A new eatery recently opened up in the Crossgates mall food court: Montreal Poutine. It's in the space formerly occupied by the Hana Express.
The choices available at this particular food court have been uninspired, and I still mourn the loss of exceptions such as Full-Mi-Belly and Hot Dog Charlie's. Say what you will about mini hot dogs with meat sauce, they are one of our few regional specialties.
Anyway, when a new and shiny establishment pops up on the scene, especially one that offers this much beloved French-Canadian specialty that's surprisingly hard to find in these parts, I was compelled to give it a try.
So how did they do?
It needs work.
I don't claim to be an expert on poutine, having only eaten it in Montreal once. But I do have a solid understanding of the form. It's a simple combination of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy.
The magic is in the cheese curds and the commingling of textures. When tossed with hot crispy fries taken fresh from the oil, the curds don't melt but rather they soften and yield. They tentatively embrace the fry, but remain their own unique presence on the plate. It's the gravy that really brings them together. These are three legs of a stool. If one is weak, the whole dish collapses.
On my visit this week, the problem was the fries. The potato would simply split wherever a fork was inserted. This speaks to an undercooked fry, which would also help to explain why the cheese curds remained quite cold despite being slathered in gravy.
Granted, smaller pieces of cheese curd were rendered warm and coalesced under the blanket of gravy and fries. And a few of the larger pieces at the bottom of the carton eventually got with the program.
But it's not a very big carton. Not that I need a ton of these things. But after tax an order of these babies comes to $6.15 and it's not a size that's really suitable for sharing. I don't know if this price tag is based on the owner's experience of running the precursor to this stand at the Saratoga Race Course this past season (the stands are being franchised), or if it comes from what the market will bear for poutine in Montreal. But Crossgates is neither Montreal nor the Track. And these aren't quite good enough yet to justify their hefty premium.
I want this place to do well, because I love fries like crazy. Chuck Miller seemed to have had a good experience there previously, so perhaps I caught them on an off day or when they were training a new guy to man the fryer. And the counter also serves Montreal-style smoked meat on a premium priced variation of poutine and in other dishes. I haven't had that since my visit to Schwartz's.
My bottom line is that I will give them a few weeks to work out the kinks and try them again come January.
Fried food is terrible for you. If you are going to eat it, it should be magnificent and worth every bite.
Daniel B. is the proprietor of the FUSSYlittleBLOG.
Earlier on AOA: Ask AOA: Where to find poutine? (Includes a lot of discussion about what makes good poutine.)
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