Wednesday, August 1, 2012

[HOT LIST] Poutine

Brooklyn Street Local. 

Last week both the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News ran stories on Detroit's sudden poutine craze. Seeing as how I've been Pied-Pipering the poutine scene for the better part of a year now (while the bulk of that was covered on Facebook, there are also searchable archives here to support that), I feel it a matter of unfortunate timing that the results of my diligent research for this particular Hot List -- which is, make no mistake, the most thoroughly-researched Hot List I've ever published -- should come out after both of those stories. Let us remember who asked to henceforth be referred to as the Queen of Poutine before either of them ran. In other words what I'm really trying to say is FIRST.

Poutine is the most magical of comfort foods. Authentic ethnic cuisine from the exotic foreign lands of Canada, poutine is in essence French fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. And it must -- *MUST* -- be cheese curds; shredded cheese simply will not do. Perfect for the late-night drunchies, homeopathic hangover treatments and all hours of comfort food cravings, poutine is sovereign. With Windsor closer to Detroit than Royal Oak, it's a bit befuddling as to why poutine never became a "thing" until now. (Sidebar: If I had a dime for every time I've said "Poutine: it's gonna be a thing," well, I'd actually be getting paid for doing this which would be awesome.) But these dark days are now behind us and the poutine prophecy has been fulfilled.

Mercury Burger Bar.
Some things to note before we move forward, as this one has been particularly near and dear to me: with no fewer than three of the four hyper-trendy eateries in Corktown serving the stuff, Corktown can now be called Poutine Town. (Someone tell Slows that they're falling behind.) Some places serve what can only best be called variations on the theme of poutine (like Woodbridge Pub, which uses potato wedges with mushroom gravy and cheddar cheese cubes, or the Rattlesnake Club, which uses a bleu cheese sauce served on the side of their truffle fries), others need to go back to the drawing board (sorry, Mac Shack), and others still have been vastly improved upon after a little constructive criticism (Mercury Burger Bar before; Mercury Burger Bar after). And the trend shows no sign of stopping: Local Kitchen + Bar will have poutine on their menu too.

And finally, some might question why none of the Windsor joints are in the top 5. Easy: no one is paying $8 roundtrip to cross the border and deal with American customs for a $6 order of fries. Agree or disagree; that's just reality. Windsor will gets its due soon enough, promise.

#1 Vinsetta Garage (Berkley)
Yep. Number one. It isn't even called "poutine" on the menu, but their "Disco Fries" are no doubt of Canadian lineage. House-cut fries dolloped with perfectly melty gooey Ellsworth cheese curds and slathered in piping hot whole grain mustard gravy, chili flakes and scallions. How did this place beat out those of authentic Canadian pedigree? Well this restaurant is nothing if not a comfort food house of worship and while their mac + cheese is most exalted, the poutine is secretly king. Also, I have a bias towards spicy foods and the addition of whole grain mustard and chili flakes shot this over the top.

Vinsetta Garage.

#2 Brooklyn Street Local (Corktown)
Welcome to our country you lovely Canadians and thank you for sharing with us this part of your culture! Brooklyn Street Local serves the best traditional Canadian poutine: hand-cut fries with organic cheese curds and homemade beef gravy. Vegetarian? They'll swap out the beef gravy with a tasty homemade mushroom gravy. Bacontarian? They'll add caramelized onions and bacon. (That's the special house "BSL Poutine.") And and AND ... if what you really want is one of their other many fantastic made-from-scratch hearty diner eats, you can get a side of poutine for only $3. AND! As of this week, they now accept credit cards.

#3 Grange Kitchen + Bar (Ann Arbor)
No one's ever going to accuse their poutine of being pretty, but Chef Brandon Johns's duck confit poutine with goat cheese curd and duck sage gravy (all locally-sourced and made in-house, the cheese from Four Corners Creamery and the duck from Back Forty Acres) is not just awesome -- it is aw-awholelot. Grange, and quite possibly this dish in itself, is well worth the trip to A2.

#4 24grille (Detroit)
Kind of glad I kept this one in my back pocket. Executive Chef Christian Borden is from Toronto. This is important because, as we know, poutine is an indigenous Canadian cuisine and Canadians do it best by nature. The poutine at 24grille is something of a best-kept secret: only available on their lunch menu, it's $6 for an order of proper poutine made with hand-cut Idaho potato, gravy, cheese curds, herbs, and then cranked up with a pile o' pulled pork.

#5 Green Dot Stables (Corktown)
How much do we love them? Let's count the ways! (1) Owners Jacques and Christine Driscoll are simply outstanding people (ditto Chef Les Molnar). You'd want them to do well even if their product sucked. While there is certainly no shortage of nepotism in Detroit, thankfully their product does not suck so you can support awesome people doing equally awesome things. (2) Cheap beer! (3) Cheap food! (4) Cheap GOOD beer! (5) Cheap GOOD food! (6) And also poutine! "Le poutine" is $3 in the classic Canadian style: homemade gravy and cheese curds over their crispy shoestring fries. For added emphasis, it's $3. In fact, nothing on their menu is more than $3 ... and that includes all their craft beer and cocktails. LOVE.

Bubbling under Sardine Room (Plymouth), Frenchy's Poutinery (Windsor), Woodbridge Pub (Detroit), Toscana (Windsor), Mercury Burger Bar (Corktown), Rattlesnake Club (Detroit), Pita Grill (Windsor)

 Vinsetta Garage on Urbanspoon