French-Canadian poutine comes to Saratoga Springs, courtesy of Shirley’s Restaurant
One of the best things about living in Upstate New York is our proximity to a bunch of diverse and really interesting destinations: New York City, Boston, Montreal, the Adirondack Park, the Finger Lakes. Each place has its own unique character, topography, culture, and, of course, cuisine. For sheer variety and number of restaurants, though, I’d have to say Montreal is tops. It is second only to NYC as having more restaurants per capita than any other North American city. These folks love their food. I, in turn, love them.
Hubby and I visit Montreal at least twice a year, once in the winter–when these snow-loving citizens celebrate with a half-dozen festivals–and once in the summer, when we try to take in the annual NASCAR (yup, NASCAR) or Formula 1 racing event. Each time we visit, we attempt to broaden our dining horizons. Because in Montreal, just about every culture and cuisine is represented: from the traditional Italian and French, to regional Québécois, to the more exotic Hungarian, Lebanese, and Russian…even Ethiopian! But Montreal also boasts really good diners, and our trips across the border just wouldn’t be complete without the most quintessential of Québécois greasy spoon dishes: poutine.
For the uninitiated: Poutine (pronounced sort of like pooTEEN) is a French Canadian specialty. Literally translated, I think it means “potato-gravy-cheese heaven”. Thick, hand-cut French fried potatoes, topped with oodles of fresh Cheddar cheese curds (not shredded cheddar…we’re talking about the lumpy bits sold in little plastic tubs at the grocery store specialty cheese counter…you know, like what Miss Muffet ate with her whey), and drenched in dark brown, gelatinous gravy. There are variations on poutine, with my personal favorite calling for a generous helping of Montreal smoked meat (which is salted, cured, spiced beef brisket, resembling corned beef).
Incredibly, this tasty concoction is now available just a few miles from the ol’ upstate homestead. Remember Shirley’s? My new breakfast mecca? Well, Jean-Pierre Lareau, the newer owner of this establishment, is a Montreal transplant. With him, he has brought a few mannerly Montrealais wait staff, and no less than five variations of the beloved poutine. A recent lunch time trip saw me hungrily devouring this heart attack on a plate. Complete with smoked meat! Oh la la!
Local folks: Try it, Shirley’s style. Everyone else: Whether for poutine or any other no-fail Montreal meal, make like Anthony Bourdain and get gobbling Canuck-like.