincing texture.

One of my favorite new restaurants of the year, a fusion of traditional Québécois cuisine and its New England adaptation, which along with Azorean food was the most traditional immigrant cuisine I grew up with. Lots of old-timey dishes like tourtiere and creton, plus game and tree-based flavors, most little-seen outside of French-Canadian-ancestry homes in these parts.


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I looked at Cafe du Pays' menu and liked it a lot. Will definitely give it a try, thanks for the rec.

Azorean food

What do you think of Ana Ortins "Authentic Portuguese Cooking" (which includes recipes from the Azores and Madeira)?

Best bet for Azorean food (closer to boston than New Bedford and Fall River)?

I wasn't familiar with that cookbook, but it looks great,

so I just bought it: thanks for the tip!

The closest Azorean restaurant to Boston that I know of is Adega in Woburn, which is very good, but I wish still served lunch.

Most Greater Boston Lusophone restaurants are mainland Portuguese, Brazilian, or Cape Verdean. The last Azorean place in Cambridge I recall was O Senhor Ramos (aka The Snack Bar), which did great alcatra, and a rabbit stew in white wine as a special that I still remember vividly. O Cantinho was another one I recall fondly, but that one is even longer gone.

I do know that The Neighborhood in Somerville serves the Açoreana brand of linguiça and chouriço, made in Fall River by Azorean-Americans, my favorite brand. It's also retailed at Fernandes Market and Courthouse Seafood.

There's the Azorean Restaurant in Gloucester, but I haven't tried it.

I actually wrote a 2010 blog piece on poutine in the early

days of poutine frenzy in Boston. It echoes some of my points with Swirly above on the authenticity question, etc. I hardly ever write anything on my blog, had forgotten entirely about this piece.

Also, it contains reminders of other good versions I'd had by 2010: Harvest (in the Mary Dumont era, before she opened Cultivar), Garden at The Cellar (in the Will Gilson era, before he opened Puritan & Co.), Russell House Tavern (when Michael Scelfo was there, before he opened Alden & Harlow), and All-Star Sandwich Bar. I'd also had the grand-père of fancy poutines, the foie gras version at Montreal's Au Pied de Cochon.

Deep Ellum still going strong

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Deep Ellum has a pretty decent one with duck gravy, cheddar curds (but they melt them too much in my opinion...loses the squeak), and some rosemary for flavor. It has been a staple on their menu for a while.

Porter Cafe

Had some great poutine just this past weekend at Porter Cafe in Westie.

I’ve avoided Romano’s ever since I saw a cockroach in the middle of the dining area.

Poutine at The Gate in JP

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If you're a poutine fan, check out The Gate in JP. Same chef as James Gate, different location. Awesome poutine.

What a shame

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I was just in there recently for the first time and it was pretty good.


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This is Boston, not Montreal. We have certain standards!


Yelp is a hoot

Seems that every place that serves poutine on the regular has one or two negative reviews from Quebecois who don't like what they've done to it.

When in Montreal I was tempted to return the favor with scathing clam chowder reviews.