Located in Mile End, Comptoir 21 is best known for fish & chips, which I am told are very good. But here’s a lesser known fact: they may serve up the best poutine in Montreal.
This is a small charmingly rickety snack bar with most table space being an old-school curved lunch counter with revolving seats. It is located on the hipster strip of Saint Viateur and was well-packed with guys in lumberjack shirts sporting perfectly manicured beards and their blasé iphone-toting twentysomething girlfriends with oversized glasses, ugly ironic sweaters and designer rubber boots.
The staff did not seem to sulk and give disinterested-yet-condescending sneers as much as in some of the other hipster hangouts in the area (i.e. Nouveau Palais) but the service was still awful. When the restaurant emptied out, we moved from the grim side-counter to the main lunch counter and were quickly told to go back to our original seats by our irritated waitress with big glasses since “this counter works on a different system.” Not sure what that meant. When our kid woke up and started crying, she quickly brought us our cheques and seemed very eager to have us clear out. She reminded us twice to “pay at the cash.”
As much as I was hoping I’d hate this place, I have to concede that their poutine was very good.
Fries: Given that this is a fish & chips place, I was expecting proper thick-cut British chips. These are more skin-on home-cut Yukon Gold fries, and they are nearly perfect. Much better than most skin-on fries, which are often too earthy. Just enough crisp and taste, but not too greasy. 29/30
Gravy: This vegetarian gravy compares favorably with some of the best meat-based poutine gravies I’ve come across. It adds enough flavor to the fries and cheese without being overpowering, too rich, or overly experimental. Good quantity, though perhaps a bit too hot since some of the cheese was too melty. Almost as good as the gravy at Chez Ashton and Foxtrot Oscar. 46/50
Cheese: Like most Montreal poutines, the cheese is a problem. It’s clearly not day-fresh squeaky cheese. There’s no squeak at all and some of the chunks were cold, indicating that the cheese spent too much time in the fridge. However, the generous quantity almost makes up for this major problem. 13/20
Verdict: Despite the poor service, this may be the best poutine in Montreal.
Price: Good value. Decent portion at $5.59 + tax.
Location: Comptoir 21, 21 Saint-Viateur O. There is also a location at 1117 Sainte-Catherine E.