Its fan base is well established and praise for its poutine abounds, but does La Banquise really serve the best poutine in the city? Is it the place to go if you want to try poutine for the first time? What makes La Banquise so well liked? Is it worth the wait?
What is poutine?
In its most basic form, poutine is french fries covered in brown gravy and topped with cheese curds (fromage en grains). If it seems like such a dish would be heavy and unhealthy, that's because it is. In fact, it would be difficult to imagine a dish more likely to make a nutritionist panic, but it sure tastes good, and late at night or on a cold winter's day, poutine can really hit the spot.
Poutine, La Banquise style
Sure, you can order the typical version of poutine, but one of the things that makes La Banquise stand out (and one of the reasons for the restaurant's popularity) is the number of variations on the original it offers. In fact, about 30 different kinds of poutine can be found on the menu. Most are a complete version of classic poutine, plus extra toppings.
Varieties include choices as diverse as La Matty (bacon, green peppers, mushrooms, and onions), La Galvaude (chicken and green peas), La Grecque (feta in place of cheese curds, cucumbers, tomatoes, black olives, and spices), La Duleton (ground beef and onions), and La Savoyarde (bacon, onions, swiss cheese, and sour cream). Two of the top choices are La Taquise (guacamole, sour cream, and tomatoes) and La T-Rex (ground beef, pepperoni, bacon, and slices of hot dog). If you are a hungry carnivore, go for La T-Rex.
|La Taquise (foreground) and La Duleton (background)|
Is that all that's on the menu?
It seems like everybody goes to La Banquise for the poutine, but the menu does offer alternatives like hamburgers, hot dogs, shepherd's pie (pâté chinois), lasagna, spaghetti, sandwiches, salads, and breakfast food.
These other choices can come in handy if you are a non-poutine eater stuck with a group of poutine fanatics, or if you want to try poutine but aren't ready to go whole hog. In the latter case, options include upgrading the fries that come with the burger trios to poutine, ordering a poutine in addition to your meal to share among friends, or sneaking a few gooped up fries from your neighbor.
Soft drinks and local microbrewed beers and cider are available to wash it all down.
What time of day is La Banquise the busiest?
La Banquise is open 24 hours a day and caters to everybody from workers to students to tourists to late night snackers. The later it gets, the more happening it generally is. The atmosphere can have a nice buzz to it, but if you want to avoid crowds, go early.
Is the poutine at La Banquise the best in Montreal?
What constitutes an excellent poutine is somewhat a matter of opinion. Some claim that La Banquise is a Montreal icon and its poutine can't be beat. Others argue that the poutine isn't that great and that the restaurant has become a tourist trap.
My view is somewhere in between. Lots of tourists do visit La Banquise, but plenty of locals eat there too, and as far as the poutine goes, it's good but not perfect. On my most recent visit, for example, the fries could have been crispier, the gravy a little less salty, the cheese curds slightly more melted, and the gravy to fries ratio higher. However, the overall taste was good and the cheese curds were nice and squeaky. I also like that the fries are made fresh.
Is it worth it?
Besides its veritable plethora of poutine choices, La Banquise has several good points. The interior of the restaurant is casual, bright, and cheery, and the prices are reasonable. What's more, the business is locally and family owned. It has been around since 1968 and has made putting a spin on poutine its specialty since the mid 90s. It's more popular than ever, so something must be going right.
If you are wondering where to go to try out poutine, La Banquise may not be at the top of everyone's list, but it's not a bad choice either.
994 Rachel East
Price: Allow $10 - $15 per person, including tax and tip.
Highlights: An unusual assortment of poutines. La Taquise. La T-Rex.