Here in Pittsburgh, we hold our French fries in high regard. We love them dipped in Heinz ketchup. We pile them on sandwiches. We smother them with cheese sauce at Kennywood. And we toss them onto salads. So it should come as no surprise that poutine — a glorious mess of fries, gravy and cheese curds — has become a popular addition to our gastropub menus.
The dish was created in Quebec around 1956 and took Canada by storm. Versions could soon be found in some of the finest restaurants in Montreal. Over time, poutine became so ubiquitous, it was added to menus at fast-food chains like McDonald’s (watch the introductory commercial), Burger King and Wendy’s. It’s renowned as a late-night hangover preventative, kind of like a Primanti’s sandwich.
Poutine followed hockey players across the border to the U.S. and has become a perfect vehicle to satisfy the American appetite for salty, crunchy, cheesy joy.
Pittsburgh chefs continue to find new and innovative ways to serve poutine, adding everything from short ribs to sweet corn to duck. Here are our favorites:
1. The Foundry Table & Tap, 381 North Shore Drive, North Shore
The kitchen at The Foundry caters to hearty appetites with the kind of dishes that sate the hunger of your average ironworker. Consider the 10-ounce burger, red wine-braised lamb shank and chicken cassoulet with andouille sausage.
The Foundry’s poutine is an equally substantial offering. The dish is prepared in a cast iron pan with layers of crispy fries, sausage gravy and melted cheese curds that stretch out with a tug of your fork. Hunks of sausage raise the flavor level, along with bits of spicy red pepper. The Foundry calls it a bar snack; I call it lunch.
Pair this dish with a patio table while the weather allows and double your poutine pleasure.
2. Cinderlands Warehouse, 2601 Smallman St., Strip District
Instead of fries, Cinderlands deep-fries thick wedges of potatoes in peanut oil to achieve a delicious brown crust for its duck poutine. Oozing cheese curds and smoked duck gravy top the spuds, followed by a layer of tender duck meat. Add an optional fried egg and the masterpiece is complete.
Be sure to order a Cinderlands brew to make your poutine session complete. The Bougie Pajamas dark ale is terrific, but there are plenty of “dad beers” and hoppy brews among the offerings.
3. Franktuary, 3810 Butler St., Lawrenceville
Franktuary has long been the go-to spot to appease hot dog cravings. The variety of signature franks baffles the culinary imagination. They range from the pierogi-topped Pittsburgh dog to the Oahu with grilled pineapple and teriyaki. Diners get a kick out of the extra touches, too, like paper parasols and pirate swords.
Poutine has been firmly on the menu for some time and enjoys the same place of pride as a base for creativity. The create-your-own-poutine option allows you to choose five items to pile up on your fries. Or go classic with the Poutine Quebecoise: House-made brown gravy is poured over hand-cut fries, fresh cheese curds and scallions.
4. St. Clair Social Club, 302 S. St. Clair St. Friendship
The kitchen at St. Clair Social Club offers inventive touches to typical bar offerings. A burger is transformed into a Paint It Black(berry) Burger with blackberry mustard, house-smoked pork belly and red wine caramelized onion. Mac ‘n’ cheese becomes Chorizo Mac ‘n’ Cheese with house-made chorizo sausage, golden cheddar béchamel and cavatappi pasta sprinkled with thyme-chili panko.
The poutine is no less ambitious. St. Clair’s Duck Confit Poutine begins with fries, gravy and Amish cheese curd. Delectable slices of house-cured duck leg confit are layered atop the dish and sprinkled with crushed crisp duck skin and mixed herbs. The Duck Confit Poutine is in rotation with Sweet Corn Poutine.
Plan to sip a classic cocktail. The Boulevardier and Old-Fashioned are both on draft.
5. Park Bruges, 5801 Bryant St., Highland Park
We’re quite familiar with the frites at Park Bruges. The taters are featured with the highly addictive Moules Frites. Here, fries are cooked twice to achieve that special level of crispiness. It’s the perfect base for the Park Bruges Poutine. Go with the classic form or opt for the Short Rib Poutine. The rich flavor of the tender beef holds up well against chewy melted cheese curds, stock gravy and a handful of hot pickled peppers. It’s a perfect dish to savor on a brisk autumn day.
6. Scratch & Co., 1720 Lowrie St., Troy Hill
Belly up to the bar at Scratch to make the most of the pub menu, a collection of nibbles, mouthwatering mains and enticing desserts. Of course, there are plenty of booths to spend the evening, but bar seating provides the chance to be social with other diners. Always a plus!
The conversation might turn to a recommendation for a favorite craft cocktail or persuade you to try a special dish, like the poutine. Scratch offers two versions: Classic and Chicken Poutine. The latter adds a layer of roast chicken slices to the fries and gravy. Fresh cheese curd is cut into big chewy rectangles. A sprinkling of herbs finishes the dish.
7. The Urban Tap, 1209 E. Carson St., South Side and 216 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside
Short Rib Poutine at the Urban Tap serves up a massive bowl that’s big enough to feed a party of four. The kitchen presents dark and crispy herbed fries and gooey melted cheese curds drenched in au jus gravy. Tender short rib meat, braised and shredded, is piled on top. The dish is finished off with a bright fried egg. Order it as a half-price happy hour special on Mondays for an absolute bargain.
Savor your poutine with one of the many brews on tap. Or order a crafted cocktail. Tempting seasonal offerings include the Spiced Apple Cider Mojito, Harvest Mule and Pumpkin Sangria.