While I do profess to be an admirer of chain restaurants, I don’t eat a lot of fast food in practice. But when I leave the US (yes, Canada counts) it’s a free for all. Canada is particularly interesting because it looks just like the US on the surface except our franchises are nearly nonexistent there. Roots not the Gap, The Bay not Macy’s, Tim Hortons not Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s all homegrown.
On our last excursion up north we discovered St-Hubert, featuring rotisserie chicken and a fondness for gravy and frozen peas (which seems more English than French). James became so enamored by the brand that on this visit we stocked up on packaged sauces. DIY hot chicken sandwiches in our future.
This time we explored Chez Ashton and all its poutiney glory. How many ways can you serve fries? Quite a few, it turns out.
Combo meals come with fries or poutine as a side. The round aluminum tin on the left accompanied a chicken sandwich (poultry on bread is as ubiquitous as poutine in this fast food canon). The gravy-softened fries and soft irregular hunks of tangy cheese would be ideal for a geriatric jaw (or my toothless cat, Caesar, who gums Doritos with fervor) but there’s nothing gruel-like about the makeshift casserole that hits the right salty and starchy notes. Snow food or drunk food, it’s hearty. What’s not, are the sodas that come with these combinations. Beverages are served in sane, un-American-sized paper cups that I don’t think we’ve had since the ‘70s.
A Dulton Saucisses adds fat wiener slices and cinnamon-spiced ground beef, the same “Michigan sauce” that you’ll find just south of the border smothering hot dogs in Plattsburgh, New York. This is an onion-topped specimen from Gus’ Red Hots. The Galvaude Fromage, which I did not try, is poutine with chicken chunks and little green peas. Featured on the tray liner is a nameless snack that’s simply cheese curds and gravy. I guess it’s no stranger than eating a bowl of cottage cheese with ketchup.
Lunch turned out to also involve fries and gravy. There was no way we weren’t stopping at Restaurant Madrid, a hotel and diner half-way between Quebec City and Montreal that’s inexplicably surrounded by dinosaur figurines, monster trucks and designed in “the Spanish style that was sweeping Quebec” in the ‘70s.
I don’t recall a Spanish revival during my childhood. If there were one, I suspect it didn’t involve a mechanical fortune teller or life-size country bumpkin dolls.
Not really hungry after a Dulton for breakfast, I just ordered the bbq chicken leg. It came on half a hamburger bun, surrounded by fries with a small dish of what I’d call gravy. Canadians make a distinction between the brown liquid served on poutine and the brown liquid served with rotisserie chicken and atop hot chicken sandwiches like in the photo above. Those peas, they’re everywhere.
Chez Ashton * 54, Côte du Palais, Quebec City, Canada
Restaurant Madrid * Autoroute 20, Exit 202, St-Léonard d’Aston, Canada