A bright red food truck sits on Nesconset Highway, just south of Wireless Road in South Setauket. Bold signage announces The Poutinerie alongside blue, red and yellow flags that flap in the wind and peripherally beckon passersby to make a U-turn at the next traffic light. The U-turn is the correct choice.
From local pubs to swank Top 100 spots, a growing number of Long Island eateries are embracing the decadent national food of our northern neighbors in Canada: poutine. And while disco fries, fries with “mozz” or Cheddar, and other potato-cheese-gravy combinations like to masquerade as poutine, all are comfort riffs on the Canadian dish that is having a New York moment and makes some satisfying Sunday football fare.
Back in Setauket, The Poutinerie’s Craig Nadolne passes a red-and-white-checked paper serving plate through his truck’s window — a piping hot classic poutine made with bistro fries, cheese curds and deep, dark-brown gravy ($10). This is the real deal.
Poutine burst onto the Québécois food scene in 1950s, explained Richard Bedrosian, owner of Prime Burger Bar in Commack, which serves a traditional version ($11.95) that's also available at its sister restaurant, Babylon Burger Bar. Bedrosian used to spend summer weekends up in Montreal at the Formula One Grand Prix. “That’s when I got my first taste of cheese curds,” he said.
Cheese curds are a byproduct of the Cheddar cheese-making process, and the star of any good poutine. Really, it's just Cheddar cheese pieces that didn’t make it into a wheel to age, rather to be sold right away and used fresh. Curds take on the flavor of stronger ingredients they're paired with, as their own flavor is subtle and slightly salty. White or a light yellow in color, fresh curds actually squeak when chewed and have a spongy texture, earning them the alt-moniker “squeaky cheese.” Eaten on their own as a snack, like the one favored by Little Miss Muffet, paired on meat skewers, or as a key ingredient in poutine, they’re also beloved in Midwest dairy-producing states like Wisconsin and Minnesota, where they are traditionally served fried.
The Poutinerie truck launched in 2021 and also serves fried cheese curds. Get them for the kids, who will swear they are mozzarella bites and order a classic poutine for yourself. Nadolne’s not stingy with his gravy or his curds, which he sources from Ellsworth Creamery in Wisconsin. They quickly melt into a fine “mess” of a meal, one of the many debated translations of the Québécois word poutine.
For $12, you can add General Tso’s chicken (or shrimp) to your poutine. There's also firecracker shrimp and vegetarian falafel toppings. Nadolne also makes a mushroom-based vegan gravy from scratch, daily. When he asks if you’d like lemonade, say yes.
“People think they don't like curds because it’s a curdled milk product, so you see many folks replicating the dish using mozzarella cheese to achieve a similar effect. But, for us, the flavor of the true poutine comes from the curds, which take on the flavor of the gravy. There's no substitute,” said Nadolne.
An affable guy, Nadolne is passionate about his poutine pivot to the food truck life after spending much of his career as a maintenance superintendent. His is the only Long Island truck serving poutine, and he finds himself booked for festival events as far away as Pennsylvania.
Poutine became so popular in Canada that three different Quebec establishments have claimed ownership of the dish. But according to "The Oxford Companion of Cheese," (Oxford University Press, 2016) it was customers at all three restaurants mixing the individual menu items — French fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy — together who are responsible for poutine’s official arrival on menus across the country.
Embraced in the early 2000s at pubs, roadside potato shacks called cabanes à patates, and, of course, hockey games, Canadian chefs reinterpreted the dish through various lenses — most famously, Martin Richard at Au Pied du Cochon with his take fried in duck fat and topped with foie gras. Soon after, food celebrities like Minnesota’s Andrew Zimmern were showing up in Montreal to sample Canada’s comfort food du jour. Today, there are poutine festivals in Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, Ottawa and even Chicago.
Poutine pops up at sit-down restaurants around Long Island, from pubs to bistros to burger bars:
247 Main St., Farmingdale. Other locations in Rockville Centre, Huntington, Patchogue and Stony Brook.
Short rib shows up on the poutine menu at Burgerology in Farmingdale, where a strong red wine sauce enhances a substantial pile of beef over plentiful, chunky curds ($15.95). Portions here are made for sharing, though the classic poutine ($12.95) feels a little less intimidating and pairs beautifully with a vanilla milkshake, one of the other decadent treats at this mini-chain that isn’t a burger. As Taylor Grottola, a manager and bartender explained, “being in Farmingdale and open late, especially on weekends, the poutine is always a hit. People come in looking for it.” More info: 516-875-3777, burgerologyusa.com
234 Hillside Ave., Williston Park
While this Newsday Top 100 restaurant does New American fare well, with a menu of chops, steaks, fish, it also celebrates comfort classics like deviled eggs and poutine ($14). A popular item found on many a dinner table, it’s their breakfast poutine ($10), an interpretation of the original featuring Cheddar cheese, eggs, bacon, hollandaise sauce, scallions and a garlic aioli over skinny fries, that draws the most raves. More info: 516-746-1243, copperhillny.com
The Good Life
1039 Park Blvd., Massapequa Park
The campy, London-themed pub on Park Avenue puts copious amounts of curds over Tater Tots in a deep casserole dish ($11.50), topped with a thick, hearty, light-brown gravy. With cheese pulls for days, the portion could easily feed a family of four, and puts a playful and tasty spin on the classic that offers more texture than mere fries. More info: 516-798-4663, thegoodlifeny.com
Route 347 (Nesconset Hwy.), just south of Wireless Road, South Setauket
Craig Nadolne's truck serves classic poutine made with bistro fries, cheese curds and deep, dark-brown gravy ($10), plus fried curds. Toppings include chicken, shrimp and vegetarian falafel. More info: 631-542-2867
Prime Burger Bar / Babylon Burger Bar
6092 Jericho Tpke., Commack,and 1 W. Main St., Babylon
With two kinds of poutine on the menu, these restaurants offer a classic version piled high with house-cut fries, topped with white cheese curds and housemade brown gravy. A meaty version is topped with a cabernet-braised pulled short rib ($14.95). More info: 631-486-9414, primeburgerbarny.com and 631-620-3362, babylonburgerbar.com
As we continue to see poutine around the Island in more creative combinations, buyer beware! It’s the curds you want. Don't settle for imposters.