Bite of Montreal in Vancouver: Poutine and Bagels


In a city known for its international cuisine, including my personal favorites of Japanese izakaya and ramen and Chinese restaurants in nearby Richmond worthy of Hong Kong, I’ve come across really tasty examples of not local (i.e., Northwest) food but grub transplanted from Montreal.

No doubt you’ve heard of poutine, the Québécois fast-food combination of French fries, cheese curds and gravy. At first, the thought of it wasn’t all that appealing to me, but then I realized that Yanks drench their fries in ketchup, chili or even melted cheese, so the concept of smothering fried potatoes with sauce is not just a Canadian thing. Over a year ago, I had very good poutine at Fritz European Fry House in Vancouver, judged mainly on its gravy, a deeply satisfying, savory bombshell. There were a few hiccups.  Starting off very crispy, the fries softened under all that hot gravy and the cheese curds melted and became stringy.

Poutine at Fritz's European Fry House

Poutine at Fritz’s European Fry House

While in town again, I was looking at a Vancity internet map last month when I noticed another poutinerie (that also sells hot dogs) only blocks from our hotel. Mean Poutine is only a counter operation on Nelson near Granville. There is nowhere to sit though you can stand and eat at the counter. My wife got a single order for takeaway and brought it back to our room. I didn’t see any visible gravy, though the fries were clearly wet. I thought it odd that it seemed to have disappeared, more like dissolved into the potatoes. The fries were cut thinner than Fritz’s but they were superior, having a double-fried texture and a very thin batter that gave them an appealing crunchiness. The curds also kept their shape. An interesting twist, one which I liked, was the addition of sliced green onions.

Mean Poutine

Mean Poutine

Many Canadians eat these snacks late at night, which explains why Fritz is open until 2am-4am, depending on day of the week, and Mean Poutine until 4am. This is not a good idea if you’re trying to keep the poundage off.

Great bagels on the West Coast are hard to find. The ones here tend to be softer than their East Coast counterparts, verging on being bread-like. I’ve heard East Coasters complain about western bagels. In college in L.A., I had a Jewish buddy from New Jersey who more than once made the same claim. And so did Joel Siegel when he moved from Montreal to Vancouver. He decided to open Siegel’s Bagels in 1990. He incorporated his vast experience that he accumulated while working at a Montreal bagel shop. The bagels would be boiled in a kettle, baked on shivas in a 25-ton wood-burning stone-hearth oven. At the original Kitsilano location and the newer one on Granville Island, you can watch them being made.

Siegel’s bagels are seriously good. The bagel can by itself be an object of meditation: what the perfect one should be like. They have the requisite crispy exterior, a chewy inside and modest size that make almost all bagels I’ve had before pale in comparison. Lack of added salt also makes Montreal bagels taste sweet. For me, they find their greatest expression in the form of Siegel’s signature Montreal smoked meat sandwich on a sesame bagel. Siegel’s has not only transplanted the quintessential Montreal-style bagel to Vancouver, it also imports (weekly) smoked brisket from Montreal, which is then thinly sliced and heated in-house in portion steamers. All that’s needed is a slathering of plain yellow mustard to complete a whole that is greater than its parts, at once chewy, crispy, nutty, salty, sweet, tart and savory in perfect balance. The whole thing yields to nearly effortless bites, never a jaw-tiring or sandwich-deforming exercise that denser bread would produce.

Siegel's smoked meat bagel sandwich

Siegel’s smoked meat bagel sandwich is a masterpiece

Vancouver is lucky to have a taste of Montreal in its own backyard, and so am I with only a three-hour drive away.

Fritz European Fry House
718 Davie St
Vancouver, BC
(604) 684-0811

Mean Poutine
718 Nelson St
Vancouver, BC
(604) 568-4351

Siegel’s Bagels (Granville Island Public Market)
1689 Johnston St #22
Vancouver, BC
(604) 685-5670

Siegel’s Bagels (Kitsilano)
1883 Cornwall Avenue
Vancouver, BC
(604) 737-8151

What Did You Poutine My Fries?—Fritz European Fry House (Vancouver, B.C.)


My first introduction to poutine was Zog’s Dogs in Whistler Village, up in the mountains of British Columbia. Maybe it was the rarefied air but I began to wonder what Canadians saw in this, their quintessential snack, which according to many Canadians finds its greatest expression in Montreal. Gravy and cheese curds piled on top of fries. Putting wet stuff on fries is certainly not confined to Canucks; after all, we Yanks like to smother ’em with chili. And how about ketchup?

Let’s face it, people like to smother their carbs with sauce. To be fair, the poutine at Zog’s was ordered as a topping for a hot dog, which right away presented the problem of how to pick it up and eat it. Messy. Fork and knife were enlisted. But, the gravy was insipid, uninspired, blah. I wondered if the situation could be brightened with a more flavorful gravy.

Fritz European Fry House purportedly makes the best poutine in Vancouver. My wife and I decided that we should give it another go. We ordered it plain, meaning that we chose not to pile on any of the optional toppings at extra cost (bacon, pulled pork, chicken, smoked meat). The poutine had to be evaluated in its most basic form. We were not disappointed (☆☆☆½). Even if we had to sit on one of three benches flush against the walls (there are no sit-down tables) and scoop the fries, dripping with gravy and long, melted strands of cheese, into our mouths from a shared cup, we realized this was the real deal, a gravy worth every bite, one that likewise would make any biscuit ladled with it an instant classic. Fries? Crispy at first, but got soggy under the gravy.

fritz

Some poutine zealots claim that the cheese curds should squeak as you bite into them, in my mind more of a sensory attribute than taste advantage. We got none of that. The cheese simply melted and became stringy that needed a deft twirling of the fork to keep under control. Mozzarella? It didn’t matter to us if the cheese made any sounds or not.

Would we get poutine again? Yes, we would. Fritz has appeared on many lists as Vancouver’s best late night snack (it’s open until anywhere from 2:30 to 4am, depending on the day of the week). At my age, that’s not going to happen. But, you know, if I were a lot younger …

Fritz European Fry House
718 Davie St
Vancouver BC
604.684.0811

Poutine Dog at Zog’s (Whistler, BC)


Poutine is a dish that got its start in Quebec and has become quite popular and widespread throughout the rest of the country. French fries are topped with a brown gravy and cheese curds. Ever curious, I had a substitute—a poutine dog at Zog’s, a hot dog with gravy and curds. With fries, you can at least dip them in the gravy and maybe spear a curd or two, before putting them in your mouth. With a dog, there’s a challenge since you have to put your mouth to the bun and bite, but with all that gravy slipping through my fingers, I resorted to fork and knife. Personally, the combination of gravy and curds do nothing for me. Canadians love the stuff. Maybe if the gravy were tastier, it would be a little different.

Poutine dog at Zog’s (Whistler Village)

Zog’s
4340 Sundial Crescent
Whistler, BC V0N 1B4
Canada
604.938.6644