Batson River’s take on poutine includes roasted jalapeños and a gravy made with its Cleaves Cove IPA. Photo by Nicole Wolf

Steaming hot, by turns crispy and unctuous, and stacked with salty and sweet layers designed to keep a hockey player, lumberjack or hungover undergrad full on a chilly day, poutine is one of those dishes that proves looks can be deceiving. Born during the 1950s in rural Quebec and first popularized south of Canada’s long border with Maine in the ’90s, poutine is Quebecois slang for “mess.” And while it indisputably lives up to its name, its sloppy appearance belies a deliciously rich and sometimes complex dish – depending on who’s making it and who’s ordering it.

There are, of course, those purists who sneer at anything other than the most classic of versions, which in this case contains only three essential ingredients: french fries, gravy and cheese curds (nicknamed “squeaky cheese” for the noise it makes when bitten). On the other hand are people who tend to take the creativity impulse too far with gimmicky renditions. (Sriracha and fig poutine? Pass.)

And then there are those who’ve thoughtfully tweaked the recipe – with, say, an extra frying step here or a roasted jalapeño there. Here are five versions served in the area, from old-school to newfangled, that maintain respect for the fundamental integrity of the dish while also living up to its status as one of winter’s ultimate comfort foods.

CLASSIC POUTINE, The Frog & Turtle

“Nowadays you see people treating poutine like nachos,” chef and co-owner James Tranchemontagne said half-jokingly. “Putting sour cream and beef brisket on it. I’m like, really?” His ultra-traditional recipe, on the menu since the gastropub’s opening, came via his French-Canadian parents, and has but two barely noticeable twists: a smidge of rosemary and some cheddar in with the cheese curds to bind the fries together. “People would have torches and pitchforks if I took it off the menu,” he said.

3 Vallee Square, Westbrook, 207-591-4185; 4-9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 4-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday. thefrogandturtle.com

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ROASTED JALAPEÑO WITH IPA GRAVY, Batson River Brewing & Distilling

This staple at all of Batson River’s locations spotlights chef Tucker Creveling’s gravy, which leans on a house veal stock and the brewery’s Cleaves Cove IPA. “Its bitter hop notes balance out the sweetness of the veal stock,” he explained, “laced with honey and sherry vinegar.” From there he’s conjured up two bonus flavor profiles: roasted jalapeños and fried onions. “Those go back to my roots in Colorado,” he said. “And they’re fantastic over the cheese curds and Maine potatoes.”

12 Western Ave., Kennebunk, 207-967-8821; 4-9 p.m Wednesday and Thursday, noon to 9 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

82 Hanover St., Portland, 207-800-4680; 4-9 p.m Monday through Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

73 Mile Road, Wells, 207-360-7255; 3-9 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Friday, noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. batsonriver.com

The East Ender uses rock potatoes instead of french fries in its version of poutine. Photo courtesy of the East Ender

LOADED ROCK POTATOES WITH CHEESE CURDS, GRAVY AND CARAMELIZED ONIONS, The East Ender

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“We like rock potatoes more than french fries for this,” said general manager Arryan Decatur. “They’re more delicious, and they hold up better with the onions.” So what’s a rock potato? “Regular potatoes baked and cooled, then deep-fried just before serving,” he explained. “They’re crispy outside and creamy in.” Then comes a spice mix cryptically called “magic dust,” followed by the remaining accoutrements. “It’s probably on the outskirts in the poutine world because it isn’t french fries,” he said. “But if you love poutine, it’s a terrific take.”

47 Middle St., Portland, 207-879-7669; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. eastenderportland.com

MUSHROOM POUTINE, Nosh

When co-owner Kevin Doyle noticed a dearth of vegetarian poutines out there, he and chef Aaron Taylor whipped up this rendition. “We thought it was a shame,” he said, “because everyone deserves a good big ol’ plate of gravy, fries and cheese.” The base of cremini, button, and oyster mushrooms is cooked in tamari and butter for hours, built into a roux, and melded with house-made vegetarian stock. The result is a deep-flavored dish that even non-vegetarian guests relish, said Doyle, “because of the amount of flavor the gravy packs.”

551 Congress St., Portland, 207-553-2227; 4 p.m. to midnight Wednesday and Thursday, noon to midnight Friday through Sunday. noshkitchenbar.com

You can add duck confit and/or a duck egg for an extra rich poutine at Duckfat. Photo by Kari Herer

DUCKFAT POUTINE, Duckfat

It all starts with a little extra love given to the Belgian fries; they’re poached slowly in duck fat to release moisture, and then fried again on pickup. “That additional step keeps them crispy after you add the gravy,” said Nancy Pugh, co-owner with husband Rob Evans. That gravy’s calling card is its stock made with roasted duck bones rather than a gravy base. It gets scattered with Pineland Farms cheese curds – and then comes the lily gilding. “People add on duck confit, and some get that and a duck egg on top,” she says. “It’s the richest dish you can imagine.”

43 Middle St., Portland, 207-774-8080; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Monday. duckfat.com

Alexandra Hall is a longtime New England lifestyle writer who lives in Maine.


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