Poutine is arguably one of the most Canadian dishes out there. Many people in the world don’t know about the delicious warm wonder that is fries and cheese curds melted together with a delicious gravy. This comfort food has won the hearts of many, and poutine shacks have been popping up all over the lower mainland over the past few years creating a competitive market for this hip-thickening comfort food.
Despite the influx of new poutine shacks, there are still a few front runners serving up frites in the most addictive way. I had a chance to sit down with The Spud Shack Fry Co’s head chef and creator Dan Close to talk (and taste) inspiration, poutine, and success for the small restaurant in New Westminster.
Walking into the small restaurant, there is an incredibly inviting ambiance. The aesthetic is traditional Belgian fry-house with charcoal walls, red chairs and yellow tile – a deconstruction of the Belgian flag. However, close honed in on an individual look by mixing in a west-coast flair by featuring a wall constructed completely with reclaimed wood. The explosion of local craft beer in recent years made it easy for The Spud Shack to transfer from a Belgian-heavy beer menu to plenty of local brews that range in colour and flavour. There is music playing, it is warm and smells great, and there are beer taps on display featuring local breweries such as Steel and Oak, Whistler, and Yellow Dog. What better way to celebrate the end of finals and the beginning of the holidays than poutine and beer…. There is nothing, let’s face it.
You can probably tell by now that poutine is my favourite food. As a self-proclaimed poutine connoisseur, I was pretty stoked to get to try poutine from a place that has gotten wicked reviews across the board. “You’re not going to finish,” Close teased as I sat down for my poutine and beer pairing (my life is hard). Maybe he was surprised they sent a 5’1, 110 lb girl to taste the product, who knows. All I can say is I knew right then that this was going to be a great review.
Coming in on their second anniversary on December 17, Close says that their success is all about execution, and having a small set menu that allows their kitchen staff to nail every single dish, every single time. Close says that they keep the menu small, and that a dish undergoes months of testing before hitting the feature board in store. This mantra is common in any successful restaurant and especially important in small places such as a poutine shop.
“Hand cut fries, double cooked, we try to make as much as we can in house,” says Dan. “At the end of the day, we have to be able to execute it, we have to be able to nail it 100% of the time.”
Close says his inspiration comes from living in Kitsilano, and having easy access to the undeniable kingpin of Vancouver poutine: Fritz. “We used [Fritz] as the benchmark to exceed. Obviously, more on product than environment because they are so small. They had the product, but they didn’t create the environment, so that’s what we wanted to do. Comfortable, warm, inviting, intimate”. The Spud Shack without a doubt hits the nail on the head in all areas. However, I couldn’t be sure until I tasted for myself.
The menu is constantly being adapted and reformed to remain competitive and to strive for the ultimate product. “If you’re going to call yourself a fry house, you better have good fries,” said Close.
Running neck and neck with popular poutine places -including Fritz- in downtown Vancouver, and Frenchie’s off Broadway, it is obvious that environment plays a large role in setting The Spud Shack apart from any poutine place you’ve ever been to. Located on the third level of the New Westminster skytrain station, this hidden gem is a 25 seat joint that hooks you from the moment you enter the door. This is the kind of place that takes you completely out of your everyday life and wraps you in comfort and warmth- and gravy. *Warning: You may never want to leave*
At this point I was foaming at the mouth, and ready for some poutine. Dan grabbed me a Steel and Oak Lager and informed me that I would be tasting three poutines and their beef burger. The following includes some heavy food porn, we wouldn’t recommend reading on an empty stomach. You’ve been warned.
1. The classic poutine
Looking at the first poutine, it was textbook. Tons of gravy, the cheese curds weren’t hard and were all doused in sauce, and the fries held their shape (double cooked, yo). What was really fantastic about this poutine is that there was a solid amount of gravy but the fries remained crispy on the outside and nice and soft on the inside, soaking up the gravy. Again, texture is huge for me and sometimes cheese curds can be off putting if they’re too cold compared to the gravy and thrown on top as an afterthought. However, this classic poutine was absolutely perfect, I wouldn’t change a thing. Having said this… I wonder how it would taste with garlic fries? Probably ridiculous.
2. The baked potato poutine
The baked poutine is awesome for two reasons: firstly, it really is a nice play on the potato itself, and reinvents the concept of the baked potato by eating it on fries. Secondly, literally the only thing that can make a poutine even more deliciously heart-stopping is topping it with sour cream, chives and bacon. I was in heaven eating this poutine, and two aspects really stood out in The Spud Shack’s execution: the bacon, which was actually just chopped up actual bacon and not those imitation little bits, and the sheer amount of chives involved. There can never be too many chives, in my book. At this point, Close chimed in with “I fed you, we’re friends now”, and I couldn’t even respond between mouthfuls and somehow sour cream was making its way all over my face. This is where an intense food coma began to set in.
3. The seasonal poutine: Turkey, stuffing, and a cranberry compote
This seasonal poutine is actually a secret item that you won’t find written on the menu. If you happen to go in to ask for this amazing creation (you probably should, I mean its almost Xmas), let them know that 604Now sent you here for the incredible seasonal turkey poutine. This one is definitely not for the faint of heart. There is a great amount of turkey on this bad-boy, accompanied with stuffing -my holiday favourite- as well as a sage gravy and yes, cranberry compote. This poutine was so over the top but so perfect in every way I could hardly stand it. If you like poutine, you must try this dish before it goes away.
4. The ‘effing good burger’
The unexpected beef burger blew me out of the water. House made onion mayo, tons of veggies, delicious and thick beef patty, it’s not surprising they called it “the effing good burger”, it was without a doubt effing good. It was saucy as heck, dripping to my elbows as I unhinged my jaw to get an all-inclusive bite. My only legitimate question is how the heck anyone can eat a full poutine -the ones pictures are small size- and take down a burger too? The flavours are certainly enticing enough, it was the size of my stomach that was the problem. Dan paired up the burger with a Whistler Chestnut Ale, which is likely to be my new winter favourite along side Granville Island’s Winter ale. The chestnut ale is very nutty and smooth, almost buttery in flavour, it was absolutely perfect for any winter day.
Obviously, I wasn’t able to finish it all, but Dan packed everything up for me in to-go boxes with a smile- he knew what he had done. If you have never been to The Spud Shack Fry Co., make a point of making it your next destination for poutine, I am not kidding. You won’t be disappointed. This kitchen is rocking out the food and Dan Close is recklessly passionate about everything that comes out of it. If I had to score this place, I would certainly give it a 10.
Check them out:
Spud Shack review by Alycia Sundar