A plate of poutine is served at Governor’s Restaurant in Lewiston. Joaquin Contreras/Sun Journal

Oh Poutine, oh sumptuous snack. My sin, my soul. It’s pleasure like this that will have you looking over your shoulder in guilt. Did you just moan, in public? If anyone asks, point to the poutine — they’ll understand.

There’s a primal urge behind the flavors at play here: hot and greasy, sweet and salty intertwined, steaming impatiently, waiting to be ravaged, and when you’re finally left with a clean plate, it’s like an unmade bed smelling faintly of bygone passion. 

Joaquin Contreras

Poutine is a mess, literally: that’s what it means in Quebecois slang. But what exactly is it? I had never tried poutine before I dined at Governor’s in Lewiston, and I was a bit hesitant; perhaps confused would be more appropriate. It wasn’t at all how I imagined it, and for better or worse, not how the average Quebecois would imagine it either. 

Traditionally served with french fries, cheese curds and gravy, Governor’s eschews the norm, swapping regular fries for sweet potato waffle fries and gravy for syrup. Bits of chicken fingers lay strewn among the fries under a web of melted cheese.  The maple syrup is referred to as “sauce” by Governor’s: it lacks the viscous consistency of syrup, but not to the detriment of the dish. You’re there for the heavy stuff anyway: the meat and potatoes, the tightropes of cheese between fries that snap as you pull them apart. 

The sweetness is cool, but it’s essentially the cherry on top, the pièce de résistance which Governor’s has been in the business of since 1959. Governor’s Restaurant and Bakery was originally Creemee’s, an ice cream stand owned and operated by Leith and Donna Wadleigh. The current name came from Leith’s custom of calling every customer “Governor” a la Regular Show. Since then, they’ve branched out into six locations

All the elements of the poutine work off of each other well. The fries are crispy (provided you don’t let them sit in the sauce for too long, but if that’s your thing, more power to you) and the chicken is lean. It’s very much a snack, something you can pick at and nibble on, but as fast food it fails, which perhaps may be the antithesis of the meal’s purpose. 

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But why would anyone want to rush through this? Since its inception in the 1950s, poutine has had a strong following in rural Quebec, popular in greasy spoon diners across the province. It’s ideal conversation food: if you’re not talking about it, you’re inhaling it absentmindedly as you discuss something way less interesting. 

Poutine has since become a Canadian staple with worldwide appeal: it was served at the White House during the first state dinner hosted by President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016. Canada doesn’t get credit for much, particularly in terms of food, eclipsed by the cuisine of its colonial progenitor and its francophone siblings, but there’s no denying the ingenious complexity of such a simple combination of flavors.  

During a visit to Canada in 2017, Belgian PM Charles Michel met Trudeau for a lunch of hot dogs and poutine, ribbing him afterwards on Twitter over the superiority of Belgian french fries. Belgium is one of the many countries that claim to have created french fries.  

We as Americans have the advantage of being in the the bottle neck; the center of the hourglass that is the North American continent, the colors of both our neighboring nations running and setting into the fabric of our collective tastes. Canadian influence in Maine stretches back to when Maine achieved statehood in 1820. Lewiston is home to the largest French speaking population in the country. 

A truly wonderful thing about food is that it can act as a mirror, reflecting the tastes and sensibilities of an area. Governor’s poutine is Mainer poutine, through and through. The maple syrup used in the sauce is shipped from a farm in Bridgewater. The dish’s creator, Jason Clay, is Governor’s director of operations. In 2017, Clay was experimenting with what makes the dish work so well and thought of adding regional flavors, ultimately creating a “different and playful spin on the original.” They added the poutine to the menu as a limited time promotion and has since gained fervent popularity; a big reason being the portions. “Most people get it as an entree,” Clay said. 

Diners like these, cultural and culinary pillars of Americana, are members of a fraternity of timeless institutions that have set the standards of American cuisine. Perhaps the beauty of diner food is that it can’t truly be pinned down: they’re niche variations of traditional meals, safe and familiar.

Comfort food is often the simplest, a mantra alive and well on the Governor’s menu. 

Joaquin Contreras is a Sun Journal staff writer and gourmand. When not working, he spends his time watching films, running, biking and cooking.


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