After my last post, which was probably a bit terse, let’s talk about something positive and comforting: poutine.
For those of you residing outside of our great frozen country, poutine is arguably one of Canada’s great national dish. Thick cut fries, cheese curds, and a generous heaping of steaming gravy all rolled into a food item that’s practically a coronary attack on a plate. Add a dose of extra toppings, in the form of chicken, mushrooms, or bacon (OMGBACON), and you’ve got yourself wonderful variants of this delicious dish.
It may not seem sophisticated and it’s certainly not a delicate and complex dish by any means (compare it to the mind-blowing difficulty of creating the perfect sambal sauce in Indonesia and poutine doesn’t seem so impressive in comparison), but we in Canada love our poutine like the Brits love their fish n chips. It’s a national comfort dish and we can’t get enough of it. And to an extent, this includes me.
I actually love poutine. But the thing is that I only love freshly prepared poutine. Once the dish is a bit cold, the gucky gravy and cheese curds become kinda gross, to be honest. So I gotta eat and finish it when it’s hot, though doing so is risking some form of food coma, given how dense and carb-heavy this thing is.
So I was actually pleasantly surprised to know that there was a specialty poutine joint that opened up near my office, and was even more delighted that it was Smoke’s. Smoke’s Poutinerie is Canada’s biggest and most well-known poutine chain, which provides awesome varieties, generous quantities, and hot fresh poutine for you to immediately chow down on. Sounds like my cup of tea!
Located on Adelaide St., interestingly enough the same street I used to walk past every day on the way to my previous workplace, the restaurant is a small but not uncomfortable little box which feels like a modernized old-time burger joint. You line up, order your food at the counter and wait for it, then take it with your tray back to the seat. A little board above the counter shows you the many cholesterol-laden options available to you, and a wide chalkboard near the entrance is a blank canvas for your artistic graffitiing compulsions.
I was fortunate to be able to sample gratuitous quantities of multiple varieties as ordered by my coworkers. From regular poutine to the crazy Hogtown poutine, my eyes were moist with anticipation (and probably hot steam) as I bore down to find out why Smoke’s is almost universally loved by everyone in Canada. And the results were simply delicious.
The regular poutine in itself is already a great flavour combination and a solid place to start, with cheese curds that aren’t too soft which enhance the smoothness of the gravy and the soggyness (well, they kinda have to be) of the fries. But what truly nails it in my books is the insanity that is the Hogtown poutine. The flavours of the caramelized onions and sauteed mushrooms actually provide a nice subtle hint of sweetness and grit to the overall taste and texture of a normal poutine. Your chewy and gooey moments are punctuated at regular intervals by the contrastingly different vegetables, which are the in turn tied together nicely by a healthy dose of bacon. Douse a bit of hot sauce (they have Sriracha, which isn’t as good as Indonesian chili sauces, but it’ll do) and you’ve got both flavour AND texture city.
The ambience of the place is also nice. It feels a little hipster-ish, but there’s really no pretentiousness, with friendly and quick service. It can get very crowded during mealtimes, so be prepared to wait for a bit. The red-and-black checked pattern that is Smoke’s trademark colours are everywhere, and is a nice splash of corporate identity among the indie-like feel of the place.
The only bad thing, like I said before, is how intense the post-lunch food coma you’ll definitely experience after downing just HALF a box of this. I absolutely don’t know how all the people around me can polish off a full dose of this thing and not collapse instantaneously after the meal. Oh, and I guess the notion of paying over EIGHT BUCKS for what is essentially a heap of potatoes plus side fixin’s run contrary to my inner Chinese voice, that tells me “You can get a dish of rice plus meat and soybean drink for SEVEN DOLLARS in a Chinese food court! What are you, Spendy McRichBanks?”. So as long as you don’t have these voices in your head (and really, only my dad and I have them), then go and check Smoke’s out.
It may not be fancy, and it’s certainly not anywhere near an upscale experience, but it’s a great way to sample comfort Canadian cuisine.
–Final verdict: Mari Makan!
218 Adelaide Street West
Toronto, ON M5H 1W7