Sherbrooke (pop. 201,890) may be the fourth largest metropolitan area in Quebec, but don’t get your hopes up. You drive through some of the ugliest sprawl in Quebec (King street) to get downtown, and there isn’t much going on when you get there. The two universities in Sherbrooke should give the city a youthful vibe, but the campuses are out in the boonies and, judging by the tumbleweeds and boarded-up facades downtown, students don’t spend much time outside their dorm rooms. Because it was settled by Brits and Loyalists, people hype up Sherbrooke as a slice of New England in Quebec, which is true if you’re thinking of a grim post-industrial New England milltown (i.e. Manchester, NH; Lowell, MA) rather than a vibrant and quaint New England college town you might actually want to visit (i.e. Burlington, VT; Northampton, MA). Last but not least, Sherbrooke has the unfortunate distinction of being the hometown of Jean Charest.
But Sherbrooke isn’t all bad. There are a few nice buildings around and a handful of interesting shops and restaurants in the dreary downtown. The city is more ethno-linguistically diverse than most other cities in the province. And it’s right on the edge of Quebec’s poutine heartland, giving it access to lots of good squeaky cheese suppliers. In the words of a friend who was exiled here for a few years: “It’s boring as hell, but they make damn good poutine.”
This friend directed me to Louis Luncheonette, a local institution for over 50 years with three restaurants in town.
Fries: “The fries taste like wax,” said a friend, which isn’t far off the mark; there is indeed an unusual sticky oiliness to these fries. They are unevenly cooked – some were hard, others were overcooked, and one or two tasted rancid. As awful as this sounds, most fries were actually quite good. There’s lots of flavour in these potatoes, with a sweet edge reminiscent of the fries at La Banquise, but better, as if they’d been brined with sugary water. With a bit more crispness, consistency, and less of that waxiness, these could be outstanding. An interesting french fry nonetheless. 25/30.
Gravy: Many critics described this gravy as being too salty but I had the contrary impression. Perhaps I got a watery batch. The gravy was perfectly serviceable, if a bit bland. This is OK considering that the fries have such a strong taste and the cheese is good, but a bit more punch and creamy richness wouldn’t hurt. The deep environmentally-unfriendly styrofoam container, however, led to an unfortunate soupy end to my poutine, since most of the sauce sinks to the bottom. 35/50.
Cheese: They use an entire room-temperature bag of Coaticook cheese, which tastes fresh. It squeaks! What a wonderful sound. Good quantity, excellent freshness, but a few too many dinky chunks in the lot 17/20.
Verdict: Worth trying. A good-value poutine choice if you’re in Sherbrooke.
Value: Excellent – everything on the menu is affordable, as fast food should be. Given the fact that they make a point of hunting down good-quality locally sourced ingredients, I would choose this place over most industrial fast food chains.
Location: Three branches, all of them on rue King. The closest to downtown is at 260 Rue King Ouest, three blocks west of Wellington.