Today(February 1st) marks the start of Poutine Week in Montreal. What is Poutine Week? As misleading as the title may be it is a week where several restaurants around Montreal serve up some crazy specialty poutines, over a duration of-you guessed it- a week. If you are native to Quebec or have visited a few times, you no doubt have stuck your face into the fantastic and addictive concoction known as poutine.
If you have no idea what the hell I am talking about then let me just say that you haven’t lived until you’ve scarfed down one of these. At its purest a poutine consists of 3 simple ingredients: fries(freedom or French-your choice), curd cheese-Montrealers refer to it as squeaky cheese, and gravy. That tends to be the poutine I favor the most, the simplest one. So long as you make kick ass fries, use the right cheese, and have a good, hot gravy you will win me over. But Poutine Week isn’t about the classics. It’s about pushing the boundaries of this dish and seeing how far we can take it and still stay true to the essence of the poutine.
There are 30 restaurants participating this year, the list of which you can find in that link I put in at the top of this article. Poutine styles this year are just flat out crazy. From braised rabbit with grainy mustard and honey gravy to gnocchi with seal merguez, brussel sprouts and au jus sauce, it looks like the chefs creative juices are flowing full steam ahead. Many of the ideas I’v come across sound intriguing but let’s be honest. I would be a fool to go anywhere on the first day of Poutine Week if I didn’t first go La Banquise. I try to eat healthy more and more as I get older and many people will consider poutine to be wrong on so many levels. But if you are going to do something wrong you may as well do it right. There is no better place for that than this spot.
Opened in 1968, La Banquise is now in its 46th year of serving up top notch greasy spoon fare and is largely considered the best poutine spot in the entire city. I’ll tell you now, this spot is open 24 hours and there seems to be no time to get there to beat the crowd. So just be prepared to wait in line a bit. Things run smoothly in this hoppin’ joint so you won’t spend hours waiting.
I came into the city with my 4 year old to take her to her first ever hockey game. Being the maniacal sports addict that I am this was a big deal for me. I confess to getting misty eyed on a few occasions throughout the game. Seeing the joy and excitement on her face and just remembering how magical it was for me to go to games with my dad or uncle when I was her age had me all emotional and wanting to celebrate after the game even though my beloved Habs lost in overtime. If you are superstitious when it comes to sports like I am then you will understand that I fully believe that she flat out jinxed my team and must be banned from attending any further games this season. I am so disappointed in her. Before you go thinking that I am a total dirtbag please note that I have banned myself from 3rd round playoff tickets when my record that season attending games was abysmal. Oh, I should also note that my kid actually talked some serious shit to the two visiting team’s fans sitting right behind us. No joke. These dudes were huge too. Good thing they were good sports about it and not like Philly fans otherwise the Phatman would have gotten to take an ambulance ride to the emergency room! WHEE!
Anyway, I was excited that she loved a classic Montreal experience of a hockey game so I figured let’s keep that rolling and hit up another classic Montreal experience and get some poutine. Knowing it was Poutine Week and knowing just how damn fantastic La Banquise is I thought this could work out to be the perfect day for me and my maniac viking child. As I said before, I am normally all about the simple classic poutine but if I am going to go off the grid poutine-wise it may as well be with the experts. We get to the restaurant a bit past 16h30 and yep, lineup as usual. My kid was surpisingly patient and sweet whilst we waited to get in from the cold. La Banquise offers 28 varieties of poutine stylings not to mention the Poutine Week specialty: The Reggae Poutine. This insane invention comes with the standard fries, cheese and gravy but is then topped with minced meat, guacamole, diced tomatoes and hot peppers. Crazy, I know right? I’m not sure what exactly makes this poutine “reggae” but I am not here to argue over semantics. I am here to stuff my phat face. Besides, anyone who knows me knows I am strongly anti-semantic. **The editors at Phatmanpheasts want you to please take note that this is a joke, a play on words if you will since semantic sounds similar to a terrible word that the Phatman will not utter!**
I go over the entire 28 poutine styles with my kid and naturally she decides she isn’t in the mood for poutine and she gets a pogo. As hectically busy as this place is I am amazed at how sweet and kind all of the staff are with my kid. Everyone is patient with her, really smiley and they bring her crayons and a colouring book the moment we sit down. My mammoth poutine shows up and holy sweet merciful crap is this thing overloaded with toppings! I take my first bite and try to get a bit of everything onto one forkful. I admit that when I saw what was in this thing I was fearful that this would just be a flavor mess. But I am blown away at how well the guacamole and tomato particularly work well in this. I’m not sure the meat was necessary but it certainly doesn’t hurt the dish. But the guacamole on here really is a stroke of genius.
So are you a poutine lover? Are you open to trying some of these funky takes on it? You’ve been to La Banquise right? Well get out there for Poutine Week and try to hit a few other spots too. Make sure to vote once you’ve eaten!