Ever since I started this blog, I’ve been telling myself I should try some of the big-chain corporate poutines out there. Unfortunately, life is too short to waste your time at places like McDonald’s, and I don’t want to shorten it even more by actually eating there. Last week, on a ride between Quebec City and Montreal, the driver stopped at one of those soulless chain store truck stops by the side of the highway to grab a coffee at Tim Horton’s. I was stranded and hungry. If there’s one thing I dislike more than McDonald’s, it’s Tim Horton’s (and their attempt to reduce our national identities to overly sweet coffee and terrible donuts), so here was my chance. Upon entering McDonald’s for the first time in twenty years, I was shocked to find that poutine was no longer on the menu. Luckily, it turns out the displayed menu has no relation to what the restaurant actually sells. I got my complimentary smile, grabbed my take-out bag, and ran out to eat my McPoutine.
Category Archives: 24 Hour Restaurants
“I’m not a racist, but there’s a reason poutine is worse in Montreal than elsewhere in the province,” said my racist friend. “There are too many Greek immigrants running restaurants.”
The Greeks are not only being blamed for ruining the Euro; it seems they also ruined poutine. While I think this is an unfortunate oversimplification, let’s humour my friend for a minute. It is true that many of the Greek-run restaurants I have tried in Montreal use grated cheese rather than superior curd cheese. This may be cultural – I have never been to Greece, but my travels in the surrounding countries have shown that “fries with grated cheese” appears on many bar menus. A little bit of googling confirms that the Greeks are also fond of something similar, though I’ll have to admit that the feta used in this recipe sounds like a better curd-cheese substitute than the bland pizza cheese used in Montreal.
Last weekend I went to Joliette, a small city 50 km northeast of Montreal. Founded in the 1820s under the evocative name “L’Industrie,” the city still has a large tire factory and “the biggest gravel quarry in the region.” The central area is a strange mix of charming heritage buildings and horrendously tacky 1980s postmodern crap. One of the ugliest buildings in town houses what may be the best small art museum in the province. This surprising museum would be enough to justify a visit, but there’s also Restaurant Henri (AKA Chez Henri).
Chez Henri is a local legend. This 24-hour restaurant draws people from surrounding towns for its famous fries. Located on Joliette’s main fast food strip, Chez Henri was the only restaurant with nary a place to park. The mascot is an adorable large one-armed orange “H” with a crown (available as a stuffed toy for only $10). I first heard about Chez Henri in this cheesy 1991 CBC-TV feature about poutine, an interesting period piece from the days before poutine became legendary and English Canadians appropriated it as their own creation.
Chez Claudette used to be my regular 3AM poutine spot back in my 1990s undergrad days. It was your typical Québécois greasy spoon. Claudette herself was often there to greet you. A new inspirational quote could be found on the cash register every day. The standard poutine was okay, but the “bourguignonne” with beef and onions was a perfect late night snack. If you’d stayed out later, you could even replace the fries with breakfast home fries.
Tonight, a friend of mine who just moved back to Montreal from Quebec City wanted to recreate that experience. Another friend warned us that the restaurant “had been bought up by a bunch of Arabs” and that everything had gone downhill since then. I told him that I appreciated his quotability, but that he should try to be more politically correct for the sake of my blog. He replied that many of his best friends are Arabs.
I went to Ottawa last week. Since I love taking gratuitous swipes at Canada’s capital, I was looking forward to trying out the Elgin Street Diner’s renowned poutine in order to thoroughly demolish it and the city it comes from.
I went out drinking with friends in Quebec City last weekend. 1AM rolled around and, next thing you know, we all start feeling hungry. “Let’s walk down the hill to Ashton’s,” suggests Olivier. I suggest going somewhere else, since I have already reviewed Ashton’s. Next thing you know, we’re driving down the hill and across the bridge to Limoilou, the city’s up-and-coming slowly-gentrifying urban neighbourhood, and Quebec City’s closest approximation to Montreal neighbourhoods of tree-lined streets, winding stairs and triplexes.
Pierrot is the only 24-hour restaurant in this part of town, and locals swear by its poutine. I’d eaten them several times before and had fond memories, but I’d probably been too drunk to spot what is in fact a dud. In a way I am happy that this fell below some of the poutines I’ve had in Montreal, as I was beginning to fear my objective punditry would eventually be misjudged as gros village poutine chauvinism. No, my friends, there are scientific criteria which I rigidly adhere to when analyzing the poutine in front of me. I am unswayed by any partisan allegiances to a hometown I have willingly moved away from.
My friends must have been more drunk than I was, as they left with nothing but praise for the meal they’d just had.
CLOSED IN 2013
An old late-night standby on the busy corner of Saint-Denis and Mont Royal, Rapido got a rainbow-coloured makeover a few years back that makes it look more like a girly cupcake shop than a greasy spoon. A sign proudly claims that they were voted Montreal’s THIRD best poutine in 2005 by now-defunct ici Montreal. With such outdated credentials to back it up, I figured their poutine was worth a shot.