Wendy's Restaurant Poutine (Review)
What is Poutine?
For those who have never heard of poutine, it is deep-fried French fries, topped with cheese curds and hot gravy. Simple, gooey and delicious. (For more info, read Poutine: Canada's Favourite Food.)
Introducing Poutine to the Wendy's Menu
In the early Spring of 2012, Wendy's Restaurant and Toronto ad agency MacLaren McCann launched an ad campaign to celebrate the introduction of poutine to the Wendy's menu. Besides ads being run online, radio and television, their campaign included buttons, mugs, t-shirts and even bumper stickers. The most ridiculous part of their advertising efforts was an online petition (AKA "The Poutition") which called for Canadians to make poutine the national dish of Canada.
Heading to Wendy's for a Quick Lunch
I've avoided Wendy's for years (decades, actually). My experiences with Wendy's food has been a hit-and-miss over the years, especially with their fries which I've often found to be soggy and repugnant in their greasy flavour. However, since they switched how they make their fries, I've found them more palatable. At my husband's encouragement, we gave our local Wendy's a try and it proved to be a decent location with decent (and even yummy) food.
When a lady I was chatting with began singing the praises of the new poutine dish at Wendy's, I got excited. The chip wagons in our town have a special way of mangling their poutine and overcharging. It'd been nearly a year since we'd had decent poutine, so after hearing about how Wendy's poutine was "the best thing I ever put in my mouth" (to quote the exuberant lady), I decided we'd better go try it out.
Wendy's boasts that their poutine is made with their "famous" fries, topped with sea salt, Canadian cheese curds and "a rich poutine sauce."
I appreciate the use of sea salt. Our household switched to sea salt several years ago to avoid the iodine content of regular table salt. Since I doubt the nationality of the curd really affects the flavour, I assume the emphasis on Canadian cheese curds is to portray Wendy's as a caring Canadian company, despite the fact that they're based in the USA. And, their poutine sauce (not gravy?) ... Well, that was would be a major deciding factor regarding its worth as poutine.
What Makes a Great Poutine
Flavour-wise, great poutine requires a harmonious balance between the golden fries, melted cheese curd and hot gravy. The fries need to be crisp enough on the outside to withstand a bath in hot gravy, yet still be soft inside. Cheese curds are preferred because they have a unique tang and slight saltiness that cheese doesn't. They also retain a thick elasticity that cheese doesn't duplicate.
The gravy is often what makes or breaks a poutine. Too thin, salty or greasy and the dish is destroyed. Beef gravy is a better option than mushroom, pork or chicken because it has a natural richness and depth of flavour that other types of gravy usually do not have.
So, how does Wendy's poutine measure up?
The cost nearly stopped me from buying this dish. At a chip wagon, I can buy a medium poutine for $4.75 CAD and have enough to split with my husband. It always fills us up nicely. Wendy's promotional information claims that they charge $3.99 for their poutine or $2.20 as a side upgrade. In fact, the price was $4.19 CAD and there was only one size which was the equivalent of their medium fries. The Wendy's poutine turned out to be just a little too much for one person to have as a side, but not enough to share as a side for two. Very disappointing.
The presentation was nothing like the ads. No sparkling white plate with steaming hot food piled on top. Just a square plastic container usually reserved for their salads.
Visually, the poutine itself wasn't anything like the ads promised either. What the pictures show is golden brown fries, chunks of cheese curds and a dark brown gravy. What we got was yellowish fries that mushed when I tried to put a fork in them. They had a slight greasy twang, and I wonder what exactly these "famous" fries are famous for.
The cheese curds were smaller and drier than expected, hardly what I'd consider typical Canadian curds. However, they melted well and tasted reasonable.
The "rich poutine sauce" looked nothing like the dark gravy in the ads. It was a paler muddy goop, more like turkey gravy in colour. And, the taste ... Well, plainly put - it was horrific. It tasted like a badly made pseudo-meat sauce that came directly out of a can from the grocery store. I actually wanted to spit this out, it was so bad.
Overall, the whole thing left a nasty aftertaste in my mouth and I felt robbed. In fact, I went online and took their customer survey specifically to tell them how horrible their poutine was. The next day, the manager of our local Wendy's sent me an email offering me a free meal to compensate for my disappointment. At the time of writing this, it's been two and half months and I'm still not ready to return to Wendy's.
Even if the fries had been cooked properly, the canned taste of the sauce renders this dish unredeemable. I'm baffled by how anyone can claim the poutine at Wendy's is "the best", "awesome" or even "pretty good" (from various website reviews and forum feedback). The only explanation I can think of is that they have never actually eaten properly made poutine and therefore have no true basis for comparison. I feel sad for those people :-(
If you don't have a decent local chip wagon that serves good poutine and have to resort to a fast-food joint, I recommend New York Fries.