Monday, November 26, 2012

Halloween Poutine Bender

If you've followed my blog from at least the summertime, you probably know that I've just a thing for poutine. Last month on Halloween, I basically did just that. No video, just me on a gluttony food adventure.

Poutine from Potato Champion

You'd think, geez dude, it's just fries, gravy, and cheese curds. And yeah, I've basically incapacitated myself for a few days trying to tackle that 5-pound challenge alongside Naader Reda at The Original (see Naader's video). But time heals my food wounds, and eventually, the itch strikes again.

The panda always eats dessert first, even on Halloween. I heard Ruby Jewel sold their pumpkin ice cream sandwiches (on ginger cookies) for a limited time exclusively at the Food Front Co-op in NW Portland. Yup, not even at Ruby Jewel's two brick-and-mortar scoop shops. I drove through the rain, walked a couple blocks, and...success! Amazing pumpkin ice cream and delicious ginger cookies. It was extremely hard and frozen from sitting in the freezer so long, a stark contrast to the freshly crafted ice cream sandwiches you can order at Ruby Jewel. But still, gotta give this 5/5 pandas.

With that out of the way, it was poutine time in Portland. First stop was Foster Burger on the SE side. I got the FoPo (short for the Foster-Powell neighborhood) poutine basically because it mentioned pork belly.

FoPo Poutine
(Foster Burger)
Closeup of onions and pork belly
I've found that the gravy being used generally separates a good poutine from a great one. The gravy at Foster Burger starts with a veggie stock, adding ketchup and wine along the way for a bit of sweetness. I thought it was pretty good, fairly light, with decent consistency. They don't seem to be very generous with the gravy, but I guess I'm used to seeing dishes back home in Hawaii where gravy is slathered all over the place (see loco moco). Fries are cooked perfectly, nice golden brown. Foster Burger uses Beecher's cheese curds -- the original location is in Seattle's Pike Place Market.

Next up was Potato Champion, now with a couple of locations. As far as I know, they're keeping the first cart at Cartopia (SE 12th and Hawthorne), but have also opened a second cart at The Row (near SE 2nd and Oak).

Original cart at Cartopia (SE 12th and Hawthorne)
Second cart at The Row (SE 2nd and Oak)
There are three sizes of poutine at Potato Champion, and I just got another small helping ($4.50). Here, you get two gravy options (veggie-based or meat-based). I'd assume the default is meat-based, unless specifically asking otherwise. Again, the potatoes are perfectly fried up to that golden brown color. White cheese curds again.

(Potato Champion)

But note the gravy is different in color, a much darker brown here. It may depend on who works the cart, but I got a healthy dose of savory-sweet gravy goodness here. I'd call it a bit thicker than at Foster Burger. Potato Champion has been extremely successful for a while now, and it's no surprise that a second cart has spawned.

I headed to downtown Portland and wound up at The Original for my third poutine helping. For my fellow food challenge warriors, here's where you can take on their 5-pound poutine challenge. Finish it all in 30 minutes and it's free ($25 value). You get a T-shirt just for taking the challenge, so everyone walks away with something.


I inquired to the bartender (she does the takeout orders) on how many ounces of poutine a regular-sized serving has ($7.95). She guessed about a pound. If so, several of those ounces probably come from the gravy. It wasn't swimming in gravy, but a very noticeable amount. The gravy on my poutine had a brown color similar to Foster Burger's, perhaps a bit runnier. Some of the fries were longer in size, maybe slightly narrower.

(The Original)
Closeup shot
All the while, I kept thinking if this was really a pound's worth in their eyes, I would have really made a very serious dent on that poutine challenge from OregonMania II. It'd be a big stretch to finish, but I'm confident it would be a closer battle.

I finally started to fill up, so I made Sideshow Eatery my last stop of the day. I'd been there twice before, so I was very familiar with Jason's poutine. The gravy here also starts with a vegetable stock, adding flour, butter, and water. Jason also adds a bit of Worcestershire sauce for added zing and flavor.

Yeah, they also got beignets

I also noticed there was a smaller poutine size this time for $5, so I just went with that. For the small poutine, add 50 cents for bacon ($1 more if the large size). Trust me, you want bacon on this.

Poutine w/bacon
(Sideshow Eatery)
Yeah, that's basically a layer of minced bacon
The first thing to note is the gravy color. It reminds me more of sausage gravy that I've seen at some other food carts. It's also much thicker than the other gravies I had on this adventure. When it all comes down to it, the minced bacon adds tremendous flavor and really brings this full-circle.

The Original and Sideshow Eatery both use the orange cheese curds instead of white. I personally don't have a preference on cheese curd color. When covered in warm gravy and placed alongside freshly fried potatoes, the curds melt slightly but keep their shape.

I'd estimate that I put down close to three pounds of poutine on this day, and I returned home quite full. Now I'm wondering what type of bender I'm gonna have next. We'll see.

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