That’s not what McDonald’s is calling it – it’s just poutine – but the chain is finally getting with the times here in Canada by making the uber-popular dish a permanent menu item. It’s nearly impossible now to go into a food establishment in this country without having it as an option (is Tim Hortons next?). That’s good news for all of us poutine aficionados (links to PDF), or poutinados, as it were.
Upon hearing the news, I headed straight to the nearest Golden Arches to see how McD’s take on the Quebec staple stands up. After all, McDonald’s legendary fries meets the fundamental awesomeness of gravy and cheese curds – what could go wrong, right?
This actually isn’t the chain’s first effort at poutine. The company has tried it out in limited doses over the years and has been selling it in Quebec for some time. I can’t remember ever trying McPoutine in la belle province, but I do remember some of the earlier, “limited-time” offers here in English Canada being less than stellar.
If McDonald’s and poutine have anything in common, it’s that they’re both often accused of being unhealthy. McPoutine 1.0 was perhaps the perfect embodiment of that sentiment, as it had one overriding taste to it: salt. You’d think this is one dish that’s relatively hard to screw up since it’s just three ingredients – fries, gravy and cheese curds – but a surprising number of efforts go wrong with the gravy; if it’s too salty, your attempt isn’t worth its salt. The chain’s earlier efforts are glaring proof that poutine is actually a tough item to get right.
It’s with that lingering memory that I placed my order. I was pretty hungry, so I opted for the $1.50 upgrade to a meal combo, but you can get poutine as a standalone order for $3.99. That’s pretty cheap compared to the $5 or more that rivals such as New York Fries or Smoke’s charge for their basic products.
I sat down and opened up the box, which is similar to the kind that Smoke’s uses with a laminate lining inside, but a bit smaller. Egads! I was discomfited by what I saw.
I’m psychologically conditioned to think that dark colours are good when it comes to poutine, because brown gravy is good while lighter gravy generally isn’t. McDonald’s gravy is on the lighter side, almost a sort of orangey-yellow. It doesn’t go well with the company’s signature fries, which are yellow to the point of almost being white. Combine it all with white cheese curds and you’ve got an albino meal. Not that there’s anything wrong with albinos, but colour in food is scientifically proven to improve its appeal.
A few bites in, my not-so-fond memories of earlier efforts were fortunately put to rest – there’s certainly nothing overly salty about this next-generation McPoutine. The more I ate, the more I actually thought it to be almost blasé, an unremarkable blend of the three ingredients that is designed to neither offend or delight. Indeed, by the end of it I was convinced that McDonald’s has created the perfect mama bear of poutine – it’s perfectly palatable to anyone who tries it. You’re just unlikely to be blown away or repulsed by it.
The same sentiment applies to the portion size. I found it to be pretty small and was glad for the accompanying Big Mac, which is probably how McDonald’s planned it. You’re getting just enough to want more, but not so much as to make it a full meal on its own. Well played McDonald’s, well played.
Portion size is a delicate balance when it comes to poutine, especially the basic kind, or the sort that doesn’t have tons of other stuff (like perogies) piled on top of it. If it’s too big, even the most serious aficionados can get sick of it. Too little and it feels like a rip-off. Again, McDonald’s is just right.
I won’t even touch on McPoutine’s nutritional numbers, mainly because I don’t want to know and because this is poutine; it’s pretty clearly not health food. And, despite McDonald’s Canada’s recent push to attract vegetarians, the new dish is out for them since chicken gravy is used, according to the company’s website.
All told, McDonald’s poutine is perfectly serviceable, with a decent portion size at a good price. It’s not a destination poutine that I would go out of my way for – my preference for that sort of thing is still New York Fries – but it is something I might be tempted to upgrade to in those rare circumstances where I find myself really hungry and at a McDonald’s.