Next to maple syrup and Justin Trudeau’s winning smile, poutine is Canada’s most recognizable export. The combo of crispy fries smothered in dark gravy and cheese curds meld together into a comforting, filling meal that’s perfect after hitting the hockey rink or to end a late night.
Although poutine can be found at several locations in D.C., we enlisted the help of Matt Demers, a Canadian visiting The District, to give us the run down on three local varieties.
Small Fry (2/5 maple leaves)
SmallFry has its own version of the dish called “Patriot Poutine,” which has string cheese instead of curds, but Matt didn’t feel like it should even be called poutine. “You’re basically just eating fries with cheese,” he said after digging through the fries to find a drizzle of gravy he initially thought was grease.
Matt explained that the gravy needs to be heavy enough to melt the cheese and pool at the bottom so you can dunk in a forkful of fries. Still, he wasn’t totally unhappy; “It’s good as a dish, you just can’t think of it as poutine.”
ChurchKey (4/5 maple leaves)
ChurchKey’s Chef Bill Williamson lived in Canada while pursuing hockey, so expectations were high. The high-end variation on poutine didn’t disappoint. Although the tater tots are an unorthodox variation of the dish, Matt said it worked because it holds the veal-based gravy well. This was the only variation we tried that stuck to the traditional cheese curds and Matt was happy that it hit all of the fundamentals.
Although ChurchKey’s variation fits the restaurant and Matt said he’d definitely get it as an appetizer, most Canadian poutines are a little heavier and eaten as a meal. “It’s hard to escape the expectation that poutine is supposed to be casual,” he said.
The Black Squirrel (4.5/5 maple leaves)
“That’s a lot of bacon,” Matt said as we received The Black Squirrel’s poutine, which is served in a skillet. Although the serving style and addition of other cheeses besides curds are unconventional, Matt said it was the closest to what’s served in the Great White North.
The fries are crispy enough to hold their structure as the gravy soaks in and melts the surrounding cheese. “This is the spirit of poutine - filling drunk food. It’s just a comfort thing,” he explained while nudging my fork out of the way to get a bigger bite. “Just like… hell yeah.”