The great Toronto poutine challenge: the smoked meat poutine
The first thing that should be known about a Caplansky's Delicatessen smoked meat poutine, is that it foregoes gravy in the traditional sense.
I know, I know. How dare they! Don't they know that a poutine has three simple ingredients? How difficult is it to get three simple ingredients right? Don't they know that the beauty of a great poutine is in the delicate symbiosis between potato, curd and gravy? What arrogance! What guile!
But fear not, it's still "gravy", but it's smoked meat gravy. It's thick, chunky and pink.
Now, even I have dismissed so-called poutines that gamble too recklessly with the recipe. I'm no traditionalist; I can handle a little creative licensing, but to blatantly ignore one of the main tenets of construction? Surely this is unacceptable.
But come on people, this is Toronto - two-thousand-and-ten! Is this not a city known for its acceptance? It's diversity? Is there not room for a culinary conquistador like Zane Caplansky to sprinkle a little of his personal touch into this great tradition?
I admit, had I known there would be no gravy in the traditional sense; I might have skipped over this place. I blame my own poutine prejudices, I'm glad I didn't though - here's why:
One of the things that has led to Caplansky's success at his College Street location is his uncompromising attention to quality. This extends beyond the smoked meat he's known for and into every detail of his establishment - fries included. The base for this poutine is a generous pile of perfectly golden, crisp, skin on french fries. There is nothing to critique about them, they're soft and light inside, they maintain their delectable potato flavour, with a light seasoning of salt - they're perfect. 5/5
So the smoked meat gravy that sits atop those perfect potatoes is not the most visually appealing thing in the world. In fact, it kind of looks gross, but rest assured, that is the same smoked meat that gets piled high in between slices of rye bread on their sandwiches. It's not gravy per se, more like a smoked meat sauce. For once though, I'm going with the purists. It's good, but without real gravy, it just doesn't feel like poutine, and this is about poutine. 1/5
The focus on quality that led to those excellent fries carries over to the curds too. I've eaten a lot of curd over the course of the past week and while they've been tasty, only Poutini's have squeaked. Caplansky's curds squeak. This is no small achievement either; cheese curds can lose their firmness and squeak within a day or two of production. These curds are fresh. 4.5/5
This is going to come off as a little backwards, but I have a complaint about the portion size of Caplansky's fries and it extends to the poutine as well. They're too big. Really, please introduce a smaller size as well. These portion sizes can hardly be described as "sides," especially for diners who are going solo. It's just wasteful. That being said, I would also like to thank you for the generous amount of smoked meat in your sandwiches. 4/5
Total Score: 14.5/20
It's not that Caplansky's lost points on a technicality here, it's just that, there are certain things one expects when the word poutine is used. I'm open to additional ingredients, but omissions are hard to justify. Poutine gravy should be in the beige to brown colour range, not salmon or coral. Even still, they do everything else right. With top-notch fries and curds, they're still in the running.