Word on the street is that Toronto, for all its multiethnic gourmet offerings, hasn’t quite mastered Québecois poutine. This may be due to a cheese curd problem – although Ontario produces cheese curds, mostly in the vicinity of Ottawa, they’re hard to find in the GTA. Nevertheless, the poutine at Gilead Café came heartily recommended, so I decided to check it out.
Gilead is a charming little spot. The walls are lined with jars of pickled vegetables of all kinds and the tables are made with thick wood. There’s an upscale earthy feel to the place, which lies down an obscure alley off King Street near Toronto’s attractive Distillery District.
The café is run by Jamie Kennedy, a Toronto chef who has been working hard to give Canadian cuisine its lettres de noblesse. He’s taken many stabs at poutine. Kennedy was a locavore before the word even existed. He earned the first Governor General’s Award in Celebration of the Nation’s Table, as well as the Order of Canada for “his promotion of Canadian cuisine and the use of organic, sustainable and locally-sourced foods.”
Kennedy switches poutine ingredients around regularly. One week he’ll throw in duck confit and the next week will use smoked meat. He also rotates his cheeses. When I visited Gilead Café, he was using braised beef and sharp cheddar.
Fries: Near-perfect thin fries with a nice colour and crisp that doesn’t falter despite the soupy gravy. 28/30
Gravy: Delicious, if a bit watery, home-made beef reduction gravy. Much better than the artificial stuff you usually get. The first few bites are divine but the saltiness of the jus soon takes over. The miniscule grains of sharp cheddar melting into the gravy don’t do anything to temper the saltiness. 41/50
Cheese: Where are the curds? Why has the mild round taste of cheese curds, which would have worked well to tone down the salty gravy, been replaced by a homeopathic portion of tiny sharp cheddar bits. It’s a crime to call this poutine and to use cheese that works against the overall taste. 0/20
Extras: The melt-in-your-mouth braised beef was great, but curds would have been better. I feel rather neutral about the creamy froth on top – I suppose it added a nice decorative touch but was otherwise pretty tasteless. +5 points
Verdict: It’s a stretch to call anything with so little cheese poutine, but the individual ingredients were all tasty. If you happen to drop by on a week when they’re using proper cheese curds, the meal will probably be worth your money.
Price: Expensive at $11.00, but the restaurant had a nice atmosphere and it would probably be worth the price with proper cheese curds.
Location: Gilead Cafe, 4 Gilead Place, near the Distillery District, Toronto