U.S. Capital Hungry for Canuck Poutine

D.C.'s WONKY FRIES
D.C.'s WONKY FRIES

By: Lee-Anne Goodman | Winnipeg Free Press

WASHINGTON — It’s a wintry working day in the U.S. capital and the city’s famous food trucks are out in force, offering everything from fried chicken to curry, Cuban sandwiches, Maine lobster rolls and slabs of fresh-baked pie to hungry D.C. office workers.

But the peckish are lined up at one truck in particular, Eat Wonky, parked by one of the busiest downtown subway stations in the city. They’re clamouring for that quintessential Canadian comfort food — poutine, the Quebecois mess of french fries, cheese curds and brown gravy.

In a city better known for its politics and power-brokers, poutine is catching on with appreciative Americans thanks to Minas Kaloosian and Jeff Kelley, childhood pals originally from southern California who were introduced to the concoction by Canadian friends last year.

Washington, D.C., is a street food aficionado’s delight, with dozens of roaming food trucks setting up shop all over the downtown core every day to serve the lunch crowd and, later, the late-night throngs spilling out of clubs or sporting events.

Knowing the competition was fierce, Kaloosian and Kelley hoped to offer up something unique when they opened their own food truck.

On a visit to Canadian friends last year, they asked their Calgary pals for ideas.

“We wanted to do something really distinctive and we asked them what was distinctive about Canadian food,” Kelley, 35, remembers.

“So they took us out, we grabbed some and we just fell in love with it, and we said: ‘Wow, we have got to do this,’ ” Kelley, 35, remembers. Soon enough, “Wonky fries” were born.

That means importing a vegetarian brown gravy mix from Canada and almost 25 kilograms of cheese curds from upstate New York each week.

Poutine is a rarity in D.C. Elsewhere in the U.S., variations of poutine can be found in states bordering Canada. New Jersey also boasts something called “disco fries” — a combination of fries, gravy and cheese.

Kelley is politely dismissive of the New Jersey version of poutine. “They’re using typically just regular cheddar cheese, shredded cheese that you melt on top, but we’re using real cheese curd,” he said. “That’s the difference, and it’s a big one.”