The place is already a hit, the fast growing poutine-only chain having earned a solid reputation in Toronto over the past 20 months. It now has 10 locations, all in Ontario, but is set to open it’s first Quebec location in Mont-Tremblant on July 7th.
Will it make it in La Belle Province? That remains to be seen.
Will it make it in the By-Ward Market? Very likely.
I resisted the temptation of checking it out on Monday and Tuesday.
But when Jesse suggested we go for a reconnaissance mission for lunch, I simply couldn’t say no. And the bean salad I had brought to work for lunch simply paled in comparison to the mission.
Marc-André was more interested in chicken wings but without a wingman, decided to join us on the poutine discovery adventure.
We arrived around 12:15 – the place was packed and we were worried we would have to eat our poutine outside the joint, in the brisk cold of late June. We waited in line, eyeing the patrons and hoping they’d time their departures with our readiness.
Thankfully, Her Majesty was also in Ottawa today, and we somehow managed to grab a table under Her portrait when our order was ready.
We ate under Her watchful eyes and friendly smile. The place must be owned by the Royal Family, because she looks an awful lot like Smoke.
We scouted the menu, which offers over 20 different options. The line was moving fairly fast, although not as fast as most poutine counters usually do – most likely a combination of the affluence and of the variety of choices – and of the 14 year old staffers in the kitchen.
But we couldn’t really complain – we were orders #72, 73 and 74 of the day after all.
Jesse didn’t feel adventurous and decided to judge Smoke’s poutine with a regular size Traditional ($6.95).
Marc-André, despite his earlier chicken wings craving, took a pass on the four chicken options and went for another classic, the Italian Poutine – but the Deluxe version, with Italian Sausage ($9.95).
I decided to be a little more adventurous – I went all in with the Philly Cheese Steak Poutine ($9.95), with shaved roast beef, peppers, mushrooms, onions and of course, cheese sauce.
First, let’s talk about the fries. Smoke’s is using Yukon Gold potatoes and they are hand-cut to a 7/16″ size, for uniform cooking. They are soaked in water and salt to remove some starch, and then they are blanched. When the orders come in, the fries then go back in the oil, this time on high heat to give them a nice golden colour. They do leave a bit of skin on, but nothing to overdry the spuds. If anything, you may not find them super crunchy – but I’ve seen soggier, so it’s not a real problem. However, if you really do not like sogginess, go with a small poutine as the amount of toppings doesn’t help to keep the french fries crunchy.
Second, let’s talk about the gravy. Dubbed the Signature Rich Gravy, it is obviously made from chicken stock as the primary basis. The gravy was good but very subtle. None of that richness or thickness one looks for in a poutine gravy. It is a very light gravy, which I guess is to allow for multitasking and not offend when mixed with the different toppings. Not unpleasant, but it could use some more seasoning and certainly some beefiness. Also, it wasn’t super hot – which creates a slight problem when encountering the cheese – more on that in a bit.
A quick word on the Italian sauce – it was nice, rich and thick – not something out of a can. But again, it wasn’t warm enough. And Marc-André complained that there wasn’t enough of it – hard to argue once you had a look underneat the first level – none of the fries at the bottom would have had any hint of what was on top.
Third, the cheese curds. Smoke’s is importing it’s cheese from the Eastern Townships, points for that. The flavour was good enough, however, the cheese is kept a little too cold, the curds actually felt cold on the teeth, and combined with the not-overly-hot gravy, melting was limited to the smaller chunks, unfortunately. As for the “squeek-squeek”, it was totally absent, which is an indicator that the cheese is not as fresh as it once was – maybe age, maybe storage. Thankfully, it’s not stone-age.
My Philly Cheese Steak Poutine was interesting. Lots of mushrooms, lots of onions, not so many peppers, but everything sauteed nicely. There was enough beef, thinly sliced and tender. The flavour was correct, though it could have used a little more seasoning, but the texture was great – I didn’t need to be worried about chewiness. When I first saw the amount of cheese sauce they had squirted on my poutine, I was a little worried it wouldn’t be enough. But it turns out I didn’t need to be worried. It really brings the Philly Cheese to the poutine, without overpowering the other ingredients. If only the gravy was a little stronger, it would have been fantastic.
Smoke’s Poutinerie has a bright future in Ottawa. The concept is smart and funny, and the food, although not over the top, is good.
A regular size poutine is lots of food – none of us felt really cheated by the price we had to pay – especially since for the first three days, they were giving away a free Pop Shoppe with any poutine – I had black cherry.
Lots of black boards inside the tiny location, on which The Waffle was able to leave it’s mark.
Profanity will abound soon, though, I have no doubts. But for now, most of the graffiti was positive, which does bode well for Smoke’s adventure in the National Capital Region.
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