When Zombie Burger + Drink Lab first opened back in 2011 I was excited to see a Zombie Poutine on the menu. Poutine, a simple enough application of French fries topped with brown gravy and cheese curds, plus optional meats, traces its origins to rural Quebec. From there it took the rest of Canada by storm before leaching its way across the border into the States.
What I enjoyed at Zombie Burger two years ago was rather disappointing. Aside from a few crispy pieces the French fries were underdone. The gravy was thick and clingy, but also a tad saltier than I cared for. And the cheese curds. Well, what could I fault in a cheese curd? Not a thing. They might have even melted a little from contact with the fries and gravy were they not still chilled. Neither I nor my dinner companion were terribly impressed after a couple of forkfuls, and pecked at it some more until we had our fill with about half of the fries and gravy remaining.
Having visited Zombie Burger of late to sample their line of hot dogs [see blog post], I was curious if their poutine had improved. And indeed it had: this poutine was proper! Such deep roasty flavors from the abundant gravy and the well browned fries. And the curds were so melty! This is not a dish to invigorate; this is for long periods of deep coma!
Back in January, The Cheese Shop of Des Moines offered a poutine for a weekend lunch special. Enjoying a plateful, I was struck by its refinement. The curds, the fries, even the chicken gravy was so well-defined. Nothing was subsumed by another ingredient. The exceptional curds from Milton Creamery weren't quite melted, but neither were they cold. But in this application, allowing some toothiness in the curds works.
To finish off my experiences I went to Django to sample their tricked out poutine with tender braised beef, a mushroom onion hash, Milton Creamery cheese curds and a demi glace over house shoestring fries. The brown sauce is surprisingly bright; mushrooms were toothsome while the onion just melted into the dish. I topped this poutine with an optional fried egg, and for a large serving I don't think it offers much. For all the poutines I had sampled, this dish offered the least amount of cheese curds.
Django's poutine is exceptional, but the more balanced and defined taste of The Cheese Shop of Des Moines' dish is my clear favorite of the two. That said, Zombie Burger's poutine is more plentiful and affordable, plus the curds are completely melted. And if given a choice between The Cheese Shop's poutine and their impressive baked macaroni and cheese [see blog post], I'm taking the mac and cheese every time.
So as long as Zombie Burger keeps from regressing their poutine to darker times, I'll be scoring my fix there.