Poutine at Biggie Baguette, eh?
More gravy, say we!
If there were ever a dish embellished beyond its original intent, it would be poutine. Chances are you've had something called poutine, but it's probably not what a Canadian might consider one. Local restaurants have been teasing us with versions of it for years. Most are delicious, great even, such as the Duroc belly poutine at Bosscat Kitchen and the oxtail poutine at Tavern On 2, but both are gentrified upgrades of a dish whose roots are lowbrow.
Poutine, as a Québécois might tell you, should only consist of three simple ingredients: French fries, brown gravy and cheese curds. The last two components are of paramount importance. The gravy needs to be thin, so as to be able to get in between the potatoes and ensure equal coverage. The cheese curds must be cheese curds—not cheese sauce, not grated Swiss; the marshmallow-sized nubs from young Cheddar should squeak slightly when bitten.
Not too long ago, a friend of mine, who became obsessed with poutine after frequent business trips to Montreal, finally mail-ordered fresh cheese curds from Wisconsin to be shipped overnight to our office. He and a Québécois co-worker split the exorbitant cost of the order, then bought fries from McDonald's, put the cheese curd nuggets on top and doused the whole thing with a jar of beef gravy he microwaved in the breakroom. It was the closest thing to true poutine both had had in California.
Now a poutine restaurant has landed in Newport Beach, seemingly to answer the prayers of transplanted Canadians and my poutine-obsessed friend. It isn't a restaurant as much as it is a sandwich shop called Biggie Baguette, where a single employee assembles hoagies in a Subway-like set-up. It will be this man and only this man you'll encounter there, and he's so friendly I immediately pegged him for a Canadian. On two separate occasions, people who had no intention of eating there ambled in from the street asking to use the restroom. "Sure!" he told them, despite the big sign on the door that read, "Restrooms for Customers Only."
The sandwiches he makes are just sandwiches, though, priced at $7 and includes a drink and all the veggies you want from the array, including a mayo-dressed pickled red cabbage amalgam that he tells me has some lemon it in it. It's good, but the Philly cheesesteak I ordered turned out to resemble nothing like it, with the griddled strips of beef as thick as fingers and the cheese I had the option of choosing not particularly melted. Another time, when he ran out of baguettes, he resorted to wrapping the meat in a tortilla. In truth, I might have gotten a more authentic cheesesteak at the sushi joint next door, which, I kid you not, also serves the sandwiches.
What you want him to make, of course, is the poutine. And he offers it in its most basic form, with the fries hot, the gravy thin and, most important, the cheese curds slightly squeaky. When you order, he'll take the already par-fried French fries from a fridge, throw it into a tiny deep fryer for crisping, distribute a handful of Wisconsin-sourced curds on top, ladle a savory brown gravy from a precariously placed pot, then shake on a final flurry of pepper.
You may be tempted to try Biggie Baguette's three other poutine offerings. If you want a poutine with protein, it's best to opt for the "Big Guy Poutine," in which he adds mushrooms and onions to sizzle on the griddle with bits of fatty bacon and indiscriminate scraps of meat. I've had all of the variants. A "Smoked Meat Poutine" features the Canadian version of pastrami, here in chewy, vaguely smoky cubes of a mystery meat whose origins remain unclear. And in the "Meat Lover's Poutine," I didn't so much taste the bacon, sausage and ground beef the menu said it contained as I did cut-up hot dogs and more of that mystery meat.
Still, all the poutines satisfy, filling the once-empty spot in the calorically loaded subgenre of junky smothered fried foods along with its spicier cousin, chili cheese fries. It's starchy, salty, fatty—the kind of meal you eat without thinking about it too much, except it's the exact thing you crave when it's cold out and you've had too much to drink.
In fact, I've found it's best to order Biggie Baguette's poutine as takeout, not only because you get a portion that's slightly larger than the dine-in, red-checkered paper baskets can hold, but also because the covered to-go boxes and the travel-time actually gives the cheese a chance to melt into the gravy and into your heart. And I mean that both figuratively and literally.
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