Some readers are having a hard time even picturing Poutine, let alone getting their arms around the thought of eating it. As a service to them, we went on a mission to find the perfect Poutine. We were told that people come from all over to enjoy the chip stands in Sturgeon Falls.
Asking around town, everyone agreed that Larry’s Chip Stand was considered the best. Larry’s has been in business for 63 years. Larry is gone of course, but the Stand is now owned and run by his daughter Colette. When ordering, be prepared to answer a lot of questions. For example, how do you want your chips, plain or Poutine? Curds or shredded cheese? Heavy on the gravy or the light version? If you just want chips, do you want ketchup? Vinegar? If vinegar, white or Malt? Her son, Ivan, made gagging sound and held his nose when he heard the word “malt vinegar,” so I would suggest not ordering that. There are other things on the menu, of course, but if you are going to come 2800 miles to go to a chip stand, for goodness sake you better order the chips. Poutined-up. With curds. Light on the gravy. Mmmmm, perfect:
Now it might seem that this is about as good as it gets. But Canadians do not stop there, and will add any or all of the following to your Poutine:
- Bacon, Scrambled Eggs and Maple Syrup (this is called the “Hangover”)
- Chili, Cheese, and Bacon
- Perogies with Sour Cream and Bacon
- Chipotle Pulled Pork with Bacon and Italian Sausage
- Double-Smoked Bacon, Italian Sausage, Sautéed Mushrooms, and Caramelized Onions
- Jerk Chicken with Red Peppers
- Butter Chicken with Green Onions
- Chicken Bacon Ranch
- Chicken, Bacon, Carmelized Onions, Mushrooms, and Peas
- Philly Cheesesteak
- There is even a veggie version with Guacamole, Sriracha Sauce, Sour Cream, and Cheese Sauce
- Do I really need to continue?
Please note that these are not served next to your chips, they are served smothered right on top of them, in all their righteous, gooey glory. Had enough? Let’s move on.
Now I would have thought that northern Ontario would also be known for its fresh-caught local fish, since it seems there are more lakes than land there. However, I struck out at every restaurant where I asked for locally caught fish. Puzzled, I asked Colette what kind of fish she served in her fish and chips, hoping she’d say pickerel, but willing to tolerate Atlantic halibut. Nope – frozen haddock from wherever one gets haddock. She told me she would love to serve local fish, but it takes multiple levels of special certification for a restaurant to serve it so the only places to order pickerel or the like are on the reserves. We had heard about one reserve that had a fish fry, but it was once a week and we were there on the wrong day. Colette loves to fish, and it breaks her heart that she can catch them and she can eat them, but not serve them. I did get lucky at one grocery store along the way, and found some fresh pickerel and made it myself. Good, but not nearly as good as the fish fry at my Aunt Lil’s cottage at Ontario’s Buckhorn Lake when I was a kid. It seems food memories are like that – always better then, than now.
Ah, but there there is one other food memory where the reality is better than ever – butter tarts. You cannot get butter tarts in the States, something about multiple levels of certifications I think. I still get them, but only when I go to visit my sister and she decides to bake them for me. But in Canada you can find them just about everywhere and they are glorious:
That evening we stayed at the Sturgeon Falls KOA. We found Greg and Gina to be the nicest KOA owners anywhere. When I checked in, Gina introduced herself with a big smile, and shook my hand. This happens as often at a campground as it does at a Motel 6. Later she came by to deliver firewood. I had just made a Manhatan with Crown Royal Canadian Maple Whiskey and offered her a sip. She approved, and said her husband liked the vanilla Canadian whiskey. I invited them both to come back so he could try the results of my mixology. They came and I gave them each a Maple Whiskey Manhattan. Discussing that, we all agreed that a drink made with Canadian Maple Whiskey simply should not be called a Manhattan, so instead I named it a “Toronto.” I later googled that name, and it has already been coined for another much less appropriate concoction. Not wanting to get into a trademark war, I am taking suggestions for another name.
Greg and Gina are a blended family with two of his and two of hers. They have been together for 30 years. I asked how they got into the campground business. He had built up a successful company doing drug testing, sold it, and when his consulting obligations ended 6 years ago they bought the property, and quickly signed up with KOA. His family had been in the cottage/lodging/hospitality business and he wanted to get back into the business. However with lodging, you are responsible for everything. The toilet is backed up – he has to fix it. Sheets need changing – they need to change them. It costs $30K to build a cabin. But it only costs $4K to develop an RV site, and if my toilet backs up it’s my problem not his. Why sign up with KOA? The company handles the marketing and the IT costs. He knows the expense of putting that infrastructure together and with KOA he can use theirs. He does have to pay them a percentage and stay in their good graces, but from our experience that is not going to be a problem. We visited until the sun went down and the full moon came up.
It is our practice that I get up early and head to a coffee shop while Carol sleeps in. I am currently at a coffee shop and Carol is currently sleeping in. Anyway, at Gina’s suggestion I went to Twigg’s at the waterfront in Sturgeon Falls the next morning and discovered the best view from any coffee shop yet:
There, I also discovered one other Canadian food idiosyncrasy. The container they bring out with jams and jellies always includes peanut butter. Without fail. You may only get one jam but you will always get peanut butter too.
I have no problem with this.
6 thoughts on “Dispatch from the Field: In Search of the Perfect Poutine and Other Horrible Things Canadians Do Potatoes, and the Nicest Campground Owners Anywhere”
Too bad you aren’t going past the best fish and chip! It is outside Parry Sound on the reserve. So good! Whitefish is awesome!
You will have to try poutine again in Quebec City or the Eastern Townships and compare. Also, if you like cheese, there are some good fromagieres just off the Trans Can (20).
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There is also a liquor called Cabot Trail. I will have to look at the rest of the name as I brought a bottle back with me. It is a maple flavour like Baileys. I was told it is so good younwill want to swim in it! Cracking itnopen tonight. May need you to pick up another bottle for me – heeheee
Anxiously awaiting your report. If you do swim in it, send pictures.
I had to look up Poutine, Ken. Sounds too rich for me, but we did have cheese curds for the first time when in Winnipeg in June. They were delicious. But butter tarts …. oh my goodness, those are awesome! My mother still bakes them occasionally and I love them!
What Colette failed to mention is that one of Larry’s rivals does indeed serve fish and chips made with fresh local pickerel. Sorry you missed out!
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Thanks! I guess we just need to return to Sturgeon Falls sometime for Poutine AND Fish n Chips. 🙂