It's Poutine Week here at Plaidspin! Plaidspin is the name of the Kinja sub-site you're on right now, apparently.
It's also kind of a fucked-up day in Canada, so eat some poutine, or else the bad guys win.
- Part 1: A Day at the World Poutine Eating Championship
- Part 2: Poutine: A People's History
- Part 3: Fast Food Poutines, Ranked
Sadly, it's the end of Poutine Week here at Plaidspin. I thought part 2 was pretty good. Part 3 is mostly gonna be hot takes about hot take-out.
At nearly every major fast food chain in Canada, you can now poutine your fries. Poutine, as a verb, means "to add gravy and cheese curds to." I've seen restaurants poutining their perogies, I've seen gnocchi poutined. Poutining is getting out of hand in this country.
But if you're at some mall food court chain, and the cashier asks if you'd like to poutine your side of fries for $2? Let's be honest, you're probably gonna fake-hesitate for a second and then go "HmmmMYEAH, alright, let's poutine that shit."
Not all fast food poutines are made equal, though: some are downright edible, some are steaming plastic cups of la merde.
Let's rank 'em.
(Also, let's be clear that any ol' fast-food-chain poutine is shittier than the version you'd eat at a real restaurant. As a preemptive strike against Authentic Poutine Hot Takes Guy: yes, that little hole-in-the-wall you love in old Montreal where they use truffle oil frites and imported buffalo curds is better than Burger King. I get it. But sometimes you just get stuck eating at a fast food chain, because you're a disgusting pile of shit, and it's a Tuesday afternoon, and you're walking past a Burger King, and fuck it - next thing you know you're eating Burger King Poutine, because our lives are sad, lazy shams.)
Anyways, here are the 100% verified true rankings.
And yes, I actually ate all of this shit, and lived.
1. New York Fries
The winner, and still champion, New York Fries. The O.G. of fast food poutine, the Notorious B.I.G. of the gravy game.
A few things to note about New York Fries:
- A lot of Canadians, understandably, think that New York Fries is a New York-based chain. It's not. With no locations in the States, New York Fries is as Canadian as passive-aggressive-apologizing. Just another entry in the bizarre string of Canadian restaurant chains that have named themselves after U.S. geography, like Boston Pizza, or Montana's Steakhouse, or New Orleans Pizza. Also worth noting on that front: it's not like New York is especially known for their fries, or Boston is especially known for their pizza. This is great news for the new Canadian chain restaurant I just invested in: Kansas Sushi.
- New York Fries is a staple in mall food courts across Canada, where their menu is almost entirely made up of fries with different toppings. They've got around 200 locations, most of which are in Canadian malls, but a few dozen of which are in China and the Middle East, including Iraq of all places. Kurds eating curds! And they said that Canada would never go to Iraq.
- Fries: This is why NYF is on top. Well-done, skin-on, well-salted, all-around good fries that stand up on their own merits. Ask any structural engineer: without strong fries to sustain the gravy, poutine collapses. If fries were the building materials used by the Three Little Pigs, these fries would be the brick house, and McDonald's fries would be the straw used by the really stupid pig.
- Gravy: Dark, rich, thick - this is solid poutine gravy, and they pour it on in a big, warm dollop.
- Curds: Too many fast food joints give you crumbly, half-assed little bits of melted cheesy nothingness, to the point where you'd might as well dice a Cheesestring and let it be overwhelmed in gravy hell. Not here, though: you get big golf ball-sized curd chunks that hold up on their own to the gravy's scrutiny.
No contest, first-round KO, New York Fries keeps the belt.
Canadian chain Harvey's is a worthy silver medalist. The second-largest Canadian fast food chain (or the largest, if you're willing to take away Tim Horton's citizenship after getting annexed by the King), Harvey's has been doing this poutine shit for a long time, well before their American competitors entered the game.
The fries are perfectly fine if a little bland, and the gravy, while nice and peppery, isn't nearly as thick or rich as New York Fries gravy. But the curds are thrown on generously, and melt nicely into an altogether pleasant squishy treat.
Harvey's: still the only burger joint where you can take a Prime Minister.
Smoke's is... well...
Here's the thing, I always think I like Smoke's. I see a Smoke's Poutinerie when I'm drunk, and I think, hey, Smoke's! I LOVE them! And I wait in a line with all the other shitfaced idiots, and I get some extravagant poutine topped with bacon and chicken and sriracha sauce, and I'm mildly disappointed every, single, time.
But then I see a Smoke's again, and I go back! I can't explain it. It's like asking a smoker why they smoke. They'll admit it's not rational or healthy, but it's just what they do, and they can't stop. And Smoke's, just like a bad smoking habit, is also stupid-expensive considering you're just paying money to turn your fingers brown and slowly kill yourself.
Smoke's sells poutine and only poutine, with about a dozen different variations (plus seasonal varieties - they just had a Thanksgiving Poutine covered in turkey, peas and cranberry sauce.) They've grown like crazy in the past few years, opening in Toronto in 2008 and eventually expanding from coast-to-coast, mostly making their beachheads in college towns and growing from there. (And south of the border, somewhat ambitiously.)
Along the way they've sponsored a poutine-eating contest and built a minor cult of personality, with their ubiquitous mix of red-and-black lumberjack branding and Smoke's stickers littering every flat surface in major Canadian cities.
And their poutine is... good enough. It's just that, if you're going to focus on poutine and only poutine, it should be better than this. The fries are a bit on the bland side, the gravy's nothing to call home about, and by the time you're halfway through the box it's just become a lukewarm, congealed mess. The average Canadian university student could feed a village with the amount of half-full Smoke's boxes they throw away after they drunkenly ordered a box and decided they couldn't finish it.
Still, when you stumble out of the bar and you're convinced that you'll die if you don't get something solid in your stomach, Smoke's is a godsend. A word to the wise, though: it's just as solid coming out of your stomach.
4. Burger King
Burger King poutine is surprisingly alright! I was a little drunk when I tried it, but I found that Burger King's naturally crispier fries held up well, and the gravy had a nicely-seasoned taste.
It's nothing to brag about, but it's the best stab at poutine that an American fast food chain has made.
Fuck this "Angry Poutine" shit, though.
KFC is another place that has surprisingly edible poutine.
It's not beef gravy, so some poutine purist is probably sticking their nose up at it (well, it's also from fucking KFC, so the purist's nose is already way up) but their stock chicken gravy is a dependable substitute. It's got a bit of a peppery zip, and although KFC fries are a bit like matchsticks made from congealed canola oil, the curds have room to speak for themselves. Overall, like everything at KFC, it's fine but not life-changing.
Here's an odd KFC fact that's tangentially related to poutine: because of Quebec's incredibly strict language laws prohibiting stores from having English signage, KFC in Quebec is known under the initials PFK, for poulet frit Kentucky. It's the only place in the world - including in countries where they don't even use the Latin alphabet - where they doesn't operate under the business name "KFC". Just thought you could use some Canadian trivia before we move onto the dregs of the list.
I like A&W. I'll go to bat for their Teen Burgers. Their onion rings are way goddamn better than they have any right to be from a fast food chain.
And yet, the poutine? It's just not all there. It should be good - A&W has decent fries to use as a base - but it's just a sloppy mess. The fries are limp, the curds offer nothing, the gravy's thin and tasteless. If I'm going to die of a heart attack from eating this many calories, I at least want it to taste like something.
Wendy's poutine is la merde.
Don't fool us with your fucking petition to make poutine the national dish, you Yankee carpetbaggers. You wouldn't know real poutine if it hit you in your square patties.
Putting your garbage pulled pork on it can't help, either.
Even that redhead from the ads couldn't bully me into eating from this plastic bowl of warmed-over blandness where fries go to die.
8. Getting hit by a chip truck
Hell no. Hell fucking no.
You're in over your head, Ronald. Your fries weren't cut out for this. You make limp-dick fries made from rectangles of instant mashed potato mix dipped in half the world's salt reserves. When introduced to your oddly red-coloured, weirdly-spiced gravy-type food-sauce, they turn to deep fried horseshit. Your little crumbly bits of white cheese can't help this.
You know what really can't help this? Putting a McChicken patty on top and slathering it in Buffalo sauce. That looks like a goddamn travesty.
Shame on you Ronald. Look what you've done. You've ruined poutine forever.