I’d heard about it on social media in past years, but it was only this year that it was really big on my radar. It had piqued my interest in the past, but I always thought that it sounded just a little too crazy. I mean, eating poutine all day? That’s just a recipe for disaster and an extremely bad case of indigestion, isn’t it? But then I came to my senses and remember how much I love poutine, and how much I love being a part of cool food events going on in our city, and decided that I had to buy tickets. I was one of the lucky 60-some that scored a spot on the crawl (it sold out in ten seconds!!) and brought my fellow foodie friend Alanna along for the gravy-filled ride.
We started our day at Wurst, one of my favourite places for a some late night table dancing and giant beer drinking. I did grab a Stanley Park Pilsner, but only a pint, as I needed to save room in my stomach for all the carbs that I would inevitably consume. Wurst’s poutine had peas, duck confit, a speck sauce, and a little truffle oil to go along with the traditional fries and cheese curds. This one was one of my favourites. The fries were well cooked – crispy, but not overly so, the cheese curds were salty and squeaky, and the truffle oil added that little depth of flavour to put it over the top. I appreciated the small portion size they presented us with as pacing was definitely key on this day.
After we had all gobbled up our first course, we hopped on two busses, complete with stripper poles and a sweet sound system, and headed over to National, where Anju‘s Roy Oh was serving his Korean-inspired poutine. Being a lover of all things Korean, and especially all things Anju, this was the stop I was the most excited for. Roy brought us chewy rice cakes, which acted as the fries, with cheese curds, gochujang gravy, lardons, and a little bit of cucumber to add freshness. This was by far the least traditional of all of the poutines, and it may have been that creativity that made me love it so much. Well… it also might have been the gochujang – any dishes that incorporates my favourite condiment of the moment gets full marks from me. As much as I love eating Roy’s food, it always makes me a little sad, too, because I don’t know when I’ll get to have it next. I am chomping at the bit for the opening of Anju 2.0!
Our next stop was Naina’s Kitchen. I was excited to visit this unassuming strip-mall spot, as I had heard about their amazing stuffed burgers (which I still want to go back and try!). They presented us with a caramelized onion and meatball poutine, with a sweeter gravy that had hints of maple syrup. Although the meatballs were yummy and the gravy was unique, this was probably my least favourite poutine of the day, mostly because the fries were undercooked. The portion was also huge, and while I appreciated their generosity, it took up a bit more room in my stomach than I would have liked.
We’d reached the halfway mark, and I was definitely starting to feel a little bit weighed down by the gravy-soaked portions we’d had so far. But we were in it for the long haul, so onward we went! Our next destination was The Libertine, a Steven Avenue pub, where we were greeted with cute little boxes of fried chicken poutine with pork belly and coleslaw. There was no shortage of pork among the various offerings, but this pork belly stood above and beyond them all – it was out of this world delicious! I appreciated the freshness that the coleslaw added, but I felt like the big piece of fried chicken was unnecessary and a bit out of place. It had gotten a bit soggy from sitting on top of the poutine and the two just didn’t seem to marry well together, in my mind. The pork belly more than made up for this, though, and I did enjoy the poutine as a whole.
At this point I was so full that I suggested that we walk the three blocks to downtownfood just so that we could get a bit of exercise and fresh air to counteract the heaviness of everything we had eaten. It wasn’t much of a jaunt, but it was still nice to get the blood flowing a little bit before round five. downtownfood was the 2013 Poutine Crawl winner, and they delivered again this time around. They started us off with an amazing lemon sorbetto that was meant to serve as a palate cleanser “to get rid of the taste of all of the gross poutines you’ve eaten” according to the chef. As weird as it is to say this after an event that was supposed to be all about the fries and gravy, this sorbetto may have been my favourite thing I ate all day. The flavour was perfectly tart, and the texture was silky smooth. downtownfood certainly scored some points with me for that extra little touch. It was soon time for the main event, though. The servers uncovered bowls of steaming hot fries right at our table, and we dug into housemade cheese curds, duck confit gravy, smoked mushrooms, and, of course, bacon. The gravy had amazing depth of flavour, my only complaint was that it was a little too thin, or perhaps there was a little too much of it, almost turning the dish into poutine soup. I quickly forgot about that tiny shortcoming, though, when they brought out macarons that were made to look like mini burgers. They were so adorable I could barely eat them, and they were delicious too!
Finally it was time for our last stop, and a reprieve from my crying stomach. Don’t get me wrong, I loved every bite I took, but I was ready to lay off the potatoes for a while. We got off the bus at Kensington’s Oak Tree Tavern, a pub that always has a fun atmosphere and a great craft brew selection. We were greeted with a free beer courtesy of Wild Rose, a pretty good welcome, if you ask me. Oak Tree’s poutine was a vegetarian offering featuring a delectable sage gravy. I wasn’t too upset to have a break from bacon, but the cheese curds were a bit lacking – they were too small and missing their characteristic squeaky chew.
When all was said and done, downtownfood took the Calgary Poutine Crawl title as voted on by all of the participants. Anju was my pick, but dtf’s was my favourite of the more traditional poutines, so I certainly wasn’t upset about that choice (the lemon sorbetto didn’t hurt either). To be honest, there’s no way I could have been upset about the choice of winner after such a delicious day. Thanks to Karen Richards for organizing such a fun event! I’ll have my speedy mouse finger at the ready next year in hopes of getting a spot for a second time around.