Indulging in the 6th Annual Poutine Indulgence

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Photo of dishes of poutine with the text "Indulging in the 67th annual poutine indulgence" overlaid.

Lauren Walker: [00:00:00] You're listening to Rhody Radio, Rhode Island Library Radio Online.

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Hi, I'm Lauren Walker, Assistant Director at the Coventry Public Library and self-proclaimed official poutine correspondent for Rhody Radio. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me a link to the Rhode Island Historical Society website, advertising the Museum of Work and Culture's 6th Annual Poutine Indulgence. For those of you who don't know, poutine is a French-Canadian dish comprised of French fries, gravy, and cheese curds.

Now, within my circle of friends, my love of poutine is well known, which is why my friend thought of me when she found out about the Poutine Indulgence. I immediately purchased two Poutine Passports, which cost $15 each or two for $25. My husband and I embarked on a poutine tour of Rhode Island in Southeastern Mass. We visited all seven participating eateries and sampled seven different poutines. In this episode of Rhody Radio, I'm going to review them all for you.

First though, I want to share my conversation with Anne Conway, Director of the Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket and coordinator of the Poutine Indulgence. The Poutine Indulgence is one event in a series put on by the museum during their Annual Francophonie Celebration of French-Canadian culture. By the way, I took four years of French between high school and college, and that's my best pronunciation. Hopefully, I can at least get an A for effort.

To give some context to my personal poutine self-indulgence, I sat down with Anne to learn more about this annual celebration and its connection to the museum.

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Hi, I'm Lauren Walker, the Assistant Director at the Coventry Public Library, and I'm here today with Anne Conway, [00:02:00] the Director of the Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket.

Anne Conway: Good afternoon.

Lauren Walker: Hi. This is my first time here, and it seems really interesting, and I think I'll definitely be back, but mostly I'm here to talk about, is it La Francophonie? Am I pronouncing that right?

Anne Conway: La Francophonie, yes, that's right.

[laughter]

Lauren Walker: What is it and why is the museum so heavily invested in this celebration?

Anne Conway: Well, La Francophonie is a celebration of the French language, the French culture, and the French heritage. The celebration really started with the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, called the OIF. They are based in New York City, and they had declared many years ago an International Day of Francophonie, which is on March 20th. Here in New England, as you know, there are many cities and towns like Woonsocket that have welcomed many, many French Canadians who have moved here to work in the textile industries at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. We still have a lot of culture, of heritage, of things that we want to celebrate.

Again, quite a few years ago, the Quebec delegation which has an office in Boston, and the Canadian consulate also has an office in Boston, and so there's a French Consulate, so these organizations that all have a mission of preserving the French language and the French culture, have gotten together and decided to organize some celebrations around the Day of Francophonie, which is, as I said, March 20th.

Dozens of organizations, and even now, I think there's [00:04:00] over 30 organizations throughout New England, including museums like ours, universities, schools that have very strong French language programs, have gotten together to develop a schedule of events, and it grew and grew, and it went from just a day to a week to a month. Now, for the entire month of March, we celebrate La Francophonie not only in Rhode Island but all over New England.

Lauren Walker: That's very cool. My family is from Canada actually, and they ended up coming to Fall River actually for the textile mills. My family is one of those families, so I was very excited when I heard about this because I had never heard of it before. I was wondering what are the programs that the museum presents during the month of March? I think I heard of one called the Poutine Indulgence.

Anne Conway: Yes.

Lauren Walker: As someone who likes poutine, I was interested in that as well.

Anne Conway: Absolutely. Who doesn't like poutine? But many people have not tried it yet. This is a good time to try the poutine because many restaurants throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts do prepare that dish. Here at the museum, we decided to organize a Poutine Indulgence. We started actually six years ago. When we talk about celebrating culture, we think about food. Culture, heritage, it doesn't matter what country or region, we want to celebrate. I think that most people think the same way. Like, "What is the food?"

Poutine, it's a very traditional Québécois dish made out of French fries, curd cheese, and gravy. It's just a delicious combination, but it's also interesting because the combinations are endless, and people really have fun [00:06:00] with that, making all kinds of different gravies, and different cheeses are incorporated in this competition that we do, because it is a competition, it's Poutine Indulgence, but we also, just to make it a little fun, people who purchase a passport here at the museum, it's only $15 or two for $25, gives you access to a free sample of poutine in seven restaurants this year.

You have the entire month of March to go and travel from one restaurant to the other and then vote for your favorite poutine. Then, it doesn't stop there because we also will be serving poutine at our Salute to Spring Celebration, which is going to take place on April 3rd this year. It's a Sunday afternoon. We're going to have three food trucks here on site preparing poutine and giving a sample to all our ticket holders for that day. Yes, we are going to make sure that we don't go get our cholesterol check after the month is over, but once a year is okay.

Lauren Walker: Yes, that's fine. Will the food trucks at the Salute to Spring be some of the entrants in the Indulgence?

Anne Conway: Yes, one of them. One will be, with the Poutine Indulgence, because we send people to the restaurants for the whole month. It's a little more difficult sometimes for food trucks to participate, although we do have one food truck that is in the competition, that's Poutine Peddlers, and they're in Taunton in Massachusetts. They have a site where they're there every day. The other places are restaurants. Then, for Salute to Spring on April 3rd, Friskie Fries is very well known in the Providence area. They will be here with their food trucks, but they're also part of the competition for the month of March because they [00:08:00] have two locations, one in Johnston and one in Providence.

Lauren Walker: Okay. Very cool. Well, that all sounds delicious. Other than Friskie Fries, who are the other participants this year?

Anne Conway: For the Indulgence and the competition, we have Adeline's Speakeasy, and they are in Cumberland, Rhode Island. We have Ciro's restaurant, they're right here in Woonsocket. We have Friskie Fries, as I mentioned, with two locations. We have KG Kitchen, they're on Hope Street in Providence. We also have Red's Kitchen, they're located in Seekonk in Massachusetts, and we have the Poutine Peddlers in Taunton.

Lauren Walker: Taunton. Wow, that sounds great. When will we find out who the winner is?

Anne Conway: The winner will be announced at the Salute to Spring event. It is actually called Salute to Spring Bonjours Printemps. We are a little bit outside of the La Francophonie, Francophonie Month, it's in April. Just a timing issue for this year but we will be continuing to celebrate La Francophonie at that event with a concert from a favorite Franco-American singer and songwriter. Her name is Josée Vachon. She's very well known in this area and just people love when she comes to Woonsocket.

We're expecting a very good crowd that day to come and listen to Josée. We'll have a local band too playing, the Good Time Band. We have a scholar who's going to be talking about the history of the French in New England, named Jeanne Douillard. We're also celebrating the museum's 25th anniversary this year, so we'll have some 25th Anniversary surprises going on that day as well.

Lauren Walker: Exciting [00:10:00]. Where can you buy tickets? I know you mentioned here at the museum, you could get tickets for the Poutine Indulgence, is that the same for the Salute to Spring, and are there any online sales?

Anne Conway: There are two places where you can find our tickets. The Museum of Work and Culture is a division of the Rhode Island Historical Society. You can go on our website, which is rihs.org, or you can simply go on our-- We have a museum store that you can visit, shopmowc.com, and you can purchase your tickets right there.

Lauren Walker: Oh, perfect. What other programs does the museum typically present during La Francophonie. I know I can't pronounce it very well.

[laughter]

Anne Conway: You're doing fine. Each year, we do an event called Cine Quebec, and it's very important for us to-- Yes, at the museum, we tell the history of the French Canadians who came more than 100 years ago, we tell the stories of struggles and victories, but that's very much in the past, but we want to show that these French Canadians are still here and they are still very-- come from a very vibrant society, which is the Province of Quebec.

It's important to show what is going on today, and we do that every year through films. We work, again, very closely with the Quebec delegation in Boston, and they have access to new releases from the Province of Quebec, and we get to present them here during our Cine Quebec event.

We also work very closely with the Rhode Island International Film Festival. They are a festival that is an official festival for the Academy Awards, so they get a lot of entries, and they get a lot of entries [00:12:00] from the Province of Quebec, and we get to screen some of these new entries from independent filmmakers. Cine Quebec already happened this year, but it's typically the first week of March. Again, if you visit our website rihs.org, you can get all the dates, and we usually start very early in January announcing all the dates for the Francophonie events each year.

Lauren Walker: Nice. Are there any other lectures, I know you were mentioning there is going to be a speaker at the Salute to Spring, do you usually do more lectures?

Anne Conway: Yes. Every winter, the Museum of Work and Culture presents a lecture series called Valley Talks. We explored several subjects, usually with some kind of a Blackstone River Valley connection or Northern Rhode Island connection. We always save the March presentation for a Francophonie subject. This year, we welcomed Dr. Patrick Lacroix who is a Director of Acadian Archives at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. He gave a presentation that can actually be seen on our YouTube channel at the Rhode Island Historical Society. Again, you can get that through visiting our website.

Lauren Walker: Oh, that's great. Are there any other programs going on for La Francophonie?

Anne Conway: Yes. Another event that we organize each year, of course, we had two years of cancellations with the pandemic; however, this year we are back in person for all of our events, which is very exciting. On March 24th, we will be at the Rhode Island State House when we will be raising the flag of Francophonie. This is actually an international flag of Francophonie because [00:14:00] the French language is spoken on all continents, and this flag represents each continent where French is spoken with a different color. We will be displaying the flag in the State House, and we will have a ceremony.

We invite the Consul General of Canada and France and Quebec delegate in Boston. It's hosted by our Governor and our Former Lieutenant Governor Roger Begin who is from the city of Woonsocket, and he's our master of ceremony each year. We bring in children from the French-American School in Providence. They usually perform a few songs, and some older students too, some high school students, usually they will read some poetry or something that they have created that they want to present in French. It's a really exciting event during the month of March.

There are so many things that we celebrate culturally with St. Patrick's Day and with Saint Joseph's Day. The last week of March, we show up at the State House with a delegation of organizations who are preserving and sharing the French culture and the French language, and it's always fun to all get together.

Lauren Walker: Yes, it sounds like it's a busy month.

[laughter]

Lauren Walker: You mentioned that it's the museum's 25th anniversary coming up.

Anne Conway: Yes, 2022.

Lauren Walker: Are you doing anything for that?

Anne Conway: Yes, we are planning an Anniversary Gala, and the date is October 15th. For the Gala, we will be opening a new exhibition called Hollywood comes to Woonsocket. You may say, "Why would you be talking about something as Hollywood, what do they have in common?" Right?

Woonsocket was once the home of [00:16:00] six theaters, and they were theaters that brought in, I'm talking about late 19th century or early 20th century Vaudeville circuits, we are talking about the beginning of movies, silent movies, and we're talking about some more recent films that were also filmed in Woonsocket, like, Hachi, and we had some more recent Netflix shows. We want to talk about all that. We are doing the research right now. We have two researchers who are doing an amazing job, just discovering things like Houdini performed in Woonsocket back in 1895.

Lauren Walker: Very cool.

Anne Conway: Our exhibit will be making that connection, and everyone will get to dress up Hollywood style if they feel like it. We also are booking some performers that-- most of them have been born in Woonsocket, but one person, Daryl Sherman, has had an entire career in New York City. We have another jazz performer that's been all over the country. Bring people back to Woonsocket for one evening, and I think it's going to be really exciting.

Lauren Walker: Yes, that sounds like a lot of fun. Well, it sounds like you've got a lot going on here.

Anne Conway: We do, and we're also working on a new permanent exhibit for the museum that we are planning to open also around the time of the 25th Anniversary. It's called Flowing Through Times, the communities, nature, and industries of the Blackstone River. We are going to be telling the story of the Blackstone River from the perspective of the river. With all the changes, the transformation the river has seen through the years. [00:18:00] It's going to be a really nice, very interactive exhibit, sort of state of the art with a lot of computer screens and really fun designs that we are working on. I think it's an exhibit that's going to really interest people of all ages, so got to stay tuned on this one.

Lauren Walker: Yes, very interesting. Well, is there anything else that you wanted to talk about that we haven't already talked about or does that--?

Anne Conway: No, just the fact that we are open back to almost our normal hours. The museum's open Tuesday through Saturdays. During the week, 9:30 to 4:00. On Saturdays, from 10:00 to 4:00. People can make a reservation online or they can simply come. We like to tell people to make a reservation, it's always a little bit better in case there's a large group.

We do see more and more student groups coming back, so if you want to have the museum a little bit more to yourself, it's best to call ahead of time, so you're not faced with 40 kids walking in the same time as you, however, the museum certainly can accommodate a lot of people, so it's never a problem. It's a great way to, of course not just for French Canadians but for people of all backgrounds to come in and see this place because even though the story is told through the French-Canadian experience, it's everybody's story, everybody is an immigrant to this country at some point, and I think that everyone can relate to the story we tell.

Lauren Walker: That's great. Yes. Well, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. To all of our listeners, I hope that you get a chance to try the poutine in the Poutine Indulgence. I know I'm certainly going to and stay tuned for all of the great things we can expect from the Museum of Work and Culture.

Anne Conway: [00:20:00] Thank you, Lauren.

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Lauren Walker: All right. Now that you know all about the Museum of Work and Culture's Annual Francophonie, am I getting any better at pronouncing that? I don't know, it's time to review some poutine. Disclaimer, if you want to remain unbiased as you taste your own way through the Poutine Passport, I suggest pausing here and listening after you form your own opinions. Otherwise, let's get to it.

We started with Ming's Sando Bar in Pawtucket. This place was a little tricky to find because our GPS brought us to the wrong parking lot, but their website has a feature that says, "Find our exact location" and this helped us find it. It's a small spot, but there's extra seating outside and everything on the menu sounded amazing. Our poutine samples, which weren't meal size but also weren't small, a perfect snack size, were their Pho'tine Fries. One of the friendly staff members told us it's like a bowl of pho but has poutine. I've never actually tried pho before, but the poutine was delicious.

It has pho gravy, cheese, curd, red onion, jalapeno, fried garlic, cilantro, and lime. I've never had fried garlic before. At first glance, I actually thought it was peanuts, but it was really good. The fries were perfectly crispy. Now, I don't know if all of our listeners will get this comparison, but the gravy reminded me of the brown gravy you can find on Fall River Chow Mein. It's a totally different dish than the chow mein served in Rhode Island, and the gravy has a salty, meaty flavor, but the Pho'tine gravy tasted like that with the added flavors of barbecue, lime, and jalapeno added in.

It was savory and tangy with a slight kick to it that developed the more I ate. By the end of this sample, I admit that the spiciness was a bit much for my meat and potatoes palate, but my husband who is much less sensitive to spicy food than I am, didn't think it was spicy at all, so that will depend on your palate. Overall, we [00:22:00] definitely started with the most unique poutine in the competition, and it would remain the one to be in our opinion. Next, we went to KG Kitchen Bar in Providence. Their poutine tops the fries with bourbon gravy and Vermont cheddar cheese curds.

Their menu offers the option to add a fried egg and/or bacon, but the sample was just the plain poutine. The fries and gravy were good and the cheese curd had good squeak, which is an important component of poutine for purists. This was overall a good poutine. If I had it in their restaurant as an appetizer, I would have been satisfied for sure, but in a competition following the bold flavors of Ming's Pho'tine, I just wasn't wowed by it.

Our third stop was Ciro's. I don't know if it's Ciro's or Ciro's, but I just listened to an audiobook where the main character was named Ciro spelled the same way, so I'm inclined to say Ciro's. It's C-I-R-O, Ciro's Tavern in Woonsocket. Their poutine features cheese curd from Wright's Dairy Farm, a gravy demi-glace, and shaved parmesan. I was intrigued by the parmesan because that's not a common component of poutine and I wondered if it would make it too salty, but it didn't.

The gravy demi-glace was thinner than most poutine gravies, so it didn't look like there was much of it, but it was actually soaked into the fries, which I didn't mind. The fries were not quite steak fries but thicker than shoestring and nicely crisp. I will say that the cheese was all melted, which still tasted good, but again, for poutine purists, the cheese curd is supposed to be unmelted and squeaky. After I finished this poutine, I had an aftertaste of wine from the demi-glace. The flavors were balanced and upscale like an elevated poutine. I preferred it to KG's, but Ming's was still lingering as my favorite so far, even with the extra kick.

After Ciro's, we made what Rhode Islanders would call a road trip, 40 minutes from Woonsocket to Taunton, Mass to visit the Poutine Peddlers Food Truck. It was absolutely pouring rain when we got there, but the [00:24:00] friendly Peddlers thanked us for coming out in the rain and handed us two ample portions of classic poutine perfection. The fries were perfect, the gravy was perfect, and the cheese curds, of which there were plenty, were appropriately squeaky.

As I continued to stab my fork into the gravy-drenched fries and cheese curd, shoveling them into my mouth, I announced to my husband, "I could bathe in this gravy." I found myself and still find myself torn between the deliciously unique flavors of Ming's and the poutine excellence of Poutine Peddlers. Next, we stopped at Red's Kitchen in Seekonk, Mass. I'm from Mass originally.

As the GPS directed us into the parking lot of the now, unfortunately, closed Fantasyland, an indoor family fun center where I spent my childhood playing games, riding the carousel, and eating pizza while animatronic animals sang to me, I wondered where the heck we were going. Well, it turns out that behind Fantasyland, there's another building housing a sports complex on the first level and Red's Kitchen, a restaurant and bar, on the second level.

Red's Kitchen offered three different flavors of poutine, original, confit chicken, and lemon sausage, but the bartender avidly recommended the confit chicken, so we both got that as our sample. I was already intrigued because in place of cheese curds, the poutine had fried mozzarella balls. You know how I feel about cheese curds in poutine, but I also love mozzarella and anything fried, so I didn't mind it. I thought the confit chicken gravy tasted very much like chicken pot pie filling but without the veggies.

It was tasty and savory, but I did feel like if it had peas, it would have been better. There's a type of poutine I had in Quebec City called Poutine Galvaude, which has the classic gravy and cheese curd but also shredded chicken and peas. This reminded me of that. I think if they had added peas to it, the flavors would have been more well rounded. My final consensus was that I liked it better than KG's but [00:26:00] not more than Ciro's. Our next stop was Adeline's Speakeasy, which has won the Poutine Indulgence competition the past four years in a row.

Adeline's poutine has pork, brown gravy, and cheese curds. The gravy was peppery but not too peppery, and tasted much more like a traditional poutine gravy than Red's had. The fries were nice and crispy and the flavors were very balanced. The cheese curds, of which there could have been a few more, weren't melted but weren't squeaky either, which might have just meant that since I actually live near Adeline's, in the time it took for me to drive home with my takeout, the cheese softened just enough to lose its squeak. I won't hold it against them.

Adeline's poutine is definitely a very good poutine. That having been said, I still couldn't get Ming's and Poutine Peddlers out of my head. Our final stop on our poutine tour was Friskie Fries. They have two locations, one in Providence and one in Johnston. We visited the one in Johnston. The sample was of their classic poutine which they call the Disco Dottie. It has handmade Vermont cheddar curd and brown gravy. The fries were very crunchy. The cheese curd was squeaky, and they actually chopped them up, which I've never seen before, but I liked it because I was able to get a little piece of cheese curd in every bite.

The gravy was a standard brown gravy and had a good savory flavor. I really liked it, but I actually wished that the fries had been a little less crunchy. Normally, I love crispy fries, the crispier, the better, but I think if they had been a smidge less crispy, they would have absorbed the gravy better. I thought that the fries at the bottom that had more time to soak up gravy tasted better than the ones on top. Here are my overall rankings. I had two ties. In fifth place, I put KG Kitchen Bar's poutine. It was good. There was no bad poutine in this competition, but I didn't think it was anything special.

Maybe if they had included the egg or the bacon, it would have stood out more. In fourth place is Red's. As I said, [00:28:00] I liked it, but I felt like it was missing something to round out the flavor. I vote they add peas. In third place is Friskie Fries. While I appreciated their chopped up cheese curd, I thought the ultra crunchy fries hindered the gravy absorption, which is important to poutine I think and the whole reason it's eaten with a fork instead of fingers. In second place is a tie for me between Adeline's and Ciro's. They were both quite different but equally delicious.

While Ciro's gravy demi-glace was thinner than Adeline's pork gravy, the complex flavors redeemed it. However, while parmesan was a pleasantly surprising addition to Ciro's poutine, Adeline's had the traditional unmelted cheese curd that I love. As I record this, I still can't decide on a definitive favorite, so tied for first place in my humble opinion are Ming's and Poutine Peddlers. Ming's Pho'tine was so unique, complex, and frankly fun. I've never had anything like it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it until it got a bit too spicy for me at the end.

Poutine Peddlers, on the other hand, really knocked it out of the park with their OG classic poutine. Poutine is what they do, and they did it really well. I couldn't stop eating it. I felt that comparing these two was like comparing apples and oranges. They're both so good but so different. I want to say that in a poutine competition, the best classic poutine should be a shoo-in, but I also appreciate the innovation that Ming's brings to the table literally, so I can't decide which one I like better. There you have it.

At the time when this episode is airing, you still have a few days to get your Poutine Passport if you haven't already, and vote for your favorite. Voting ends on March 31st, and the winner will be announced on April 3rd at the Museum of Work and Culture's Salute to Spring. You can get your Poutine Passport and tickets to the Salute to Spring online at shopmowc.com. That's S-H-O-P-M-O-W-C.com. [00:30:00] As always, thanks for listening.

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