Can it really be called poutine without the cheese curds?
This Review article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.
Ever since I arrived in the country a few months ago, I've been trying to find some of the best poutine in Canada.
This unofficial national dish of Canada features French fries doused in brown gravy and cheese curds and, for many, it's the best way to get to know the place.
And one of my favourite things about it is that there are so many toppings available to try — everything from sausages to pulled pork.
It wasn't until a friend mentioned vegan poutine to me that I realized there was one variety I was very much missing out on.
To begin with, what is vegan poutine? Well, the obvious factor that stops poutine from being vegan is the cheese curds.
But after looking it up, it became obvious that the brown gravy is also traditionally made with chicken or beef stock — meaning traditional versions of this beloved dish are neither vegan nor vegetarian.
But surely, a vegan version of such a popular dish has to exist? As someone who has been constantly trying to cut down on their meat intake, I was intrigued.
A quick scan online confirmed to me that it did exist, so I took it upon myself to try it with an open mind.
And I did even better, finding three different spots that served the vegan version of the dish near me in Toronto.
Vegan poutine isn't always easy to find
Vegan poutine at Parka Food Co.
Despite seeing several places pop up during an online search, vegan poutine isn't as readily available as I thought it would be in Toronto. I enquired at a bunch of restaurants, only to be told that they didn't have a vegan variety.
This includes Smoke's Poutinerie which had a bunch of very delicious vegetarian takes like the butter chicken-less cauliflower and the buffalo cauli-ranch. But sadly, no vegan-specific entries.
I finally did find it in a variety of vegan fast-food restaurants in Toronto. And one server did inform me that it's more easily available in Montreal, where they used a "plant-based mozzarella" — so that's something.
It all boils down to the "cheese" used
Janice Rodrigues poses with poutine.Janice Rodrigues | Narcity
My first stop was Parka Food Co. which served poutine fries with a cashew "cheese" sauce and organic gravy.
I was a little apprehensive as I opened the box. For starters, I'm not a fan of cashews and, well, can it really be called poutine without the cheese curds?
As I took my first bite I realized, yes it can. The vegan poutine at Parka Food Co. was actually pretty great. The fries were thinner than usual, but they were perfectly salted and crispy.
Meanwhile, the cheese sauce was delish, a little thick and creamy – sort of like a thick tomato sauce – and a little salty on its own, but it complemented the fries perfectly.
According to the server, it's made in-house with veggies and isn't processed, which also makes it a healthier option.
Finally, the mushroom sauce, with little chunks of mushroom in it, were a great touch and added richness to the dish.
A friend did note that he missed cheese curds which "help cut through the grease," but I wouldn't mind ordering this one again, at all.
Bonus point: I left feeling lighter than I would have with ordinary poutine!
It's a little hit or miss
Vegan Poutine at Fresh Restaurants.
Overconfident with my success, I decided to check out one of Toronto's best-loved vegan chains – Fresh Restaurants.
This is a great option as it has branches across Toronto.
Again, their poutine offering came with fries, mushroom gravy and a fresh "cheese" sauce.
The fries were a little chunkier than the last place I visited, well-seasoned and crispy. But the sauce felt … bland.
The mushroom sauce offered some respite but didn't really do much to the overall flavour. Even worse, it just combined with the "cheese," leaving the fries in the centre a soggy mess.
So even though the portion was pretty large and the service was great, I couldn't get on board with this one.
Don't knock it till you've tried it
Smoky Pulled Jack Poutine from Odd Burger.
My final stop for the day was Odd Burger, another vegan fast-food chain.
Now, this is one I was really excited about, because the fries come with plant-based mozzarella sauce - just like I heard they have in Montreal.
This restaurant had three varieties of poutine on its menu: the classic, the ChickUn BacUn and the Smoky Pulled Jack.
Unlike the last two places, I actually had vegan options here which felt pretty good.
The place looked pretty cool too, you order into a screen in the restaurant, pay, and can then pick up your dish when your number is called. They have both sit-down and takeaway options.
In the manner of trying something new, I ordered the Smoky Pulled Jack Poutine – and I wasn't disappointed.
While you can tell that the "pulled meat" isn't the exact texture of real meat, they got that smoky barbecued flavour just right. Underneath that, there's a layer of crumbly plant-based mozzarella that's so good, it's easy to confuse with the real thing.
And finally, it had well-seasoned fries, gravy and a sprinkling of green onions on top.
It's rich, comforting vegan junk food, and I'd recommend it to anyone looking for the same!
I should mention that there are other vegan poutines available in Toronto – for example, The Enchanted Poutinerie, which also comes highly recommended – that I didn't try.
My overall takeaway: vegan poutine options do exist, although I'd certainly like to see more of them. And while not all are a guaranteed hit, some might be good enough to convert non-vegetarians like me!