Take note: in 2012 the fancy burger bar with locally-sourced ingredients, slider trios, and overpriced shakes arrived in Quebec City. In fact, not one, but TWO of these places have popped up in the past few months.
Trends usually get here just as they’re beginning to die out elsewhere. Skinny jeans are the new cool thing, and pulled pork was nowhere to be seen until last year. The first cupcake shop opened in 2008, around the same time that bubble tea began raising local eyebrows. Ramen has also just made it into town this year (though the standards aren’t great). We’re still waiting on korean tacos, faux-speakeasies, and masala dosa to arrive – give it another 5 or 6 years.
While I’m at it, I should mention that both of these new fancy burger places come with the compulsory vintage Edison bulbs, another first for Quebec City in 2012. Although my usual whiny self might complain that such lightbulbs don’t produce an adequate amount of light, I will admit that I do not mind this new trend. I actually like it, especially because it is supplanting the early-noughties changing-colour LED lights fad.
But I digress, as always – let’s get to the poutine at these places. The first place, Les Trois Garçons, is located within the walled city on the less-but-still-touristy Saint Jean strip and prides itself on using locally-sourced ingredients. It looks like a cross between a trendy American burger bar and a French bistro.
Whereas most of the food in this place is well-presented, the poutine comes in an ugly bowl with “poutine” written all around the edge.
Fries: Thin, home-cooked fries cooked in fresh oil with lots of dark earthy skin. They look good but are a bit limp and tasteless – they could have more crisp and salt. 23/30
Gravy: The sauce has a prominent but not overwhelming taste, good thickness and temperature, though there was a little too much of it. It has a definite spicy tang, which is quite pleasant. My girlfriend said “there’s something Asian about this, but I don’t know what,” and I agreed. She thought the sauce had a sweet & sour quality. I tasted fish sauce, or something else rancid and fishy, and the fishy undertones soon got to me. Fish sauce tastes great in phở. It can even add a dash of umami deliciousness to a burger. The fishy undertones didn’t work so well here. 35/50
Cheese: Instead of using a fresh and squeaky Quebec cheese curd, which is as locally-sourced as you can get, they use cubes of Damafro Fromage Aura, a semi-soft semi-foofy semi-mild semi-sharp industrially-produced cheese that tastes like a nutty cheddar. It is probably okay on its own, but melts instantly under the sauce, turning the dish into a disgusting gloopy mess. I’m all in favor of reinventing the crap powdered gravies used in poutines, but substituting the cheese curds usually results in a failed and pointless attempt at reinventing the wheel. Cubed cheese is better than grated cheese but it’s no substitute for curds – an unnecessary and failed use of an expensive ingredient. 5/20
Verdict: Stick with the burgers, much better than the poutine at this place.
Price: Expensive. $11 for an ugly bowl of unexceptional poutine.
The second upscale burger bar is also located in the old city within spitting distance of the Chateau Frontenac, meaning that most of its patrons will likely be tourists. Le Chic Shack clearly draws lots of inspiration from New York’s legendary burger purveyors at the Shake Shack.
The owner comes from a family that gave its name to a local skyscraper, and has devoted lots of energy (and money) to heritage, culture, and elevating Quebec City above its mire of homogenous provinciality. Seeing as I know (and like) too many people who work at this place, that Quebec City is a small town, and that its English-speaking community is even smaller, it is impossible for me to be objective about the unconventional poutine here. It raised lots of polarized opinions around the table, and had us debating how far poutine can stray from its origins and still be called poutine. I will not be reviewing it, but here’s a photo of “The Classic” – you can judge for yourself.
Locations and opening hours:
Les Trois Garçons: 1084, rue Saint Jean, Quebec, QC G1R 1S1, open until 10 PM most nights, and 11 PM THU-SAT
Le Chic Shack: 15 Rue du Fort, Québec, QC G1R 3Z8, still working out their opening hours