Patate Mallette is legendary for many reasons. They’re known for the best poutine on Montreal’s south shore. They also serve poutine to go in a hot-dog bun. And, if you eat in house, the poutine sauce is served separately in a teapot, allowing you to add it gradually so the fries don’t turn to mush. Genius!
I have yet to visit their legendary riverside location in Beauharnois, but caught up with their food truck at a town fair in rural Quebec.
On my last trek out to Food Truck Friday at the Olympic stadium, I was faced with a bewildering array of choices. Thankfully, a new German food truck in town made my choice easier. They offer two different kinds of poutine: one with chopped up chicken schnitzel and the other with bratwurst. Given that schnitzel is one of my favourite comfort foods, and surprisingly hard to come by in Montreal, this seemed like a winning option.
Although poutine was once regarded as a national embarrassment, Martin Picard is famous for giving the dish its “lettres de noblesse” over a decade ago. He reinvented the cholesterol-heavy dish by adding a chunk of fancy foie-gras, making it even unhealthier. This had the added effect of simultaneously blurring the lines between high and low food culture. Kudos to Picard. It was a clever reinvention.
Unfortunately, this led to an increasingly tiresome wave of copycat chefs reinventing poutine by slapping some additional novelty ingredient on top – everything from duck confit, to roast beef & stilton, to Vietnamese bahn-mi toppings. Many of these designer poutines would not taste very good if you reduced them to the three base ingredients – they rarely use squeaky-fresh cheese, for instance – but adding that slab of foofiness distracts us from the poorly-executed base. I don’t like the idea that you can only elevate poutine by adding some expensive bling to it. Bling is easy – although this added chunk of fatty foie gras felt clever a decade ago, it is looking increasingly bling these days.
I think it’s time to go back to basics. The real chef’s challenge is getting that base perfectly right: making sure the fries have enough crisp and taste, sourcing a place that will provide big chunks of day-fresh squeaky cheese instead of the usual crumbly industrial foodservice distributor crap served up in Montreal restaurants (hint: go to the Bois-Francs), and whipping up the perfect home-made gravy with drippings to make those other ingredients shine. I have tasted many celebrity-chef poutines and have yet to see a chef get those three things right.
Food trucks are easing their way back into Montreal. Banned in 1947 for hygiene reasons, the ban was kept up for years through the pressure of restaurant lobbyists who feared street food would threaten their establishments. However, with a gourmet food truck revolution sweeping North America, the voices of Montrealers have drowned out the lobbyists. This summer, trucks were confined to public squares and festivals but one hopes that regulations will be eased up over time. In the meantime, join the thousands on this Facebook group fighting for more street food in the city.
Lucky’s Truck is one of the many new food trucks to hit the city this summer. I’m not sure how they managed to avoid Quebec’s language legislation (Is there a loophole for truck signage?) or why they chose to do so (Is it managed by French expats who think English business names sound cool?), but these are secondary considerations. The primary consideration is that they serve up duck confit poutine and that it tastes great.