Ravaging arteries across Quebec since 1957 (or 1964, the debate rages on), poutine is more than just a fast food staple in Montreal.
From analyzing critical factors such as does-the-cheese-squeak to assessing gravy thickness and color, finding -and more often, arguing over what is- the ultimate poutine is a citywide obsession.
Best known as a dish combining fries, fresh cheese curds and gravy, there are enough variants on the basic recipe nowadays to rival the myriad flavor combinations of pizza or even sushi.
A little something changes inside of you after downing a pile of fries, curd cheese, and gravy topped with guacamole, tomatoes and sour cream at 4 in the morning. Kinda like the number on your bathroom scale the next day.
See, the thing with La Banquise is it gets flack from some over its beatified status as the best poutine in the world (don't look at me. Travel+Leisure was the one who laid that claim circa 2009).
Granted, that claim is over the top. Coincidentally, La Banquise's poutines also go over that proverbial top, having been one of early adopters among Quebec's legions of diners and casse-croûtes to propose the fast food dish complexified beyond its original formulation.
At least thirty different types of poutine are sold at any given time, from La Boogalou's pulled pork, coleslaw and sour cream extras on top of an already rich poutine to the T-Rex, a devilish poutine topped with ground beef, pepperoni, bacon and hot dogs.
Not that everything is topped with meat. Vegan cheese and vegan sauce are now available as are vegetable toppings. Progress.
And don't fear the lineup. Things move fairly fast.
La Banquise might be credited as a forerunner in the creative poutine department, but Poutineville threw the concept of poutine variations out of the ballpark with the fast food chain boasting 110 million possible poutine combinations.
I'll just let that sink in.
Poutineville also lays claim to the biggest poutine in town. Dubbed "The Heart Attack," the 15-pound dish features crispy potatoes, chicken, bacon, hot dogs, minced beef, ham, onions, green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, fresh curd cheese, mozzarella and gravy.
For further cardiovascular compromise, consider dropping by its Montreal locations on Tuesdays. It's all-you-can-eat after 5 p.m.
Tiny is the word to describe Patati Patata's interior. This mighty micro diner features at most a dozen seats.
But tiny is not the word to describe its pristine poutine, a generous pile of fries, squeaky curds and red wine tinged gravy, all topped with a single black olive.
And the prices? More tiny. That glorious poutine, which some claim is the very best in Montreal, will set you back a mere four bucks. You could technically order enough food to fill you up for an entire day and not break a ten.
Good luck getting a seat, though. Patience is a virtue. And takeout is a shortcut.
Vegetarian sauce is available.
Au Pied de Cochon
With hair as wild as his culinary imagination, it was Au Pied de Cochon chef and owner Martin Picard who immortalized the concept of haute poutine. And while others have followed suit with their own interpretations of upscale depravity, none can dislodge Picard's foie gras poutine.
No vegetarian alternative is available.
NYKS Bistro & Pub is this nondescript bar/bistro I go to when I'm near Place des Festivals, Place des Arts, or checking something out at the Belgo Building, a choice spot to sit down and take a breather after shopping downtown all day.
Outside of festival season, it's a tad off the beaten path. Otherwise, it's comfortably hopping.
Their tartares are solid, the beer is okay, but the poutine! What a surprise. It's one of my favorites in Montreal. It's mostly off the radar too (until now, that is). Its secret? Foie gras in the sauce. Elegant flavor at a price within reach of most budgets.
Not only is the service at this old-school diner full of heart—warm, attentive, kind—but the poutines are sensational. Very cheesy. Very generous toppings. The breakfast poutine is my morning favorite. Instead of standard french fries, they use home fries.
Count on at least 35 different varieties on the menu, from L'Atlantique, a seafood poutine topped with shrimps, scallops and pollock to the Tandoori featuring tandoori chicken and fried onions to Sucré Salé, a honey/pogos/onion mix thrown atop a standard poutine.
Vegetarian alternatives available.
Chuck Hughes' lobster poutine is what beat Iron Chef Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America. No surprise there. The umami is off the charts. Order your own taste of Iron Chef dominion at Garde Manger, Hughes' main restaurant.