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Guzzling Gravy At Poutine Fest

By Erika Kubick in Food on Feb 25, 2014 8:15PM

Americans may be holding an Olympic grudge against our neighbors to the north, but that didn't stop Chicago from fully embracing one of Canada’s greatest gifts, poutine. It’s only natural that a city that stuffs their pizza would hold an event devoted to French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. Last Sunday, we put aside our resentment and defeated dreams for the day and headed off to the second annual Poutine Fest at Haymarket Pub & Brewery.

Grease-lovers from all around town crammed into the pub to sample poutine from each of the ten participating restaurants and vote for their favorite. By the way, a “sample” meant a paper boat the size of your face overflowing with poutine. In addition to the coma-inducing amount of food, each guest enjoyed two drink tickets for Haymarket drafts and a Poutine Fest tote, while VIP members also enjoyed an extra ticket, a pint glass and an hour of early admission. It didn’t even take the full three hours before everyone was sloshed with both gravy and booze.

The panel of judges, who crowned the top three most exemplary poutine, included a scope of poutine aficionados: Joe Campagna, a former chef and food writer for ChicagoNow; John Shafer, the General Manager of Next Restaurant; and Alexis Roy, a Canadian Diplomat from the Canadian Consulate General of Chicago. While everyone clearly brought their A-game, a couple gravy boats truly stood out from the rest.

The judges awarded first place to The Gage, securing their two-year winning streak. Their fries were sautéed with Wisconsin cheese curds, duck confit, pickled red onion and smoke box gravy. Newcomer The Big Cheese came in second with a pierogi poutine with bacon, caramelized onion, cheese curds, sour cream and gravy. They also showcased the classic Canadian method: rather than heating the fries with the other ingredients in a pan, their classic method involves French fries, ideally fresh out of the fryer, a topping of cheese curds and a smothering of hot gravy. Once all three ingredients come together, the poutine becomes a gloriously greasy, melty mishmash of belly-bulging joy. Unfortunately, since the fries were hanging out in a tin foil tray instead of fresh from the fryer, the cheese never really melted. Still, the homemade pierogi on top was enough to secure silver.

The highlights of the fest were the more imaginative takes on the Canadian classic. The Brixton, the judge's third pick, brought a poutine inspired by biscuits and gravy: French fries topped with cheese curds, the world’s cutest mini biscuits, house made hot sauce, and sausage gravy. The fan favorite's award went to Le Bouchon, whose escargot gravy was definitely the most unique in the house.

If you want to clog an artery or two while having a fantastic time, then keep Poutine Fest on your radar for next February. While it’s one of the most indulgent foodie festivals, all ticket sales go to charity so you are actually serving your city by eating gobs of poutine. This year, all ticket sales benefited Growing Home, Chicago’s own certified organic urban farm that provides people with jobs and training in agriculture.