Versus: Poutine Guillotine

When fries, curds, and gravy leave you wanting more.

Poutine, the national drunken bar snack of Canada, doesn't look like much—just a pile of fries with some gravy and fresh cheese curds. To outsiders, it often sounds disgusting, or at least offensive.But poutine, if given the proper chance, is delicious. This popular snack, while associated with late-night drinking and unhealthy eating, has matured into a legitimate dish that now graces menus around the city, including those at Steelhead Diner and Quinn's Pub. So which of the two has the better poutine?The Rivals: Steelhead Diner, 95 Pine St., 625-0129; Quinn's Pub, 1001 E. Pike St., 325-7711.Steelhead's fries were plated and spread out nicely, each coated with gravy and curds. The gravy on this poutine ($7.95) is made with Nurnberg bratwurst, andouille sausage, and a "secret sauce" we're not allowed to know about. Surprisingly, the fries stayed pretty crunchy until the end, but that might be because we scarfed down the dish before the gravy had time to soak in. Steelhead chef Anthony Polizzi told us he lived off poutine for four days when he visited Vancouver, B.C., last year. But we hear the real reason poutine is still on the menu after three years is because it's a dish popular in Australia (who knew?), home of Steelhead co-owner Terresa Davis.Meanwhile, Quinn's poutine really isn't poutine in the traditional sense. Instead of the classic curds, awesome hand-cut fries ($8) are topped with fontina fonduta, a demi-glace made from vegetable stock, and some foie gras to add texture and creaminess. The sauce is like unctuous ketchup that lightly coats the fries—almost too delicately. These fries have been on Quinn's menu since the pub opened and are definitely well worth a taste. Plus, it's one of the few dishes offered between lunch and dinner service.The Champ: You'd think adding gravy to French fries would create a soggy situation, but that wasn't the case with either of these dishes. The fries at both Steelhead and Quinn's were not only delicious, they held their own under the weight of gravy and cheese, making this a difficult bout to call.But we give an extra nod to Steelhead for the flavor and quantity of gravy. We were happy to use our fork as a makeshift mop, moving our remaining fries around the dish to sop up the leftovers. Granted, Quinn's makes no promise of poutine, but the dish is close enough that anyone wanting poutine would be happy with this inspired offering. We just wish we had more of that meaty foie gras sauce to blanket the naked fries that remained after we ate the top layer. But really, leaving your customers wanting more isn't exactly a losing

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