Call them disco fries with its gravy and liquid cheese, or Irish nachos with its cheddar and corned beef: Variations on dressed French fries have long been with us and the choices continue to grow.
It wasn’t until Montreal food became faddish around 2010 — including smoked meat, stunted bagels, and expat chefs from Montreal’s Au Pied de Cochon — that poutine became a thing. This working-class tuck-in dumps brown gravy and squeaky cheese curds over French fries, which turns out to be the perfect thing after a night of drinking. Soon New York City had a dozen places serving it, and actively inventing variations.
In fact, poutine has developed an almost effete reputation here that it has lacked in working-class Montreal, and New Yorkers have been willing to pay premium prices for the late-night dish, especially when it’s fortified with luxury ingredients like steak, pork confit, and lobster. The love affair with poutine has continued even though some of the early purveyors are long out of business. Here are three worthy newcomers.
Bar A Frites — Le District, Battery Park City’s French answer to Eataly, has continued to sharpen its casual food offerings, in addition to honing the three restaurants on the premises. Latest is a french fry counter, which, in contrast to the city’s other spud establishments, offers distinguished glasses of wine to wash them down. A modest 10 sauces are offered, topping French fries more delicate and browner than most.
One of three special offerings, the so-called poutine Canadienne ($8.95) comes in a recyclable paper boat, and represents a decidedly Gallic take on the dish. Thus the curds are smaller and smoother, the gravy really a translucent demi-glace, and sautéed green onions on top. The serving is generous enough that Bar A Frites’ poutine constitutes an entire meal. Le District, 225 Liberty Street, Manhattan, 212-981-8588
375 Degrees Thrice-Cooked Fries — This Lower East Side Belgian fry specialist cooks its potatoes three times rather than the usual two, and the fries are available in two thicknesses. Predictably, diverse toppings are available, including the usual peanut-, sriracha-, and mayo-laced concoctions, but so is Swedish poutine ($8.95). This excellent creation bounces IKEA-style meatballs on top of the fries, then adds curds, not quite enough gravy, and a dab of lingonberry jam. The jam gives the poutine a colorful zing and a sweetness that makes the dish seem like dinner and dessert combined. 124 Ludlow Street, Manhattan, 646- 682-7578
The Gentry — Offering 13 varieties of poutine, this new Montreal-inspired restaurant with a backyard in Greenpoint carries the dish perhaps farther than it has ever gone before. Influences range from Thai to Korean to French to Catskillian, and a special poutine is usually offered. That was how I ended up trying Shanghai poutine, a trio of lacquered pork ribs set on top of a pile of french fries cooked in duck fat. It was delicious, but prompted the question, “Where’s the cheese?” 592 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-383-3490
And here are a couple of worthy poutine old-timers:
Mile End Deli — Named after a neighborhood in Montreal’s Plateau, Mile End is a Quebec-style Jewish deli. At its original Boerum Hill location, it introduced poutine to Gotham in an unusual version topped with smoked meat. At the Greenwich Village branch, in addition to smoked meat poutine, it offers a classic rendition and a monthly special — at press time, it was braised brisket and onion-ring poutine.
The always available classic poutine is about as close to the Montreal original as you’re likely to get in NYC. The gravy is real English gravy, the curds chewy and squeaky, the fries good but not fetishized. And the gravy can be served on the side, which allows you to pour and chew, keeping the fries at exactly the right gravy moistness that you prefer (I like mine well-swamped). 53 Bond Street, Manhattan, 212-529-2990
Pommes Frites — Relocated to MacDougal Street from the East Village a couple of years ago, this is the king of the Belgian fry places. The list of sauces has spiraled to bewildering length, which is why you should spring for the poutine, which comes in three sizes. The smallest ($6.25) is plenty for anyone, and shows the fries to great advantage: a little thicker than most, and still absorbent despite a nice brown crust. The Tudor-style interior is a hoot. 128 MacDougal Street, Manhattan, 212-674-1234