Devouring fries and white cheddar cheese curds smothered in brown gravy, my friend looks up wonderingly. “Pou-tyne?” he mutters, offering up his pronunciation for this exotic French-Canadian creation. It’s actually “pou-teen.” And just as the name of the Quebecois invention is uttered a certain way, it’s not poutine unless it’s served with a vegetarian gravy. (Pay no mind to the blasphemous beef gravy recipes on the Internet.)
If poutine had been called gravy-smothered fries with cheese curds, maybe it would have taken off in this land of cheese. It still could, and that would make Martin Beaudoin, owner of Tosa’s the sherbrooke, one happy dude. He’s been rocking the poutine at Red Dot, his East Side joint, since it opened in 2005.
Not only do Beaudoin and his wife, Claudia, now have a second bar-restaurant, he took on the role of landlord of his own building – 4,400 square feet of Tosa real estate, a building badly in need of some TLC. It’s getting that, little by little. Owing to heavy renovation efforts – removing the drop ceiling, exposing the brick walls, installing new floors and lighting – the bar and main dining room are almost unrecognizable from their years as Shepherd’s.
There’s yet another room in the building that Beaudoin wants to convert to a lounge/live music space. Plus, there’s exterior work to be done. The building facade is coming first, and there are plans down the line to convert the back parking lot into a patio. For now, tables set up on the sidewalk will do, and that’s fine because North Avenue is on the upswing. Rocket Baby Bakery, the Rosebud Cinema, Cranky Al’s and Tosa’s latest recruit, BelAir Cantina, at 6817 W. North Ave., are bringing wallet-carrying folks to the street. Beaudoin sees all the commercial changes as a welcome mat that will benefit everyone.
Aside from poutine, Beaudoin didn’t go crazy copying Red Dot. The kitchen crafted a menu that’s fussier than the sandwiches, pastas and ribs of the skews-younger East Side bar. Consider these Sherbrooke additions: Mimosa duck salad, duck sliders, steak au poivre, puff pastry salmon and roast duck.
The menu experiences I’ve had early in Sherbrooke’s life suggest that keeping it simple is perhaps best.
As for the poutine, there’s no making more of what is French Canada’s equivalent of Buffalo wings. It’s not particularly pretty. Or a candidate for a carryout menu. If the fries aren’t crisp, the curds squeaky, and the gravy thick and generously applied, just hang it up. The Sherbrooke does it right, but don’t tell a Canadian they can sub tater tots for fries (small order $4, large $7). Small is the right size if you plan to order anything else.
Those duck sliders ($11)? Tasty. Shredded roasted duck topped with cherry mustard and pickled vegetables. The black and blue burger ($10) is also respectable – capped with blue cheese and cremini mushrooms, and finished with a sturdy, toasted kaiser bun. Here’s where an order of crisp-tender tater tots is more than appreciated.
A few dishes are elaborate for a building that has a reputation as a bar. One of them is puff pastry salmon ($19), which is doughy and heavy, especially with its lemon-Dijon mustard cream sauce and thick blob of a potato pancake. And the “vegetable delight” ($14) – while a colorful and attractively presented sauté of zucchini, squash and portobello mushrooms – seems more a side dish than an entrée.
Healthy competition may benefit the surrounding commerce on family-friendly North Avenue. So can scaling back when there’s no need to be extravagant. That is a lesson The Sherbrooke might be wise to learn.