Please note: Potato Potato announced Tuesday that it will next appear at MeadowGrass, May 23-25. --
Everything I know about poutine, I learned on the interwebs. There's the 2007 New York Times article, titled "A Staple From Quebec, Embarrassing but Adored." There's Calvin Trillin's 2009 piece in The New Yorker that begins, "As a punch line, poutine has a lot going for it." And there's the website bigpoutine.com, "created to allow poutine fans around the globe to enjoy their favorite dish at reasonable prices, anywhere!"
But my favorite reference has to be the time 2000 presidential candidate George W. Bush was asked by a Canadian comedian how he felt about the endorsement of imaginary prime minister Jean Poutine. "I'm honored," Bush responded, "thank you."
My favorite reference until now, that is.
Potato Potato — the second one pronounced po-TAH-to, and which is not to be confused with Canadian restaurant Patati Patata, which montrealpoutine.com says is using spuds that "have that dank musk of a well-thought out potato" — kicks out a bitingly delicious poutine ($7.50) from the mobile unit towed behind a Dodge Ram Van. And I daresay its fat, hand-cut Russet Burbanks are as well thought-out as anybody's.
I can't speak to the dish's authenticity, but the dark-brown gravy is deep and rich. You can almost taste the time put into the sauce, which starts with a beef stock made with roasted bones from Ranch Foods Direct. It's comforting in a specific way and ripe from added balsamic vinegar; the fresh cheese curds from Cozy Cow Dairy in Windsor offer creamy balance.
But owner Kevin Johnson — who, disclaimer, knows me well enough to ask with horror, "Is this an official visit?" as soon as I showed up — and his chef Aaron Retka, formerly of Conscious Table, aren't limiting themselves to just the late-night staple. A ballsy rotating menu might have potato-dumpling knödel with a mushroom velouté one week, and duck-breast fries with a spicy grapefruit demi-glace the next.
One visit yielded the Beef Supreme ($12), where smoked beef shoulder was shaved in front of me over potato slices fried in beef tallow. The most amazing part was the included double-consommé popsicle, rounded out with honey, cayenne and paprika. It was literally meat candy, and I wanted more. A basket of hand-battered fried-chicken strips ($10) with a green-chile maple syrup was almost as exciting.
Non-meat-eaters can eat well with dishes like the incredible — and I mean that this was the best effing sweet potato that's ever existed — vegan Cambodian Lemongrass Sweet Potato Curry Boat ($7). It was like a twice-baked potato from Buddha: Creamy before exotic heat sweeps across your tongue, followed by coconut sweetness and fresh parsley.
It came on the same day as the Cordon bleu poutine ($8.50), made with a smoky béchamel, Swiss cheese and chunks of grilled chicken and ham. If you didn't like that, and you'd be insane not to, a simple cone of twice-fried Belgian-style fries ($4) with one of four house aiolis is pure heaven. I recommend the ghost-chili curry — it's like a better honey mustard plus, you know, heat.
The soggy smoked-asparagus gnocchi ($10) was the only disappointment, with a texture like it had been sitting in soup all day; Johnson had expressed reservations about the dough before I even ordered. But everything else was pure pimposity, ranging from exciting and interesting to comforting and coma-inducing.
It just makes me wish Jean Poutine was a real politician — dude's got my vote.