CrowBiz

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Posts Tagged ‘chip wagon’

Poutine Party!

Posted by crowbiz on December 18, 2009

Wow, talk about an unexpected intersection of culinary slumming and winter sports!  After one of his late night “senior” hockey games, Mr Crow and cohorts went for their usual drinks and tavern chow and chat.  It was here that Mr met the friend of a friend – a transplanted Canadian – who joined the game that night and (O, Fate!) they got talking about poutine.  Anyone unfamiliar with this topic and my feeling for it needs to do some homework by reading THIS first.

Welllllll, as they say, one thing led to another, and after more back-slapping, beer-swilling and explanation of “poutine” to middleman Rob, it was decided that a homemade poutine party was in order, and that Marc, as the home-country expert, would cook.  Naturally, Mr Crow did the right thing by waking me at 2:00am to tell me about this wildly fortunate turn of events – and he didn’t even have to repeat it 6 hours later when I got up.

Calls were made.  Supplies were garnered.  And to help the gig, Marc got an early Christmas present from his wife, Amy:  a double basket Presto ProFry Deep Fryer.  Look, creating and raising beautiful children together is one thing, but the gift of a deep fryer is a level of love and understanding that few couples could ever hope to achieve.  Can’t you just smell it now?

Double trouble

 

(Incidentally, the frying was done outside on the patio, because despite one’s abiding love of fries, it’s not something you want to smell wafting up from your couch three weeks later when you plop down to watch the idiot box.)

Of course, real cheese curd was used, not shredded cheese.  Here’s Mr Crow getting handy with the curd chopping.  It’s not often that you can appreciate when your mate cuts the cheese, but there you go…..  And Rob, whose culinary expertise is best realized with cold cereal and milk, does a bang-up job stirring the packaged beef gravy.  Yes, packaged.  This experience was meant to replicate the fry truck experience, and therefore, ingredients and prep followed the humble route.  You don’t see roadside fry slingers rendering and reducing stock, fer chrissake.

How many men look this good when cutting the cheese?

 

Whisk, Rob, whisk like the wind!

 

Before the party assembled, Marc hand-cut a huge batch of fries using Russet potatoes.  I cannot offer critique here, and thus defer all tuber matters to Marc, who hails from a small Ontario town and is steeped in poutine heritage.  The man speaks French, folks; it’s not for me to question.  

There's nothing like a poutine grin

 

They turned out fabulously.  Initially, Marc was concerned that they were coming out too crispy, normally a desirable quality in fries.  But the best poutine manifests as flabby but intact  once the gravy works its magic – and so it was with our group effort batch.  Without reservation, I can say this rivals the best I’ve ever shoveled into my poutine-hole; in fact, I should say it surpasses it, since it was made by people I know and trust to touch my food, whereas normally, poutine from fry wagons are delivered through a tiny window that offers no view to the food prep area, probably for good reason. 

Here are a few close-ups, which – unless you’re the kind of person who claims to like sorghum and ToFurky – should get your heart beating fast.  Or stop it entirely.  Though I can be sated entirely with poutine, I inexplicably also consumed a chili dog and a heaping bowl of chocolate bread pudding.  We swung by Gates Circle Hospital on the way home for some drive-through angioplasty and never felt better.

And I defy any  wanna-be food writer to use “flabby but intact” as a superlative.

Hot gravy melts cheese curd and softens fries - perfect!

 

Ideal consistency: yielding and still hot

Posted in Life In the Mod Podge Lane | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

The Poutine of Renfrew County

Posted by crowbiz on August 23, 2009

PopeyesMenu

What price, Paradise?

 

As with every entry, there’s some backstory begging to be revealed that I have to reign in out of fear of irrelevancy and reader boredom. Here is my valiant attempt at brevity:  Let’s just say that for a week in August for most of the past several years I find myself in the Madawaska Valley region, specifically in Renfrew County, Ontario, Canada.

 

Anyone familiar with these parts, or anywhere in eastern Canada, really, well knows the institution that goes by several names combining “chip” or “fry” with “wagon” or “truck.”  My favorite is the “chip wagon,” but feel free to use “chip truck,” “fry wagon,” or most prosaic, “fry truck.”  For those unblessed by experience with this phenomenon, it is usually a vehicle (camper, step van, school bus, etc) or seasonal shack positioned at crossroads or on various lots in small towns and outfitted as a quick meal stop offering typical transient fare such as hot dogs, burgers, fish and chips, and fries.  But not just any fries.  Sure, you can order and eat  “just any fries,” alright.  I’m talking the pinnacle of fries, the ne plus ultra of fries, Canada’s greatest contribution to the world, alongside hockey and politeness:  POUTINE.

 

If you need a refresher on this author’s feeling about foods like poutine, go back and read my entry on the Garbage Plate.  Poutine comes in a few forms, but it’s basically french fries topped with gravy and shredded/curd white cheese.  People will argue about the specifics, and I say let them, just don’t mess with mine.  My preference, and the one I encounter most frequently, is beef gravy and what appears to be mozzarella cheese.  Over the years we’ve joked about taking poutine high-end or experimental (gorgonzola?  parmesan?  pork gravy?  tarragon sprinkles? ) but it’s only an exercise on par with imagining what you’d do with your lottery winnings.  It will never really happen.

 

The name connotes ancient, rustic Quebecois origins.  Though they didn’t get theirs from a converted recreational vehicle up on blocks for the summer, you can imagine 17th century trappers settling in after a long day’s paddle and whipping up a satisfying heap of fried potatoes covered in a steaming glob of fatty, salty toppings.  (It’s hard for me to type, my hands are shaking so.)  With a heavenly dish like this as their legacy, its no wonder Canadians grew to be so polite.  They deserve to be outright smug, but the gustatory contentment derived from poutine has a pleasant mellowing effect.  Actually, poutine may be a mid-20th century invention, but it hardly takes much imagination to think variants have been around forever.  I’m not even going to link to any alleged information sources, since they ruin the spirit, and worse, contain falsehoods about poutine that I will not be party to passing along.

 

My first brush with poutine was many years ago at a pow wow in Salamanca, NY where I purchased a plateful of poutine to accompany a bear sausage sandwich from a First Nations vendor.  Despite seeing the many fry wagons of Fort Erie, Ontario all my life, I virtually forgot about poutine until the trips up to the Madawaska Valley with Mr Crow’s family became routine.  Reckless vacation-eating mode, paired with the relative difficulty procuring groceries locally makes visits to the chip wagons nearly mandatory.  Not to stop would be like crossing the Sahara and, upon reaching an oasis, blithely saying, “Nah, let’s skip this one.”

 

Much to my regret, I’ve hardly scratched the surface in making the chip wagon rounds in the region.  Let me be clear that I may not be an expert, but my poutine zealotry should count for a lot.  Or maybe I really could be an expert?   I’ve been at it long enough to see my favorite stand (a shed out in the backyard of a “real building” ice cream parlor) in Bancroft disappear.  Some have been a passing visit, others see me at the window year after year.  And here are some from this year:

 

 

Customers at Fast Eddy's, Combermere, Ontario

Customers at Fast Eddy's, Combermere, Ontario

 

 

 

 

 

This year's winner

This year's winner from Fast Eddy's

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fast Eddy’s, Combermere

Positioned shrewdly outside the laundromat/coffee shack/gift shop /internet cafe (a couple computers tucked into a closet behind the washers, sock display and slushie machine), Fast Eddy’s is rocking.  Combermere sees brisk summer activity, and F.E.’s is there to meet the need.  As is the case at the best chip wagons, the fries are hand cut before frying and the enormous piles of empty potato cartons attest to the steady business.  Stand in line, because there probably will be one, order at the window, then wander into the omni-center to sort through garden hoses, greeting cards, and community notices.  (Note: this all-purpose joint also has a commodious restroom with a claw foot bathtub, should the mood arise). You will buy a pair of Madawaska socks before walking out.  It’s not just about the poutine, you know, but the whole atmosphere.  Wander back out to F.E.’s truck and wait for the single, bust-ass worker to complete your order, then plop yourself at one of the many roadside tables.  Overhead this year was the following phrase:  “I just have to tell you, these are the best chips I’ve ever eaten!”   Poutine:  *****

 

 

 

D & M Valley Chip Wagon, Quadeville, Ontario

D & M Valley Chip Wagon, Quadeville, Ontario

 

 

 

 

Poutine at D&M

Poutine at D&M

 

D & M Valley Chip Wagon, Quadeville 

Intersection of Route 515 and Addington Road.  This outlet is the quiet, dark horse in the chip wagon game.  Occupying one corner of the T-intersection is a large camper that offers a long list of items, including the other regional delight, the pogo, or corndog on a stick.  It even has the big RV awning stretched out over the condiment shelf.  Compared to the veritable metropolis of Combermere, Quadeville is merely an intersection with two buildings (one empty) and the fry truck.  When and why people flow through here is sort of mysterious to me, but then, I’m a real outsider, and therefore unentitled to pry.  Points have been subtracted for the serious infraction of using pre-cut, perhaps frozen fries, but to me, there is technically no such thing as a “bad fry.”  It’s rather like the term “bad sex” to a man.   Extra credit applies for two reasons: 1) It would appear that the proprietor of D & M lives in the RV, judging by the satellite dish and homey curtains in the non-kitchen half of the camper.  Forget the Zen serenity of life on a beautiful mountaintop; life in the chip wagon would be my goal for bliss attainment.  2) There is an electric bug zapper for insect-free outdoor dining at night – except the wagon closes at 7:00pm, well before dark during the wagon’s July 1st to September 1st schedule.  Poutine ***

 

 

 

 

 

Popeye's Charpit, Palmer Rapids, Ontario

Popeye's Charpit, Palmer Rapids, Ontario

 

 

 

 

Popeye's Poutine - note the chunky curd

Popeye's Poutine - note the chunky curd

 

Popeye’s Charpit, Palmer Rapids

Behind the grocery mini-mecca of Hannah’s on Route 515 in Palmer Rapids, at the back of a wide, sandy lot, lies the permanent shack version of the fry truck known as Popeye’s.  It features charming painted portraits of Olive Oyl and Popeye, evidently done in their very early years, since Popeye sports a full head of hair.  Though Palmer Rapids is technically smaller than even Quadeville, it has a larger feel to it, chiefly owing to the cornucopia that is Hannah’s (including fireworks and plenty of liquor) and the gas pump on the outskirts.  Standard fare and good prices.  Extra credit for: 1) offering pea meal on a bun, rather like a pea meal Whopper, and 2) actual cheese curds melted on the hand-cut fries – not the ubiquitous, if tasty, shredded cheese.  Typical of the kookiness one might encounter at a fry wagon was when the cook kindly and apologetically asked if I’d mind picking up a 2 liter carton of milk for her when I told her I would walk back up to Hannah’s to buy my beverage; there is a “rental agreement” that the stand itself cannot sell beverages so as not to compete with the big H.  Poutine ****

 

Others, oh, so many others

•Maynooth.  Hand-cut fries.  Memory tells me that everything was pretty good.

•Maple Leaf:  Route 62 between Combermere and Maynooth. The nameless “flower power” camper.  We’ve never stopped, but are intrigued by the hilarious appliqued flowers, reminiscent of my swinging neighbors bathroom in 1970.

•Bancroft:  Route 62.  A new truck several hundred feet away from my former favorite.  Could it be the same owners?

•South of Bancroft:  Route 28.  Several, but the yellow hut on the east side of the road, a few miles south of Bancroft, rang my bell a few years back.

 

 

Eager anticipation

Eager anticipation

See you in line.

Posted in Life In the Mod Podge Lane | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »