If you’re French Canadian, there’s a single word that will cause the heart to flutter, pulse to race, and eyes get misty. No, it isn’t “amour,” it’s “poutine.” (Well, one and the same, some would say.)
In Montreal and Quebec City, poutine receives the veneration usually reserved for holy relics. I even encountered poutine in Anglo-centric Winnipeg last week. If anything can breach the feud between that nation’s French and English, it’s poutine.
Imagine, then, my delight to find it on a menu right here in South Minneapolis, thus forestalling withdrawal symptoms. The co-dependent fostering this addiction is Duplex, the sweet little café at 25th & Hennepin, better known for its high-class food. For it’s time to tell you that poutine is nothing more than glorified French fries. (The key word here is “glorified.”) In French Canada, they’re served everywhere from white-tablecloth restaurants to diners and drive-ins. Especially diners and drive-ins.
And just what are they doing here at Duplex? “We had a French Canadian cook who couldn’t live without them,” explained our server. “He’s since left, but we can’t remove them from the menu. It’s gourmet bar food,” she allows, and unquestionably furthers yet more instances of poutine addiction. (Has Hazelton added a potato-abuse counselor?)
Here’s the difference from McDonald’s fries: Ketchup is verboten (or however you say “forbidden” in French). The correct procedure goes like this, just as it does in Duplex’s miniscule kitchen. Spuds are house-cut into long, slim slivers, flash-fried, then drained of excess oil and salted. Super-salted, actually.
Then they’re slathered with a rich, brown gravy — settle down, you unbelievers: Just wait till you taste ’em — and topped again with lots and lots of melted cheese. (In Duplex’s case, it’s white cheddar from Wisconsin.) Got the picture? In drive-ins, they’re handed over in a paper cone. Here, they rate a china plate. And there’s more than enough for sharing — that is, until that dependency sets in.
However, you can’t just walk into a nice place like this and simply order fries. (Well, actually, you can.) So, to fill out the drive-in menu motif, we also ordered the duck sloppy joe. It’s another riff on six-pack food, gentrified in this kitchen by calling on tender shreds of duck meat, slow-braised with plenty of sweet peppers and tomatoes, given a sprinkling of cilantro, and sent out on a grilled bun, along with — ready? — more French fries. But these aren’t clad in gravy and cheese. They’re actually sweet potato fries and accompanied by an über-rich and elegant lemon aioli that delivers a wallop of heat as well.
With both (and a to-die-for bread pudding — yet another blue-collar comfort food), we sipped a crisp, fruity vinho verde, Portugal’s quaffing white wine at only $5 for a generous glass. But then, that’s Duplex for you — serving folks what they, deep down, really want to eat and drink at bargain-basement (rather than urban-duplex) prices.
2516 Hennepin Ave. S.