A friend of Canadian ancestry was visiting me from out of town this week, and I thought that it would be fun to take her out for Canadian food. Trouble is, I had pretty much no idea what the hell Canadian food is. All I could think of was Canadian bacon (which, for all I knew, is not really Canadian… kind of like how French fries aren’t really French), Smarties (Canada’s version of M&Ms), and… I don’t know, seal blubber-based delicacies from Nunavut? Or burnt burgers that look like hockey pucks? (I’ve been making that dumb hockey puck joke for a few weeks now. I had no idea that I would actually eat exactly what I joked about.)
Luckily, a (non-Canadian) friend happened to mention a new deli in Brooklyn that imports Canadian bagels from a legendary bakery in Montreal. And then it finally dawned on me that it shouldn’t be too hard to find poutine, which is Quebecois hangover food made from French fries, gravy, and cheese curds. I always thought it sounded absolutely revolting, but at least it’s better than, say, seal blubber.
We started our Canadian day in Boerum Hill at the Mile End Deli, which I pretty much thought would suck. Mile End has received a fair amount of attention (and a little bit of ridicule) for its $2.50 bagels, brought by car from Montreal on a weekly basis. Frankly, that strikes me as being pretty stupid.
After trying the bagel, it still struck me as being pretty stupid. The vaunted Canadian bagel was just a runty, denser version of a New York bagel. Actually, it reminded us of the bagels that you can buy frozen in Midwestern grocery stores. Not quite sure what the big deal is.
Bagel silliness aside, I actually loved the place. I ate a Montreal-style breakfast sandwich (arguably a little bit overpriced at $6), which consisted of smoked Canadian bacon (I didn’t think that Canadian bacon would actually be served in a Canadian restaurant… surprise!), a runny egg, and parmesan cheese on grilled rye bread. It was outrageously good–about as magical as a breakfast sandwich can get. Messy as all hell, but you just can’t beat runny eggs and fresh smoked Canadian bacon, eh?
We ended our breakfast with poutine. French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. I forgot to bring a hangover. Oops.
This was my first poutine experience, and I was expecting the cheese curds to squeak just a little bit. They didn’t squeak. The cheese-melted-in-gravy thing was pretty good, though. And fried potatoes are always good… which is good, since I ate fried potatoes three times in the same day.
Mile End is a lovely place, though. The coffee was phenomenal (strong Stumptown French press… much better than the Starbucks/Dunkin bullsh*t in my neighborhood), our server was absolutely loveable (deserved every cent of the $10 tip on a $15 check), and I kinda dug the communal table and open kitchen design. Mile End is the kind of gratingly trendy place that I love to hate, but I actually loved it. Go figure.
A few drinks later, we landed at T Poutine in the Lower East Side, which isn’t really very Canadian at all. Frankly, it’s a Canadian-themed gimmick that serves poutine and a bunch of non-Canadian sandwiches (Chicken sandwich with green chiles and avocado? Soorr-ee, that’s not Canadian.) that are designed to be eaten only after massive quantities of alcohol.
I ordered an authentic Canadian hockey puck burger, otherwise known as the Farmer’s Burger ($7.75). It was supposedly made from beef, but it was hard and round and black, just like a hockey puck. It was served on a bun with a fried egg and (non-Canadian) bacon and (thoroughly non-Canadian) chipotle aoili, and it was all held together with a tiny Canadian flag (made in China) on a toothpick. I don’t know what that poor cow did to deserve to be turned into a hockey puck and stuck with a Canadian flag, but I’m sure that he (the cow) feels real bad about it. I ate him anyway.
My pal Hotrod went for the New-Burger Poutine ($7.50), which included ground beef (oddly moist… did this really come from the same cow?) and carmelized onions with the gravy and cheese curds. I have no idea if this sort of thing is actually authentic, but it was pretty good. The cheese curds still didn’t squeak, and the gravy was too salty, but I’m starting to see the genius of poutine… fried potatoes and cheese with some salty, greasy gravy. Hard to ruin and always pretty tasty, even if it’s not all that good.
Mile End Deli
97A Hoyt Street, Brooklyn
Subway: Hoyt-Schermerhorn or Hoyt St. (A, C, G or 2, 3 trains, respectively)
168 Ludlow Street, Manhattan
Subway: 2nd Ave. — Lower East Side (F, V trains) or Essex-Delancey (F, J, M, Z trains)