Photo cred - Poutine Pundit
Last week, I wrote on how Montreal’s adherence to chicken gravy is keeping it from becoming the undisputed poutine capital of the world it deserves to (and easily can) be. While I stand by my earlier argument, there is one restaurant in Montreal that proves the viability of a classic poutine without beef (or even meat of any kind): Comptoir 21.
Although the restaurant advertises themselves primarily as a fish & chips joint, their premiere offering is their poutine. Regardless of when you go, don’t be surprised to be greeted by a healthy, affordable portion of home-cut, skin-on fries, large chunks of squeaky cheese curds, and a tasty gravy on top that perfectly complements the other ingredients. What might surprise you, however, is the make-up of the gravy—it achieves its unctuous flavour entirely through vegetarian ingredients.
While there are many vegetarian poutines throughout Montreal, none of the other ones quite nail the “signature poutine” taste. I love the black bean gravy and sweet potato fries dish which Lola Rosa serves as a “poutine” at their Parc location, but no real Montrealer would be caught dead referring to it as such. It’s delicious, but it’s far from being a classic poutine.
The same is true at La Banquise. As much credit as I give them for attempting vegetarian and even vegan poutines, their meat-free alternatives don’t come close to their traditional offerings. Their veggie gravy is a watery shadow of its meat-based self, and the inability to serve meat prevents the restaurant from showing off much of what it does best—their idiosyncratic combinations of toppings, many of which include dead animals.
By contrast, Comptoir 21 is allowed to show off their culinary strengths in the only poutine they offer, which is a vegetarian take on the dish. Poutine Pundit named it the best poutine in the city, and I wouldn’t disagree with them. More importantly, it’s undeniably a traditional poutine. Even the most hardline, orthodox poutine lover would struggle to find fault with it. It doesn’t have any bizarre toppings, strange substitutions (as much as I love doughnut fries or mozzarella, they’re not the same thing as potatoes or curds), or any other bullshit, but it does offer the myriad pleasures provided by a classic poutine.
Vegetarians shouldn’t have to compromise their poutine experience, and Comptoir 21 understands this. If you or someone you know abstains from eating meat, regardless of the reason, don’t let them miss out on this beloved Montreal cultural icon; instead, take them to Comptoir 21.