Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Best Vegan Poutine in Montreal

"hehe the only thing I know about montreal is.... poutine"

When traveling I, like most others, start by researching popular tourist attractions and the local food scene. I can usually and quickly find sensory experiences on TripAdvisor and food options by searching for "Vegan Food" on Yelp. By only searching for vegan food, I filter out a lot of restaurants. However, with Montreal it was a different story.

I had heard of poutine before, but it never really stayed on my mind as a must-have because it wasn't a vegan dish. Little did I know how vegan-friendly Montreal and Canada was. After my boyfriend mentioned poutine, I immediately did a Google search to see if there was indeed vegan poutine. I stumbled upon this list by Miranda Cipolla, https://www.mtlblog.com/best-of-mtl/8-restaurants-in-montreal-where-you-can-get-poutine-yes-vegan-poutine, the only list of its kind, and thus our quest to find the best vegan poutine in Montreal began (and how our meals in Montreal were subsequently planned).

1. LOV. The first stop on our Montreal trip was the first place on Miranda's list: LOV. When researching LOV and many of the restaurants on the list, I was pleasantly surprised to see multiple locations: Canada is so vegan-friendly, it has vegan chains! Although, the multiple locations became super confusing when trying to correspond locations on Google maps with the ones on the list. Adding to the confusion was the language barrier between French and English. Thankfully, LOV McGill was easy enough to remember so in the GPS it went. However, upon seating and looking at the menu, poutine was no where to be found. My boyfriend asked the waiter if they had poutine, and he responded with "Sorry, we don't have poutine." This is a good time to note that I did not thoroughly research the poutine list before our trip, which is very unusual for a planner like me. I somehow figured we would wing it depending on our location. Thus, when the waiter told us there was no poutine, I thought poutine had permanently been removed from the menu. It was only later when researching for this story that I realized poutine was only absent from the weekend brunch menu. Nevertheless, I was not deterred in the moment because we still had seven restaurants left on the list, and we shared a delicious apple french toast at LOV.

2. LOLA ROSA. After walking Old Montreal and downtown Montreal, we were ready to try again. Because the #2 spot on Miranda's list was outside Montreal, we tried going to next spot, Lola Rosa. This is when Google Maps really tripped me up-again, another failure due to my lack of planning-because all the Lola Rosas had different names-four compared to LOV's two. Additionally, all of the addresses were given to us in English on Google, whereas they were French on the list and Yelp.

I ended up choosing the location closest to us at the moment, but there was no parking nearby, so we just gave up because by then I had already planned for us to go to another poutine place on the list-La Banquise-where my boyfriend could try and compare non-vegan and vegan poutine side-by-side.

3. LA BANQUISE. La Banquise is situated outside downtown Montreal and has no other location, so it was pretty easy to find and park nearby. It was also the perfect dinner spot before we headed further north towards our Airbnb in Repentigny.

La Banquise is a poutinerie, meaning it specializes in poutine. At the #8 spot, it is the only poutinerie and non-vegan restaurant on Miranda's list. Upon arriving at La Banquise, you will see a sign at the front of the line informing guests of the accepted forms of payment, which was very smart and considerate. If you do not have Canadian cash or debit, they have conveniently provided an ATM in a corner next to the entrance.

After we converted our money, we were seated outside where our server informed us alcohol would not be served. I was kind of mad at my boyfriend, who's allergic to alcohol, for agreeing to this because I wanted beer with my poutine, but I didn't want to inconvenience the staff or wait any longer for this delicacy. The menu had plenty of customizable options, so essentially any poutine could be made vegan, but because this was our first poutine experience, we opted for the "La Classique." They also offer non-poutine options if you're interested in non-potato foods.

"La [Classique] VĂ©ganomane" was very visually appealing.

Unfortunately, its taste did not live up. The vegan gravy was bland, and the mozzarella cheese shreds were not fully melted (traditional poutine is made with melted cheese curds). Even the fries themselves had no flavor. I later bought a beer at a convenience store, which made stomaching these leftover fries easier, but I left La Banquise with the possibility that poutine just wasn't for me like how restaurant tacos aren't for me.

4. 57 CALS. LOLA ROSA (again). VEGAN RAPIDE. & L'GROSE LUXE VEGE. With internet at our Airbnb, I finally did the proper research on the list. I found out that the #2 and #6 restaurants on the list, 57 Cals and L'Grose Luxe Veg, had closed since the list's 2017 publication, so while vegan restaurants were more prevalent in Canada, they were also highly volatile. With three restaurants remaining on the list (Lola Rosa, Vegan Rapide, and Copper Branch), I decided to forgo Lola Rosa because its poutine appeared to be the same as La Banquise's. The Vegan Rapide location on Miranda's list also used shredded cheese, but I found another Vegan Rapide location using vegan cheese curds. I was prepared to order the Orbit Poutine, which came highly recommended by Yelp, with seitan, minced vegan meat, mushrooms, and caramelized onions, despite initially avoiding the restaurant because of its fast food moniker. The next morning came, and my faith in poutine was temporarily restored, but when we arrived at Vegan Rapide, it was closed-permanently. Sadness overwhelmed me to the point of not knowing what to do next, but luckily there was one restaurant left on the list-Copper Branch. 

5. COPPER BRANCH Copper Branch wasn't my first choice for several reasons: 1. It was the most chain-y of the list-I had to endlessly scroll on their website to find the location I wanted. 2. It had the worst ratings on Yelp (the location closest to Vegan Rapide had 3/5 stars because a reviewer saw an employee eating a popsicle while preparing his food lol). 3. Their poutine-made with a mushroom gravy and cubed potatoes instead of fries-was the least traditional. Despite all of this, Copper Branch ended up having the best vegan poutine in Montreal. Neither my boyfriend or I expected our last ditch effort to fulfill this quest.

For a different experience, we opted for the sweet potato poutine first. It was a game changer, as the sweet flavor contrasted perfectly with the savory gravy and cheese, which actually melted. It was so good, we regretted not ordering a large, but we ordered a potato one to try too. The potato one was not as distinct, but it was still good because of the gravy, which I deducted as the key to a good poutine.  

So to conclude, don't put all your blind trust into a list, especially if it's outdated. Do your own research. However, I wouldn't have had my vegan poutine experience any other way. If it weren't for the horrible poutine at La Banquise, I wouldn't have looked on Yelp for nearby vegan restaurants and discovered Sushi Momo, the best vegan sushi in North America nor would I have given Copper Branch's sweet potato poutine a try-what if I had tried LOV's poutine and been satisfied with plain potato poutine?! I'd still like to go back to LOV to try to their poutine but from what I've eaten, you can't go wrong with Copper Branch's vegan sweet potato poutine. With so many locations, it's highly unlikely it will disappear after reading my list! After visiting for two days, my boyfriend and I know a lot more about Montreal now: everyone is bilingual and assumes you speak French even if you're Asian; it is home to the largest permanent Barbie exhibit in the world; their grocery store juices are fresher and better; their Starbucks equivalent, Tim Horton's, serves Beyond meat; it is the birthplace of poutine, and last but not least, it has a lot of dank vegan food, including poutine.  

*For prices, please visit LOV and La Banquise's websites.