The great Toronto poutine challenge: the vegetarian poutine
On day one of my great poutine odyssey that will see me consuming a poutine a day for the next three weeks, I stop by the Stampede Bison Grill to get started.
A place known for serving up thick and juicy bison meat might be an unexpected place to sample a vegetarian poutine, but at this Parkdale haunt they've got an eye out for the neighbourhood herbivores as well. I'm looking forward to becoming an authority on local poutine and Stampede is as good a place as any to start out.
Poutine is a simple enough dish with three basic components: French fries, gravy and cheese curds. It's finding the proper balance between the three that proves tricky. Getting each aspect just right has been the undoing of many valiant efforts.
The potatoes at the Stampede Bison Grill are on the thinner side, which I like generally. The more surface area a French fry has, the more crisp, deep fried, flavour it is able to impart - plus, they will cook faster which leaves the inside light and airy. Unfortunately, thin shoelace potatoes don't hold up nearly as well to piping hot gravy. A poutine fry needs to take into account the hearty weight of it's second and third floors. A mound of creamy curbs smothered in thick brown sauce will easily overpower a delicate fry and unfortunately, that's what happened here. 2.5/5
Stampede uses veggie gravy for their poutine, a blessing for the herbivores out there, but really no substitute for the real thing. It's okay; it has that "gravy" flavour. Unfortunately, what it's lacking is the depth and complexity of flavour that only a big pile of beefy bones can provide and honestly, a great poutine is probably 40 per cent sauce alone. So what can I say? Top marks for inclusiveness, it's just that sometimes compromise can ruin the party a little bit. 2/5
Here's where Stampede steps up. The curds here are soft, moist, a little bit gooey and extremely plentiful. Since poutine is, in part, little more than an excuse to gorge on curds and not feel guilty about it (feel guilty about the fries and gravy), Stampede has earned back some much-needed marks on this one. On arrival the fries are all but covered by them with only a stray stick poking through. This is a cheese lover's poutine through and through. 3.5/5
It's big - big enough for a meal itself, big enough to share. Poutine shouldn't be this big, people shouldn't eat this much cheesy, deep fried potato at one time, but they do, and they will continue to do. 5/5
Overall it's a decent showing for a place that prides itself more on its grill. The gravy is a decent veggie gravy, unfortunately it's very mediocre in comparison to the real stuff.
Keep checking back on the site over the next three weeks to see where my great Toronto poutine challenge takes me next.
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