Old Canadian food and poutine at Mom’s Kitchen

Andrew Coppolino
Old Canadian food and poutine at Mom’s Kitchen
The exact recipe for the farmer's poutine at Mom's Kitchen is a closely held secret, but bits of breakfast sausage, roasted pork and beef were all present. (Photo : Andrew Coppolino)

With an unexpected interruption for a global pandemic, Mom’s Kitchen has been serving breakfast, lunch and dinner since 2013, but owner and cook Manon Amyot also runs two food trucks that makes hers a very busy schedule, especially in the summer.

Up a few stairs from the street and into the casual restaurant on Landry Road, there’s the POS system behind some plexiglass, a cooler case for serve-yourself-soda, a dining area replete with pool table and sundry and assorted tchotchke and bric-a-brac that include an ancient Singer sewing machine and old-timey cash register, the latter two remnants of a bygone era.

And Mom’s menu is chock full of classics, too, from a full sheet of breakfasts – including baloney and cretons maison – club sandwiches and “hot hamburg” platters, whistle dogs, fish and chips, lasagna and spaghetti and meatballs.

What also caught my eye was “Old Canadian Food” on Amyot’s business card.

“When we cater, we try to offer old-fashioned food like your grandmother used to cook,” says Amyot, who started her career in the kitchen when she was 15 and preparing meals for the family of a local entrepreneur.

Indeed, classic diner fare and home-style meals. But I was interested in another version of classic: what Mom’s calls poutine du fermier available from a short list of specialty poutines. It was all the more intriguing because the menu notes, “We are famous for our Farmer’s Poutine.”

Granted, it’s a self-proclaimed distinction, but Mom’s prepares a lot of poutine – especially during the summer with those two trucks – and the famous dish is high up my list of favourite snack foods, though one that I remind myself to tuck into with some discretion.

Poutine is ubiquitous across Canada. I couldn’t possibly count the number of times, in several different cities, I’ve scarfed a cardboard takeout clamshell packed with crisp, piping hot fries, melty cheese curds that I describe as sounding “squidgy” when your molars start to compress them, and the drippy gravy.

Over the past decade or so, there has been an evolution: the fries that form the foundational starch of the poutine have morphed into a blank slate for a host of unique flavours and ingredients: butter chicken poutine, lobster poutine, gumbo poutine and pizza poutine.

While I occasionally dive into that riot of possible, and sometime improbable, ingredients, in my new home here I get a different feeling about poutine – that I’m a bit closer to the origins, the epicentre, of the uber-rich and indulgent snack food and not just geographically.

I don’t tuck into the view that poutine is Canada’s national dish, but it certainly is more than just a regional one.

Regardless, its origins have assumed a mythic status that dates to 60 years ago in Quebec when the word was purportedly first found on the menu at L’Ideal in Warwick, about two hours northeast of Montreal.

According to poutine historian Sylvain Charlebois, in his book “Poutine Nation,” the gravy wasn’t added until 1962, and only then as side dish to the fries and cheese curds. It was possibly Jean-Claude Roy, of Drummondville, who created the trifecta in 1964, says Charlebois.

In a poutine pilgrimage in The Toronto Star in 2008, “Food Sleuth” Marion Kane tried to trace the origins of the dish to Drummondville, Victoriaville and Warwick.

Poutine arcana aside, the dish is just a scrumptious and seriously indulgent treat, to say the least, including when you deviate from the purity of the original triumvirate of ingredients into the heady space where foie gras, pulled pork or grilled andouille sausage might make an appearance.

At Mom’s, Amyot has staked a proprietary claim to her version of the dish, among a half-dozen varieties – and the farmer connection is its own myth, she explains.

“A young farmer from La Ferme Ouellette used to come and eat at a food-stand I had in Sarsfield,” Amyot says. “He asked me to put all the meats into one poutine. When I then served it at the Russell Fair, it was in demand.”

It is, indeed, a meat-laden platter that sits before you with what must be a half-dozen meats intermingling with your fries and cheese curds all of which is smothered beneath a rich brown gravy.

To start, the hand-cut fries are twice cooked, blanched and then fried hot and crisp to order (they were very good); the cheese curds are from, of course, St-Albert Cheese, an historic cooperative that started in 1894.

A maven of poutine, perhaps, but Amyot is reluctant to divulge the specific ingredients and techniques that she uses, offering only that some of the meats are marinated and slow-cooked over the course of a day.

I rooted around the bowl of morsels and found some pork breakfast sausage and some crispy bits of roasted pork and beef which gave the dish some added texture.

There is a wide reach to Mom’s poutine: her trucks were at the recent Orleans Poutine Festival and are scheduled to pop up at events in Wendover, Maxville, Chesterville, Metcalfe, Carp, Kanata and Shawville, Quebec.

That’s a full summer up until October for poutine, the classic Quebecois – and Canadian – dish that Charlebois maintains should be nominated as the first Canadian dish to be declared “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO, just like Neapolitan pizza and the Parisian baguette.

I will second that nomination.

Note: Before visiting Mom’s Kitchen, check with the venue regarding dish availability and hours of opening.

Food writer Andrew Coppolino lives in Rockland. He is the author of “Farm to Table” and co-author of “Cooking with Shakespeare.” Follow him on Instagram @andrewcoppolino.

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