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Chicago welcomes first Poutine Fest

City's love affair with fries and gravy gets its own event

  • Gravy fries at Bangers & Lace
Gravy fries at Bangers & Lace (Jason Little/For RedEye )
January 04, 2013|By Kate Bernot and Lisa Arnett, @redeyeeatdrink | RedEye

Poutine may be a Canadian invention, but Chicago certainly has embraced the gravy-and-cheese-topped French fry dish. So much so, in fact, that the city is welcoming its first Poutine Fest in February.

Put on by three Chicago poutine enthusiasts, the Feb. 24 festival will bring together chefs from all types of restaurants—from gastropubs such as The Gage to fine-dining spots such as El Ideas—for an indulgent, gravy-soaked throwdown.

"Having so many restaurants involved allows them to put their own spin on it," said one of the organizers, Melissa Karlin, adding that she doesn't expect every chef to stick to the gravy-and-cheese formula.

She and fest co-founders Rebecca Skoch and Molly O'Sullivan have recruited nearly a dozen restaurants for the competition, which will take place at Haymarket Pub & Brewery in the West Loop. Attendees will choose a crowd favorite and a panel of judges will also select a winner.

Tickets, which will include beers and poutine samples, will go on sale soon, and those who sign up for the festival's email list will get first priority.

If the thought of eating multiple plates of fries topped with meat and cheese sounds daunting, the organizers have some tips.

"Eat salad the day before," advised Karlin. "But portion sizes will be manageable. We're not trying to give anyone cardiac arrest."

Of course, this isn't Chicago's first ride on the gravy train. In 2009, the dish popped up on a number of bar menus, from Small Bar in Wicker Park and The Rocking Horse in Logan Square to brunch versions at Bite Cafe, Old Oak Tap and Bangers & Lace.

More recently, we’ve seen a second wave of poutine popularity hit the city. Alpana Singh’s new River North wine bar The Boarding House serves a lobster version, while Uptown chicken restaurant The Pecking Order added a smoked gouda-topped version during brunch. Streeterville cafe Local Root opened last fall with an entire section of its menu dedicated to poutine, including a salty-sweet version with bacon and caramel. When Gold Coast restaurant Little Market Brasserie opens later this month, it will serve short rib-cognac poutine.

Perhaps the most dedicated is Badhappy Poutine Shop, which opened last spring and touts poutine as its main focus.

New Year's resolutions be damned, it looks like the poutine party is here to stay.

kbernot@tribune.com | lmarnett@tribune.com | @redeyeeatdrink


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