Trying the poutine at Montreal Poutine

montreal poutine in carton

fries + cheese curds + gravy = poutine

By Daniel B.

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.)

Comments

As someone that's had poutine in Montreal countless times (not to mention smoked meat, that most delicious of briskets).. I can tell you that just by looking at the picture it's clear those fries are underdone, which you mentioned. The fries for poutine should be something like the consistency of Five Guys' fries - freshly cut, about the same thickness, with that square shape, maybe a bit less crispy and certainly less salty. The ones pictured above are still whitish, nowhere near where they should be to provide the heat (for softening curds) and texture (to stand up to gravy) that would be necessary.

I still intend to try it (never went for it with the summer heat at the track) but I'm apprehensive. If you can't cook the primary ingredient in the dish correctly...

that picture does not make we want to eat poutine...it looks like twigs and slugs.

I didn't even know this place had opened; it's been a while since I actually walked through the food court.

I love poutine and sometimes bootleg a pretty passable version at home. But I'm also apprehensive to try this place just based on the picture. The fries look...sad. Just too pale and limp.

I can't speak much about cheese curds, fresh ones being hard to get in this area, but it saddens me that someone could mess up something as simple as Gravy Fries.

#1 Rule for good Poutine in Montreal: The cheese has to "squeak" when you bite into it.

I have always said an authentic Quebec-style Poutine bar in Albany would be a great idea. To live 3 hours south of an amazing city with its own amazing food and culture and not have any kind of representation of it here in the Capital Region (except for a food court stall) is ridiculous.

@colleen ... I had the same reaction, but I thought it was teeth and twigs!

I knew this place was coming but didn't know it had opened yet. I avoid Crossgates like the plague during Christmas shopping season anyway, and that picture does not inspire me to make an exception. I'm more than willing to wait a month or more in the hopes that they get their act together, and in the meantime, I'll keep on making my homemade version.

Daniel, I'd like to see your thoughts after you guve iit another shot. I had the poutine here last week and my fries were definitely more 'done' than the ones in your photo. The cheese curd was decent, and the larger pieces even had a slight squeak. I'd say the gravy was the weakest part... It seamed 'thin' and there wasn't very much of it. Sounds like they need to become more consistent.

It definitely wasn't Montreal-quality, but it was leaps and bounds better than what I was served at Capital City Gastropub. I had completely melted cheese 'curd' (I have my doubts), and soggy fries there. Very lame.

Yeah, Daniel, I have the same question as Josh K. Does the cheese squeak when bitten through? ?!?

I appreciate the huge sacrifice you made in actually going to Crossgates mall to check this out, but even if they were heaven in a box your sacrifice would have been in vain for me since I don't go to Crossgates. I haven't even been to Penzey's yet, and I really want to go...

Let's talk more about Hot Dog Charlie's coming back (I miss the Latham Circle Mall one, that was the best.)

You should try the Grilled Rare Beef Poutine at the American Hotel in Sharon Springs!

Prime sirloin over homemade french fries with horseradish cheese curd and gravy.

Interesting, but I'm not sure it's for me! That picture does not look appetizing. Also, your caption is missing the 'v' in 'gravy.

Check your spelling. Gray is a color not a substance. Gravy + fries + cheese curds = Poutine.

Hey,

I very coincidentally stopped by today, prior to seeing your review (I googled to try to find out how long they'd been open, voila)...and they were out of both smoked meat and sausages, which prevented me from completing my transaction of purchasing poutines (although I tried the sample). Speaking as a fan of the native version, I'm completely up for having a fast food outlet here, but I am also going to have to give them a pass until they get the kinks worked out.

I also am wondering whether these are going to be that good in the mall location, without a Belgian ale to cut the curd content in the bloodstream...

- Matt

First of all, i would like to specify that i was born and raised in montreal for over 20 years and moved to Albany a few years ago. I can say that i am a poutine expert since the poutine is kind of like our national meal in quebec. Everytime i travel to montreal, i must have a poutine since there WAS no poutine in Albany. I always had a weird idea of maybe someday starting a franchise thinking it would be gold. Poutine in Quebec is kind of like pizza for USA. Everyone makes them differently and each restaurant has its own taste so please dont generalize thinking that poutine is good or bad based on one place. All that to say that i am going to that place to give it a try and hopefully will like it cause i really love Poutine. i know its not healthy but ohhh its sooo good...

Every time I go to Canada (quite often), I binge on poutine, so I was very glad to hear this was coming to Crossgates Mall. My enthusiasm waned a little when I saw the picture and read the previous reviews. This evening I tried them. Sure enough, I'm disappointed. I might order some if I am at the food court looking for a quick little meal, but I will not be going out of my way for it.

I agree with many reviewers: the fries break up under the immense pressure of the flimsy plastic fork; the cheese curds stay cold too long, the gravy is thin and not flavorful enough. Actually, many will disagree with my taste, since I don't prefer the more authentic kind of fries that seem close the original potato, with the peels still on. Rather, I like the kind of seasoned, processed fries that have a crispy, salty exterior (the poutine at Montreal Poutine were not salty enough for me, but the establishment didn't have salt packets; I had to pinch them from the neighboring Chinese counter, risking their considerable mercenary wrath). My favorite poutine in Canada is the kind served up at COSTCO Canada: cheap, crispy/soggy, swimming in thick, rich, MSG-enhanced gravy, and--importantly--abundant and filling. I was not even full after eating the classic poutine, and, to be honest, I didn't feel NEARLY guilty enough. For my tastes, I'd have to recommend the must more satisfying gravy-cheese fries at the Schenectady branch of Bombers Burrito Bar. These would be ideal with mozarella curds (they use cheddar cheese), but they're still cheaper, they taste better, and they're closer to where I live. And I DO feel guilty after a good binge on them.

So does anyone know if there's any affiliation between this place and the Montreal Poutine restaurants in Montreal? My wife and I love going there every time we're up that way.

My research tells me it's two completely different companies, but just wondering if anyone knows for sure. It would be a shame if this place is a knock-off, which, sounding from the many comments here, seems like it very possibly may be.

I can not say much to an "actual" montreal poutine but I can say that I have eaten this twice and the product was amazing... the fries were wonderful, yes they split when you put a fork in them but with gravy that is what happens and what makes it good...I think you should give it another try - this is something new and unique and yes fried food is bad for you but this is WORTH THE CALORIES!!!!

The picture does not do it justice....

Kathy

Tried this the other night...had the Meat Lovers (bacon, smoked sausage and ground beef).

It was AWESOME!!!

looks good to me actually, curds look good and the sauce may be alright if a little watery... I agree with the guy who said the fries looked a little under done, 5 guys is a good reference for how they should be. I had 2 years in Quebec and I feel like an expert. I freaking love poutine. I'll be trying it on my next visit to albany

Well, that didn't last. I'm at the mall now and they've already closed.

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