On Sunday, February 15, Poutine Fest kicked off its third installment at Haymarket Pub And Brewery in Chicago, and The A.V. Club was there—that is to say, I was there—to weigh in on all 10 variations of Canada’s late-night fast food favorite. Sponsored by Famous Idaho Potatoes, the event is hosted by Rebecca Skoch—also of the delectable Donut Fest—and Molly O’Sullivan, and each year the proceeds help raise money for a cause of their choice. Though the official judges awarded Bar Takito the King Of Poutine honor, as a native of northern Minnesconsin, I have a few thoughts of my own on the fry, cheese, and gravy-based treats.
A burger bar known for unusual, gut-filling menu items–they even have a traditional and tasty Montreal poutine on the menu year-round—The Bad Apple unfortunately loaded up its entry with too much braised short rib, which obscured the spicy flavor of the much-touted yet impossible to find jalapeños. Regardless, The Bad Apple is a good place to stop in Chicago if you want a burger and a beer.
The Gage won Poutine Fest in 2013 and 2014 with its House Poutine of cider-braised pork shoulder, pickled red onion, Wisconsin cheese curds, jalapeños, and roasted pork gravy. But when the reigning champ abstained from this year’s competition, it opened the floor for a new King Of Poutine, which Bar Takito won. The judges made a solid choice. The chorizo gravy, smoked cheese, crispy rice, cilantro, and pickled sweet potato gave Takito’s dish an enjoyable variety of flavors.
This was probably the closest to a classic poutine—the basic recipe, perfected with just a dash of pickled green tomatoes added for flair. As the first stop on my own tour, Bite Cafe set a solid bar for the ensuing poutines. It was also light enough to leave me feeling ready for nine more poutines.
The Brixton made a satisfying dish, one that is served at the restaurant as well, but I did miss the biscuits-and-gravy Brixton poutine from 2014, a memorable mix of sausage gravy, tiny biscuits, chicken skin, and hot sauce.
The judges awarded Frontier’s Crabby Piggy Poutine third place, and that’s the right spot for this poutine made of wild boar shank and crab cheese sauce, topped with shredded cheese. The Crabby Piggy variety won “crowd favorite” honors, too.
The host of Poutine Fest did a bang-up job with its entry, helped by one especially inspired ingredient: dried cherries. The fruit created a nice break in a day full of heavy carbs, and it was a welcome surprise to find the cherries nestled among garlic lamb sausage, applewood-smoked ham hock gravy, and serrano giardiniera.
Though the poutine from this Brazilian restaurant was the day’s least traditional dish, it was by far my favorite. La Sirena Clandestina’s entry was a lighter offering that showcased black beans, mustard, and cilantro, all topped off by a single pepper slice. A perfect combination.
Le Bouchon went with oxtail and paired it with béchamel and a sparse sprinkling of shredded cheddar and diced green onion over crispy fries. The result? It was scrumptious and one of the better poutines at the fest.
This was another favorite, with some cured foie gras (controversial, I know), crispy pork belly, blue-veined Gouda cheese, a pork demi-glace, and a few refreshing apple slices. Revolution also provided some Civil Unrest (IPA), which was hoppy with a sweet undertone and much appreciated—poutine makes you really thirsty.
Although The Rocking Horse is known for its tater tots, this pub in the Logan Square neighborhood defied expectations with a tot-free recipe. The bold choice paid off: Rocking Horse took second place from the judges for a poutine made with “braised beef, cheddar sauce, cheese curds, pickled onion, jalapeño, and friendship.”