218 Adelaide St. W
(416) 599-CURD (2873)
Ah poutine… a traditional comfort food right up there with pizza or Mac & Cheese. Now I know what many of you are thinking: a specialty restaurant for a side dish of fries with cheese and gravy on top? Why? Bear with me on this one…
Most people have had poutine at a school cafeteria or local greasy spoon and not really given it a second thought (aside from dealing with the heartburn afterwards). Or perhaps like myself, at some all-night diner after a night of bacchanalian activities — just to round out the bodily abuse. But don’t let the fact that cafeterias and diners across Canada simply put some shredded mozzarella cheese and generic gravy on fries convince you that there’s nothing more to know about poutine.
Having grown up in western Canada, I have to admit that I’m hardly an expert on the finer points of this Québécois-native comfort food. In fact, I don’t think I had even tried it until I was in university. However, having made a number of road trips to Mont Tremblant and Montréal over the years ever since moving to Toronto, I’ve definitely put away some fine plates of poutine. And while I wouldn’t say I’m a full-fledged poutine aficionado, I can definitely differentiate an authentic plate from the standard diner fare.
Unfortunately, outside of the province of Quebec, it seems hard to find restaurants with the same sense of tradition and dedication to the dish. So I was pretty excited to hear about the grand opening of Smoke’s Poutinerie here in Toronto, and their plan to import real cheddar cheese curds from Quebec for their poutine. Not surprisingly of course, their first choice of location was in the heart of the club district.
Located directly above Burrito Boyz (another fine comfort food establishment) on Adelaide, it’s a fairly unassuming location. The interior could be mistaken for any fast food chain aside from the chalkboard for the post-club crowd to add their wisdom and insight to (“I love you Stephen Harper” was the word from the street when I went) and Smoke’s distinctive logo/face plastered on the walls in a kind of punk-rock caricature way. It was also not-so-subtly guerrilla-branded around town in preparation for the grand opening.
It’s a pretty small place designed for people who want grab a quick bite on the go. Bar stools line the windowed areas, and a few small tables in the remaining space. I’d say the location seats about 40 people max, but I’d imagine that most customers take their poutine to eat on the go.
But let’s get to the heart of the matter — the poutine. Now Smoke’s has a number of interesting takes on the dish: Bacon Poutine, Curry Chicken Poutine, Nacho Grande Poutine. However, I felt that for my first visit, the traditional style would be the best way to judge the quality and authenticity of Smoke’s.
So there it is in all it’s greaseful glory. For $5.95, you get a serving which should be hefty enough to soak up the last couple of drinks you shouldn’t have had, or to satisfy the munchies. I wouldn’t plan on needing anything else to eat afterwards, so it’s definitely good value for those on a budget (and eating healthy is secondary).
The verdict? The cheese curds were perfect — fresh, squeaky when you bite into them, mild flavored (unlike the orange cheddar which is used on many poutines around Toronto) so that they combine well with the gravy. The fries were also superb — made in house fresh daily using Yukon Gold potatoes and double blanched in sunflower oil. The size of the fries was just right for me. Slightly larger than McDonalds’ fries so that they can hold up to the gravy, but not so large that you end up with a bland potato center.
The one downside was the gravy. While it was good, it seemed to be lacking in flavor slightly and tended to disappear in the dish. I’ve discussed this with others and we can’t quite put our finger on what exactly it’s missing. Seasoning? Or perhaps it hadn’t been reduced enough (like it didn’t have enough time to stew)? Regardless, it didn’t seem to measure up to some of the other poutine gravies I’ve had. My wife also said that it had a bit too much cinnamon flavor for her.
Nitpicking aside, I can say that it’s the best poutine I’ve had outside of Quebec. I’m not sure how big a compliment that is given that I really haven’t found many restaurants around Toronto (or otherwise) in which it’s more than a sidenote. However, it certainly fares well even among the ones I’ve had in Quebec.
So if you have a craving for the real deal, want to find out what all the fuss is about, or are just looking for the comfort of three types of grease in one meal, Smoke’s should live up to expectations.