Story and photos by Michael Timmermans
The smell of french fry oil and gravy wafted above historic Sparks Street in Ottawa this past weekend.
The outdoor pedestrian mall was the site of Poutine Fest, dubbed the “Great Canadian Fork Off.” The free event ran from Nov. 15 to 17 and was the first of its kind held on the street.
Poutine is a classic dish from Quebec made by topping french fries with salty cheese curds and smothering them in thick beef gravy. The snack bar and diner favourite has grown to legendary status with hundreds of unique toppings mixed in over the years.
Seven Sparks Street restaurants, including Yesterday’s, Cock and Lion and Parliament Pub, and 17 street vendors, such as local pizza franchise Gabriel, Big D’s Dog House and Poutine Emporium, Vanier Snack Shack, Routine Poutine and burger joint The Works, all offered up their takes on the French-Canadian classic. Thai restaurant Green Papaya threw in an international flavour with Pad Thai poutine.
Saturday’s sunny and unseasonably warm weather brought massive throngs of hundreds to the mall and long line-ups snaked for blocks. Some vendors seemed unprepared for the large crowds and started running out of supplies early.
The rain on Sunday didn’t dampen the spirit of Poutine Fest attendees. While the lines were smaller than the day before, hundreds still waited in the light drizzle for the legendary snack.
While the festival’s website announced entertainment all weekend, none was evident and the lack of any was apparent.
Those who attended the festival on Saturday afternoon witnessed a poutine eating contest. Participants stuffed their faces with fries, curds and gravy for a chance at snagging Ottawa Senators tickets.