One of the good things about going home to Quebec City for the holidays is the excellent poutine at Chez Ashton. Founder Ashton Leblond first started serving poutine in 1972, and the restaurant has since become a cultural reference point that binds locals together. There are now over 25 Ashton’s restaurants in the area, many of them conveniently located next to drinking spots to draw in the late night crowd. The restaurants themselves feel as soulless and generic as most North-American fast food chains, but don’t let that turn you off. Most ingredients are locally sourced and they always use cheese curds made on the same day. I have yet to find a poutine of this quality in Montreal.
Whereas poutine was originally made with the cheese tucked away under the fries, Ashton claims he was the first to put the cheese on top. Nowadays, this is how most poutines are served, though I have stumbled on a few cheese-on-bottom purists in the Montéregie.
Fries: Made with potatoes from the Ile d’Orleans, these fries are usually crispy and tasty, but all that comes with grease. Crispiness is not always 100% consistent, which may cause the fries to soften up in the larger containers if you don’t eat your poutine fast. 26/30.
Gravy: Outstanding. Thick and unctuous, velvety, almost creamy. Not too salty with flavourful undertones of fresh veal stock. 47/50.
Cheese: It squeaks, since they only use cheese made on the same day. Chunks are usually of a decent size and portions are sufficient. I have been served some poutines with disappointingly tiny “bottom-of-the-bag” chunks, however (see photo). 17/20.
TOTAL SCORE: 90/100
Verdict: A benchmark. If you don’t mind the generic fast food restaurant atmosphere, you can’t go wrong with an Ashton’s poutine. Stay away from the meat poutine, though some people like the sausage and spicy sauce variations. Mildly inconsistent, but always good. A great trashy classic poutine – more refined palates should try the one at Les Salons d’Edgar.
Value: Slightly better than average, but no table service.
Opening Hours: Varies. Most branches open until 4AM on weekends. Boulevard Charest branch open 24h.
Location: 25 locations in the greater Quebec City region. See www.chez-ashton.com for details. Quality is standard, though there were rumours a few years back that the Grande-Allee branch offered an inferior poutine by recooking their late night fries in the same oil several times, leading purists to shun that particular branch.