Admittedly, we're not exactly on par with Canada when it comes to the availability of poutine. In fact in Quebec, where the dish is said to have originated, you can order a side of the cheese-curd and gravy-covered fries at any McDonald's. We'll probably never get to that point (do we really want to?), but quite a few Twin Cities restaurants have poutine on the menu, and among those are some really fantastic standouts.
We've listed some of the local eateries you can count on to get your poutine fix -- in no particular order, by the way. Think of this as more of a public service announcement.
For classic poutine, we're talking crisp, thick-cut French fries with fluffy interiors and fresh (not fried) cheese curds, all smothered in brown (usually beef-based) gravy. Try:
Tom Reid's: It's a downtown St. Paul hockey bar with French-Canadian lingo scattered throughout the menu, so the poutine here is about as classic as it comes in the Twin Cities.
Rye Delicatessen: Fries here can be hit or miss, but Rye does stay true to their Montreal deli model by offering a very traditional take on poutine. Theirs is usually served with fresh cheese curds, but they will fry them on request.
Triple Rock Social Club: In addition to its brown gravy version, which always seems to melt the cheese curds perfectly, the Triple Rock also offers a vegetarian version made with an equally savory vegetable-based gravy.
For extreme poutine, places that push this already over-the-top dish into true gluttonous glory, try:
The Strip Club: The Poutine Obscene is an apt description for a dish that adds pork belly and super-intense port wine gravy to a plate of gooey white cheddar cheese fries. The result is simultaneously stunning and coma-inducing.
Muddy Waters: There's so much to love about the food at Muddy Waters. The kitchen stays open late, the bakery items are just as good as its myriad hot dogs, and it has truly delicious, thoughtful vegan options. The breakfast poutine is not one of those options, but it is indeed extreme. A bed of home fries gets topped with fried egg, ham, cheddar cheese curds, and a good dose of gravy, but you have to come in for weekend brunch to get it.
Burger Jones: If you have ever had the White Trash Burger at Burger Jones, you can pretty much guess what its version of poutine is like. It comes standard with fried cheese curds, a thick beef gravy, and chopped bacon. Ask for your bacon chicken fried, if you really want to live.
If it's fancied up a bit, or given its own signature twist, we're calling it distinctive poutine, and here's where to get it:
Forepaugh's: Donald Gonzalez, chef at Forepaugh's, has publicly promised he would never take their beloved poutine off the menu, which is good news for diners seeking something a little unexpected out of this binge-worthy dish. Forepaugh's is made a little sweeter and quite a lot spicier with the addition of hot pickled chilies and a bit of chili glaze. This one could easily eek its way into the extreme category, since Forepaugh's gives the option of adding foie gras.
Vincent, A Restaurant: Vincent may be super upscale, but it has still made room on its bar menu for a refined take on poutine, which uses the normal French fry and fresh cheese curd bed but has a crazy-delicious green peppercorn sauce instead of the standard brown.
The Lowry: This version may be under the snacks category on the Lowry's menu, but the addition of tender braised beef to all the expected components really kicks this one into full-meal territory.
Tot Boss: For the poutine purist, this one probably wouldn't make the short list, but Dan Docken's Tot Boss food truck does indeed have tot poutine on the menu.
Finally, there's secret poutine, the kind that's not on the menu but the kitchen will almost always have the ingredients on hand to make it for you if you ask nicely. Do a little song and dance for secret poutine if you happen to find yourself hungry at:
Tria: Poutine used to be on the menu at this North Oaks restaurant, and regular customers tell us they'll still make it subject to sauce availability, but even their hand-cut fries with rich béarnaise are a worthy substitution.
Crooked Pint Ale House: They've got fries, they've got deep-fried Ellsworth cheese curds, and they've got a gravy-laden Washington Avenue pot roast sandwich on the menu. Will they put them all together for you? Absolutely.
Have more hot, secret poutine tips or places you think should be noted? Leave them in the comments below.