Whether you’re feeling peckish on a warm autumn afternoon, or searching for a savoury snack while stumbling home from the Spill, there’s one dish that is sure to satisfy your cravings: the great Canadian comfort food, poutine.
This heavenly polygamous marriage of potato, gravy, and curd is plentiful here in the Peter-patch—perhaps too plentiful. With so many options to choose from, deciding where to go for your poutine fix can be a challenge. To make matters worse, people ‘round these parts have very strong loyalties to their preferred poutine purveyor. Tweeting for recommendations is a social media war waiting to happen. There are many excellent poutines to be found in Peterborough, and little consensus on which is the best. I decided it was my civic duty to provide Peterborians with an answer.
The Peterborough Poutine Posse
To determine Peterborough’s top poutine, I assembled a crack team of comfort-food connoisseurs to conduct a tasting of the best takeout poutine offerings in the city.
Sarah Bea: I consider myself an authority on the subject of poutine. I grew up feasting on the francophone treat with Grandma Bea and Mémère in Penetanguishene, who are so French they pronounce it “poo-tin.” Everything I know about good chip-truck fries, gravy, and squeaky-fresh curds, I learned from them.
Bryan McKellar: The first to join my team of judges, Bryan has a heart of gold and a high-class palate to match. Ever tried pierogies made from scratch with homemade cheese? I have—he made them.
Melanie Jacobs and Rob Hailman: Melanie is a flâneuse and tastemaker, chronicling her impressive culinary adventures on her blog (melanisms.wordpress.com). Rob is her tastemaker’s tester and occasional collaborator. You may recognize Rob as a Peterborough ‘man about town.’ His specialties are homemade sausages and grimy synth covers of union songs.
Abner and Danica Jarvis: Representing the under-10 youth vote was Abner Jarvis. Abner was the most passionate of the judges, giving the highest and the lowest scores. He was assisted by his lovely mother, Danica, who provided the group with her own poutine insight, as well as a calm demeanour to keep our gravy train on track.
Peterborough presents plenty of poutine possibilities (last string of alliteration, I promise). We received a number of recommendations from the community. In order to limit the scope of our assessment, poutine dishes had to meet the following criteria:
- A classic recipe, limited to fries, gravy, and cheese curds; dishes featuring cubed or shredded cheese were disqualified;
- A convenient option for takeout, including in the evenings; and
- Peterborough-based restaurants only (i.e. no chains).
We found that a surprising number of restaurants in town don’t use curds or were only available during the week until mid-afternoon. After applying the criteria, we were left with the following options: Apollo Grill, the Cabin, Reggie’s Hot Grill, the Brick House, and of course, the Whistle Stop Café. We did not disclose our plans to the restaurants in fear of contaminating the results.
The team assembled under the kind auspices of the Spill (414 George Street N) for tasting. The list of prime poutine places was divided and each judge brought one dish to our meeting, kept warm in thermal bags. The dishes were presented and divided one after the other, and devoured with careful consideration.
Each poutine was given a score for fries, cheese, and gravy. We also assessed the value (size versus cost) as well as the overall impression of the poutine. As we rolled the gravy-smothered mouthfuls around our palates, like some sort of spuds sommeliers, we discussed qualities such as taste, mouthfeel, structure, distribution of gravy, gooeyness of the curd, and of course, texture of the fries. We did not compare our scores, but we did share our general impressions.
While all of the offerings were delicious, we found that some definitely provided a more satisfying poutine experience.
Here are the findings, ranked from lowest to highest score:
5. Apollo Grill
Make no mistake—the Apollo Grill has good poutine, but it was the lesser of the offerings. We found their fries tasty, and the dish came in a good-quality container. They make the effort to layer the gravy to ensure adequate distribution; however, this was the poutine’s downfall, as the soft thin fries just could not hold up to the heavy gravy and cheese.
4. The Cabin
This was the only poutine featuring thick-cut fries. Although we found issue with the tray the poutine came in, it held a lot—and at $6.50 for a “big” size, it’s a good deal. The problem? In the words of Melanie, this poutine suffered from “uneven curd.” As well, this was our least favourite gravy.
3. The Whistle Stop Café
Oh, Whistle Stop, you are undeniably number one for versatility! The judges all agreed that the gravy was yummy, but there was just too much of it, leaving the fries unpleasantly soggy.
2. Reggie’s Hot Grill
Our runner-up poutine was a scrumptious delight of savoury gravy, ample melted cheese, and crisp yet tender fries. Reggie’s received the highest score for value—the large size is enough to feed a hungry family. What kept this poutine from the top slot in our list was an issue of seasoning: there was just too much salt used throughout, overpowering the otherwise nuanced flavours.
1. The Brick House
Taking the top slot of our list is the youngest contender, the Brick House. This poutine presented the best balance of flavours and textures. It was the only poutine to contain crisp fries (although we all felt thicker would have been better). The cheese was melted nicely, and the overall portion was generous. It was a fantastic option for the price.
We left the Spill with our stomachs full of poutine, and our hearts full of pride, knowing we had done our part to assist the community. So, when next you are feeling peckish on a warm autumn afternoon, or searching for a savoury snack while stumbling home from the Spill, remember our little experiment. The Peterborough Poutine Posse—painstakingly protecting people from poor provisions for a perfectly pleasant poutine present.
Author’s Note: Shortly after submitting this article, my Mémère suffered a stroke and passed away. I’m sure she would have been pleased to see her tutelage put to such good use.
In memory of Celina Mary Bechard, December 22, 1916 – August 13, 2017.
Photos by Sarah Bea.