• The verdict: We love both, but one of us thinks Main is a tiny bit better and the other says it’s Schwartz’s. But it’s like deciding between sublime and sublimer. If there is even a one-person difference in the wait at either one, we’d suggest going to the other. They’re that close.
• What it is: A melange of hot fries topped with cold cheese curds and warm gravy that was invented in Quebec about 50 years ago and has spread across the country, even to Canadian McDonald’s.
• The contenders: Patati Patata (4177 Blvd. St-Laurent) and La Banquise (994 Rue Rachel East).
Everyone in this city seems to have a favorite spot for poutine, but these two joints always seemed to rise toward the top of any list for the great fries and top-notch gravies. And though some places, including La Banquise, serve elaborate variations on the basic theme, we decided to go for the classic.
The tiny Patati featured a funky decor, a handful of counter seats and a couple of high tables that encouraged us to get our poutine ($4.50) to go. We opened the small clamshell foam box to find crunchy, browned, skin-on fries topped with thinnish but meaty gravy, lots of squeaky curds and a couple of kalamata olives.
Our order at the large, multiroomed, 24-hour La Banquise ($6.25) was much larger, featuring slightly sweet fries, as if some of their starch had turned to sugar, topped with elongated supersqueaky curds and a meaty thick gravy.
• The verdict: The fries are better at Patati, but the whole package is better at La Banquise.
• What it is: Marinated and rotisserie/grilled chicken with an optional chili rub and/or sauce. Though it’s served by Portuguese-Canadians, it’s actually called African chicken in Portugal.
• The contenders: Rotisserie Romados (115 Rue Rachel East) and Portugalia (34 Rue Rachel West).
Like the Peruvian or Colombian chicken wars that have emerged in other cities across North America, Montreal’s Portuguese chicken fight is characterized by stiff competition (with some areas hosting three chicken joints in as many blocks), hardwood coal grilling/rotisserie cooking and ultrasecretive spicing. Restaurants serve it plain or with spicy sauce, which can range from a reddish chili paste to a seriously potent rub of spices and red pepper flakes. After much asking around, we zeroed in on two places locals swear by. They range from the humble Portugalia counter to the fluorescent-lit Romados, which also serves as a bakery and deli.
When we arrived hungry at Romados, the grilled chicken aroma was almost as enticing as the long line was off-putting. But within 15 minutes we were up there receiving our half a chicken, rice and salad, all covered in a pile of delicious fries ($7.99). We snagged a rare counter seat by the window and unearthed the sauce-dotted chicken from the potatoes and enjoyed. Juicy, flavorful and tinged with a smoky grilled flavor but not as life-changing as we’d heard.
The counter guys at Schwartz’s told us that the best Portuguese chicken in town came from a little joint around the corner called Portugalia, where they butterfly and grill the chicken and paint it with a fiery paste. We loved the char and incendiary spicing on this bird, even if it was a little less juicy than at Romados. You can eat it there at the blue-tiled counter or take it on the run in a foil bag as we did.