It was only a matter of time before the French-Canadian delicacy known as poutine – a rich concoction of thick-cut fries, gravy, melted cheese curds, and creative toppings – would wash up on Buffalo’s shores with the opening of the Allen Street Poutine Company . Let’s start with the basics to correct a common misconception – it’s not actually pronounced “puh-teen”, even if uttered with an overdone French accent. In Canada, or more specifically Montreal, it’s pronounced more of a “poo-tin” like this. Bon!
The Allen Street Poutine Company at 242 Allen Street (previously Crust Pizza ) is the brainchild of two Canadians, Jake Fraser and Konstantine Kentros. Jake cut his teeth running a business selling poutine from a food truck in nearby Port Colborne, while Konstantine has a restaurant in Fort Erie, so they’re hardly newbies in the food service space.
Having been raised in Ottawa, my benchmark poutine joints have always been either the Elgin Street Diner or Montreal’s rickety Comptoir 21 on Rue Ste Catherine. Many have tried to make poutine mainstream in the Canadian market, like McDonalds and Harvey’s, with middling levels of success. There’s something of an alchemy that takes place when you combine that elusive “just right” blend of savoury flavours, salt and fat. And yet somehow, even though they all use the same basic ingredients, no poutines ever taste alike. But I digress…
I had an opportunity Friday to sample the Pulled Pork, General Tao’s and Traditional poutines. It was opening night, and the place was hopping with a lineup to the door. Jake and staff were still trying to iron out some last minute wrinkles, but were generally keeping up. I was originally told Friday was supposed to be a “soft open”, but judging by the hungry standing-room only line of customers, there was nothing soft about it. It was a full-on Friday night crowd.
So what about the poutine?
Allen Street Poutine follows the time-tested “Belgian twice-fried” method to generate the ideal fry, which is crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside. They are using fresh potatoes (of course), and have invested in a fry-making contraption that makes a thumping sound (felt on the second floor, no less) while managing to knock out 450 orders an hour. Gravy…oh, but how it makes or breaks a good poutine. A smooth, velvety liaison between the fries and cheese, it’s essential that it not overpower the delicate flavour (yup, that’s how we spell it) of the cheddar. For such a mission-critical task, Jake and the guys make theirs from scratch, which results in one of the best meat-based poutine gravies I’ve come across. Not faint praise.
Finally, the perfect poutine is topped with those delectable white squeaky cheddar cheese curds, in large chunks served at room temperature. Allen St. has that covered by mixing in generous cubes of Corfu-produced “Yancy’s Fancy” cheddar, which stays relatively intact with just a little surface melting. Given that investment in the raw materials, it’s no surprise the final product really comes together nicely. Judging by the reactions from the tables around me, I wasn’t alone in that conclusion. Really, there are not too many wrinkles to work out here, Jake. Tres bién!
Bringing poutine to the Allen Street area was so obvious that it didn’t even require a market study, says UB Marketing lecturer Marc Adler, who is also looking after branding for the new establishment. The Allen Street location is surrounded by of dense concentration of what he terms “early adopters,”
urbanites who are into exploring new and different food experiences. Having local watering holes Nietzsche’s and Mulligan’s so close by will certainly ensure a wobbly stream of late night patrons right up until the 3 AM closing (that reminds me — don’t forget poutine’s reputation as the definitive Canadian hangover cure).
Marc went on to say that they intentionally played off the Canadian connection, loading up their Facebook and Twitter pages with witty articles on culture north of the border. The owners waged a furious social media campaign the week prior to the opening, which managed to garner 1000 likes for their Facebook page – no easy feat for a startup eatery. My Twitter feed lit up with images of their poutine Friday as everyone got caught up in the “buzz” and gushed about the food. As far as openings go, I don’t think they could have done much better. Well done, Allen Street Poutine. Bonne´Chance..!