Ryan Smolkin may get what he wants out of Smoke’s Poutinerie: total market domination.
SMOKE’S POUTINERIE (218 Adelaide West, at Simcoe, 416-599-2873) Complete meals for $13 per person, including all taxes, tip and a soda pop. Average main $8. Open Monday to Wednesday 11:30 am to 9 pm, Thursday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Friday 11:30 am to 4 am, Saturday 5 pm to 4 am. Closed Sunday, holidays. No reservations. Unlicensed. Access: nine steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
In this risky economic clime, now might not be the time to open a restaurant, let alone one with a concept. But that hasn't stopped graphic designer and first-time restaurateur Ryan Smolkin from launching Smoke's Poutinerie, Toronto's first all-poutine restaurant.
Smolkin must be doing something right, because his "first of a huge franchise" is causing mob scenes at dinner and lunch, with lineups out the door and down the block from day one. He already has plans for another two Smoke's, one on the student-friendly Bloor strip, the other in Dundas Square near Ry High.
"I want to dominate the market," says the garrulous Smolkin - a not immodest aim, since Smoke's gives the public exactly what it wants these days: comfort food that soothes like a warm blanket, substantial portions and wallet-friendly prices. Pricey sushi tapas or foie gras burgers this ain't.
Conveniently located upstairs from Burrito Boyz in Clubland and open Friday and Saturday nights till 4 am (you can't say Smolkin doesn't know his market - the hungry and the hungover), Smoke's has a retro 70s feel. Walls are painted red-and-black lumberjack plaid, benches are as hard as church pews, and there's a small counter facing the street for those who wish to dine in situ.
As an iPod shuffles through the hallowed songbooks of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix, the ever-present queue snakes along a wall that's been converted à la Pizzeria Libretto into a chalkboard so those waiting can post their thoughts. Some examples: "I bleed gravy," "The Leafs suck," "This lineup sucks." Although the very young staff are still learning the ropes, the line moves fairly quickly.
Smoke's best introduction is its Traditional poutine ($5.95), a whopping pound and a half of skin-on fries twice-cooked in trans-fat-free sunflower oil, generously doused in gravy and - unlike the stuff sold at virtually every other joint in the GTA - real-deal squeaky cheese curds shipped in daily from the Eastern Townships.
Some may complain that Smoke's hybrid chicken and beef gravy with just a suggestion of sage is no match for what you'd get in a roadside Quebec greasy spoon. I disagree, but I do find the so-called authentic St. Hubert-style chicken gravy overly salty.
"I don't claim to be a poutine expert," says Smolkin. "Besides, I get a ton of experts through here every day."
They also know better than to pronounce poutine "pooh-teen," but "pooh-tin" like that Russian presidential dude, only a bit more nasal.
If you're here for a salad, you're out of luck. The only things on the card that are remotely green and not brown, yellow or pink are the tasty sugar peas tossed over the Veggie Delux poutine ($7.95) alongside sweet caramelized onions and thickly sliced roasted mushrooms.
Why, it verges on healthy. Those same peas show up on the winning Mama's poutine ($6.95), only this time paired with spuds, curds, gravy and boneless chicken breast.
Not all of Smoke's unorthodox couplings work. The Curry Chicken poutine ($7.95) merely throws garam masala (hold the peas) into the mix, while the barbecue sauce drenching the Pulled Pork poutine ($8.95) is much too saccharine.
After one bite, I can't be bothered with the sliced commercial sausage found on the Italian poutine ($6.95), but its beefy tomato sauce topping could double as a Bolognese. I've eaten a lot of weird things in the past - curried brains, deep-fried insects, Zelda's deep-fried macaroni - but no sense of culinary adventure can convince me to eat poutine tossed with cut-up hot dog wieners (Cottage, $6.95).
I nearly toss when I read the additions to Smoke's Montreal poutine - Montreal smoked meat, dill pickle, and mustard - but the results are unusually delish even if the meat's rubbery, the pickle of no particular provenance and the mustard out of a jar marked Heinz. And if you've ever thought the late-night nachos at Sneaky Dee's were a good idea, you'll simply adore Smoke's Nacho Grande poutine ($8.95) garnished with pickled jalapeño, salsa, sour cream and guacamole.
"I'm about to introduce a new holiday poutine," reveals Toronto's newest fast food king. "But it's a bit of a secret."
Here's a wild guess: turkey?
"Not just turkey, but stuffing and cranberry sauce, too!"