Snowbirds, Poutine and Beavertails
I often drive up and down Highway 77 in and out of Charlotte, North Carolina and on those days when “Snowbird” migration is at its peak (November and March) I often trail a host of RVs pulling automobiles, bicycles, motor scooters on their way to and from the sunny south. It occurs to me that I have a ready-made clientel should I want to open a “Chip Wagon” with “Poutine” and “Beavertails.”
With all of their infatuation for things fried in oil, Americans haven’t yet caught on to these gourmet treats like Canadians have. My wife is addicted to chips(known as French fries in the U.S.) and, should she have the time, she could do a full review of the hundreds of “FRESH Hand-Cut CHIPS” wagons dotted all over the Ottawa Valley. They aren’t hard to find and for certain, there are as many chip wagons in Ontario as there are Canadian Tire stores (since almost every Canadian Tire store parking lot has one).
I stood for twenty minutes at the Kanata Centrum chip wagon as they took in money “hand over fist” for a concoction called by its Quebec name “Poutine,” otherwise known as a “heart attack in a bag.” Poutine is fresh chips, first covered with cheese curds and then brown gravy (go figure?). This item must have originated in Montreal’s Point St. Charles or on Notre Dame Street in the lower end – the same place the Joe Louie and a Pepsi combination come from. My French Canadian friend Paul Laberge once told me that growing up he immediately could recognize who were the French and the English girls. The English girls all had braces and the Quebec girls all had false teeth. Not funny, but in those days of economic disparity, partly true.
Anyhow, wherever these chip wagons are parked, there is generally a line-up from March to November. There are competitions and arguments about who has the best fries and some folks will drive as far as Arnprior to Wes’ Fries (twenty-five miles from Ottawa) just to buy a bag. Others argue that Glen’s Fries in Westboro are the best and will stand in line for half an hour just to prove this conviction.
Jeanne and I so far disagree on who has the best fries in Ottawa. I am a fan of the Canadian Tire location in Kanata and she opts for the one at Merivale and Hunt Club Road. She thinks the outside is crisper and the inside chewy.
Myths get started about who has the best and some hang the banner which proclaims them “Voted Best Fries in Ottawa 2010” and so forth. When this happens the lines get longer and longer.
I just spoke to a young couple on vacation here from Saskatoon and had no idea that this fry business was because it is essentially an eastern Ontario cultural icon. I informed them that they have not visited Ottawa unless they had sampled a bag of these little crisp, golden, calorie laden morsels. Next to a visit to the “Peace Tower” on Parliament Hill, they are the next “MUST SEE – MUST DO ” major attraction in Canada’s capitol city. (Yes, American friends, Ottawa is Canada’s capitol city, not Toronto.)
While driving south out of the city and through Manotick on River Road (Highway 13), I found this rather high brow version of a chip wagon (above). It is one that Jeanne has not yet tried and should whet her appetite for a drive. Actually, to be fair, I must report that she has seen the light (or rather her waist line) and has sworn off of them for a while.
Let me introduce our American friends to one more food item unique (or so it seems) to Ottawa and the Byward Market / Rideau Canal area: “BEAVERTAILS.” These were actually invented by some American relative to the Christian gospel singer Dallas Holmes. Somehow he got to Ottawa, started deep fat frying these sweet breads and then slathering them with all sorts of “Nutella”, cinnamon, and jelly combinations. For almost forty years knowing what these are have been an indicator of authentic Ottawatonian status.