A few weeks ago, one of my best friends scored two tickets to the 2014 Calgary Poutine Crawl. We’d both been anxiously awaiting the moment they were to go on sale, but she was one of the lucky 60 or so to snag a pair of tickets to the event. It literally sold out in less than 15 seconds – the first obvious sign that it was bound to be some special. I was obviously pretty bummed about it until her husband offered his ticket to me. Best wedding gift so far, Z!
Poutine Day arrived and we excitedly met at Wurst at noon. I’ve eaten (as well as enjoyed many a beer) in this great establishment & have always enjoyed the experience. There’s something about a beer hall that just says good times to me! We ordered drinks & waited for things to start, discussing whether we thought it would be something off their menu (they have great poutine) or something new.
Karen Richards, the organizer, welcomed us before the chef took the stage to talk to us the thoughts behind the day’s creation. They had decided to go with the poutine on their menu for a very good reason – they’d spent a long time creating it & think it’s great. I have to agree; it is a great poutine. They start with duck fat fries (never a bad idea, if you ask me) & add cheese curds, green peas, speck sauce, duck confit, & truffle oil.
This poutine is rich so I was grateful for the smaller portion. I have & would eat this poutine again though – the fries are great (duck fat, people!), the cheese curds squeak, & the “gravy” has a great flavour. For me, those three things are the most important components of a great poutine, & Wurst nails it.
Once we’d finished up, we got onto one of the two party buses & headed off to National 17. Not only is National one of my favourite bars in Calgary (another beer hall. What can I say? They’re just so great!), but also this next poutine would be the creation of one of my favourite chefs, Roy Oh. This poutine was by far the one H & I were most excited for, being Anju fangirls. (We’re anxiously awaiting the opening of his new restaurant – Anju 2.0!) Roy’s creation was a very cool Korean-Inspired “poutine” featuring chewy rice cakes, bacon, cucumber, gochujang sauce, & squeaky cheese curds. This is definitely not traditional poutine here, but those flavours. Seriously, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. The experience was over far too soon for me.
Back to the bus – we were headed off the beaten path, to Naina’s Kitchen, in a more industrial area of Calgary. I regularly frequent the Farmer’s Market across the street, but haven’t tried the stuffed burgers this place is famous for yet. It’s a small, unassuming little spot, but we all squished in. This one was a feast, & probably the most traditional to that point, featuring fries, cheese curds, meatballs, caramelized onions, & a sweet gravy. The meatballs were fantastic & I enjoyed the hint of maple syrup in the gravy, but the fries & curds weren’t my favourite. This was probably for the best though. If I had finished that monster, I don’t think I’d have managed the rest of the crawl (without actually crawling!).
It was back downtown for our next stop – The Libertine. Halfway through & I was getting a little full & a lot sleepy. Luckily, they have some great beers on tap, so we quickly solved one of those problems. Their team presented their poutine in little takeout boxes. I was excited to see apple coleslaw on top (I’m sure I’m almost alone in my excitement over a good coleslaw). Underneath we found fried chicken, double smoked pork belly (magical words), & of course, curds, gravy, & fries. I think the pork belly (& the slaw for me – I know I’m alone in this) were the stars for me here. The fries, curds, & gravy were all delicious though too so it was an all around well-executed poutine!
H & I had reached waddle status at this point, so she suggested we walk the few blocks to downtownfood. It was a great idea & we even arrived before the bus. downtownfood was the 2013 Calgary Poutine Crawl winner. In fact, they seem to put out some pretty amazing food for most of these types of things so I was definitely looking forward to their take.
They started us off with a lemon sorbetto to cleanse our palate “after all those inferior poutines we’d tried.” It was a clever tactic. This sorbetto was arguably one of the best palate cleansers I’ve had. Next they came around with the poutine. Servers removed funny plastic lids to uncover a steaming bowl of deliciousness, which included bacon, mushrooms, house-made cheese curds, duck-confit gravy, & delicious fries. These curds hit it out of the park for me. I could have eaten a bowlful of them. Seriously, I love curds. I also loved the flavour of the gravy, despite it being a bit on the more liquidy side. All around amazing flavours.
& then they followed it up with dessert: macarons. I’m such a sucker for macarons. Well played, downtownfood.
Last stop on our tour was a little pub across the river, Oak Tree Tavern. Wild Rose Brewery put us all in great spirits with a free beer. The poutine that followed was the first vegetarian option of the day, featuring crispy fries, cheese curds, & a sage mushroom gravy. The flavours of this poutine were great again, but I found myself wishing there were more curds. Yes, even after 6 poutines, I wanted more cheese curds. (I know, I’m a freak.) Oak Tree Tavern was a great venue to end that day on. We stayed around for a few extra beers & waited for our stomachs to shrink back to normal.
Overall, Anju’s poutine was my favourite for Roy’s creativity as well as the amazing combination of flavours, but I can’t say I was disappointed with any of the poutines we tasted. The votes were tallied the next day & downtownfood came out on top for the second year in a row – a well deserved win. All the participants did an incredible job & I would highly recommend this event to anyone who likes poutine. Or maybe I wouldn’t – I’d like to score tickets myself next year.
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