Poutine Week - AA Diner: More than 12 steps, but worth it.
It's oddly fitting that my first post for Midnight Poutine should be about the blissful, indulgent mishmash of crispy, hand cut fries, luscious gravy and ethereal, globular peppering of cheese curds that is responsible for the site's name. And this poutine in particular is one to be seriously marveled at.
Tucked away in St. Henri, far from the drunken stumbles of the patrons of Mile End bars or the cheering, leering and belligerence of the frat-boy littered Rue Crescent is that dingy, beautiful shrine of spitting, gurgling oil and unmarred 60's diner aesthetic that we call AA.
AA is an institution for those who know it. It's got history, it's got grungy, grease-burned charm, and it's got one hell of a poutine. This is beautiful, legitimate, no frills poutining at its best - unless of course, you veer off the path of poutine purity and start adding meats and vegetables and all of those bizarre "real" food items that really have no place in the perfect combination of cheese, fries and that mysterious, velvety brown poutine sauce.
Is it gravy? Probably not.
Do we care? Not really.
You get perfectly blanched and fried, handcut fries that somehow maintain that beautiful, oily crunch even when drowned in the mass of slightly spicy, intricately peppered gravy of a somehow perfect viscosity sauce and a mountain of stringy, squeaky cheese curds. Getting home from the bar at 3am, drunk, tired and having no doubt walked from the Mile End back down to Atwater, I can never resist the 10-15 minute hike down to AA to soak up my drunken sins and regrets in a giant - and I do mean giant - poutine. The large poutine at AA is almost incomprehensibly massive, and an award deserving feat for anyone tackling it solo.
Aside from being open until the ripe hour of 4am, it's also got a curmudgeonly, no-nonsense real diner staff. The kind you see in old 60's television shows, serving up pie and coffee with a smile... except here it's poutine and a coke with a healthy dose of sarcasm and usually insulting your drunk ass if you're too wasted to keep your face out of your fries. These guys and gals put up with a lot of stumbling, bumbling drunken assholes, and they're pretty good at it, but don't push it. You'll find yourself paying double or told to get the hell out. On the flipside, I've had waitresses charge me half price for just having an engaging, friendly chat. Albeit, I was also drunk off my ass, but they don't need to know that.
Is it the best poutine in the city? Who knows, there's a whole lot of bizarre, subjective qualifications to make a certain poutine someone's go to.
Are you going to find duck fat fries with veal cheek and au jus gravy? No.
Are you going to find that weird poutine with peas and hamburger and onions that looks like a gross, half thrown up shepherd's pie? Also (thankfully) no.
What you are going to get is a classic, no bullshit take on one of the best and most indulgent (and regretful) foodstuffs to ever grace this planet.
You'll finish it, stumble home bleary eyed, worry about developing gout as you slog yourself up the hill on Atwater, breathing heavily and ready to pass out in a combination of drunkenness and food coma.
But damn, will it ever taste good.
And trust me, posting the shaky, drunken pictures of half-eaten gravy-soaked fries growing cold under fluorescent lights would've been counter-intuitive.
Photo credit: Jake Mix of The Eaten Path