Poutine: A Canadian Classic With Detroit Flavor

By Dorothy Hernandez, Foodable Contributor

Crispy, salty fries slathered with unctuous gravy, dotted with chewy cheese curds that squeak once bitten into: It might sound like a hot mess but poutine is one of the Detroit area’s most popular dishes whether it’s a shareable small plate or bar snack.

Poutine’s origins can be traced to Canada, specifically Quebec. The French-Canadian dish has only become a staple on local menus in recent years. One reason could be when Toronto transplants Deveri Gifford and Jason Yates moved to Detroit a few years ago and opened Brooklyn Street Local, a beloved breakfast and brunch joint in the popular neighborhood of Corktown.

“It was never a decision, we always knew that we were going to serve poutine,” says Gifford. “A. Because we didn’t know of anyone else serving it here and we knew as Canadian ambassadors we had an obligation to bring it to the people! And B. Because we knew that people would love it.”

Indeed it’s become as ubiquitous on menus in Detroit in a variety of restaurants, from bars to food trucks to fine dining.

BSL poutine | Credit: Instagram, @brooklynstreetlocal

BSL poutine | Credit: Instagram, @brooklynstreetlocal

Gifford says the necessary ingredients are fries, gravy and curds, “which are vital, no other type of cheese will do.” There have been a lot of variations, including at Brooklyn Street Local, where they offer a few different types of poutine, including the Traditional (fries, beef or mushroom gravy and organic cheese curds); Breakfast Poutine, which includes bacon or tempeh and an egg on top; and the BSL, which is their “house” poutine and includes caramelized onions and bacon or tempeh. For Canadian and American Thanksgivings, they make a Thanksgiving Poutine with stuffing, turkey and cranberry sauce.

Brooklyn Street Local is also known for their commitment to sourcing locally and making everything from scratch and/or by hand. The potatoes for the fries are hand cut in house and grown by Holtz Farm in Ida, Mich.; the cheese curds are from Oliver Farms in Fostoria, Mich.; and the homemade stock ingredients are sourced locally when seasonally available, Gifford says. The bacon is from J & M Farm in Berlin Township, Mich., and cage-free eggs are from Sunrise Acres in Hudsonville, Mich.

When asked why poutine is so popular, Gifford says, “It is a delicious comfort food, what's not to love! I don't know why it didn't catch on sooner in Detroit.”

In the Detroit area, some chefs are going super traditional while others are putting a more refined twist to this comfort food, which is always a hit with guests. Here’s how other local restaurants are putting a Motor City spin on this Canadian classic.

Raising the Bar

Bars are one of the most common places to find poutine in metro Detroit. Just a mile away from Brooklyn Street Local is Green Dot Stables, which specializes in budget-friendly bar food such as sliders that come in a plethora of options (the mystery meat is especially intriguing: in the past they have had reindeer and lamb neck). The poutine at Green Dot is straightforward and traditional: cheese curds, gravy and fries. Just as nice is the $3 price. Who says fast food can’t be tasty and budget friendly?

Pork Belly Poutine at One-Eyed Betty's | Credit: Instagram, @oneeyedbettys

Pork Belly Poutine at One-Eyed Betty's | Credit: Instagram, @oneeyedbettys

Also in Corktown, Mercury Burger Bar specializes in – what else? – burgers. But they’re merely not just cheese and meat slapped between two pieces of bread. The burgers are inventive and pay homage to the city such as Eastern Market, which is a nod to the city’s popular farmers market, or Southwest Detroit, which pays tribute to the Mexican roots of this neighborhood. Equally as inventive is the poutine, which comes as a side or as a shareable portion if you’re in the giving mood. The cheese curds are grinded up so they meld into the gravy while the fries retain their crispiness. Don’t like hand-cut fries? Tots are an especially effective vessel to deliver the combo of gravy and cheese.

Just a mile north of Eight Mile in the suburb of fabulous Ferndale is One-Eyed Betty’s, which has nearly 50 craft beers on tap and more than 100 in bottles. They take the food just as seriously with the beer, with a New Orleans inspired menu including dishes such as muffaletta, po' boys and gumbo. Here the poutine is paired with pork belly confit atop the fresh cut fries, cheese curds, gravy, and a poached egg. 

Fancy Fries

In Royal Oak, Bistro 82 is one of the more upscale restaurants in the area with French bistro fare such as mussels, roasted cobia, and bone marrow. But poutine also fits on the sophisticated menu. The twist here is that instead of potatoes, the “fries” are polenta cut into thick planks and then topped with Vermont cheddar and beef shank gravy. 

At Rock City Eatery in Hamtramck, chef Nik Sanches, who was recently featured on the CNBC show “Restaurant Startup,” upgrades traditional poutine with a few choice ingredients. The fries are fried in duck fat and topped with brisket and blue cheese.

Keep on Truckin’

Poutine has found its way to several food truck menus in Detroit, including the Mac Shack. As the name suggests, they specialize in all manners of mac and cheese, including the Cheechs’ trip (chorizo, jalapeño and fresh pico) and the ambitiously named Amaze Balls (three deep-fried mac and cheese balls served with ranch, marinara or buffalo sauce). Not wanting to offer just one kind of comfort carb, they also serve poutine. Here it’s served with beef brisket gravy and topped with a fried egg, “untraditional, just like us.”