The Saint John Ale House

The Contender: Saint John Ale House, 1 Market Square, Saint John, NB

When were you there? October 25th, around 1:00pm

How much? $4.49 + tax

I lived in Saint John for a little over two years and didn’t eat much poutine in that time, save for what passed for the dish in my college’s cafeteria. This was actually the much-maligned disco fries, but it was usually edible (provided you didn’t look too hard at the gravy as the lunch lady slopped it on) and it was the cheapest thing on the menu that would actually leave me feeling full for several hours as I slogged away in system design purgatory.

More recently I’d been hearing the Saint John Ale House was turning out a pretty good poutine, so I was looking forward to finally checking out what they’re doing.

The Experience: I was surprised to see poutine wasn’t actually listed on the menu, neither under appetizers nor sides where you usually find it. It was, however, listed as one side option among many choices you could get with a wrap or sandwich. Mainly I was curious about the price, but there was none listed, other than to say you could get it instead of standard fries for an additional $3.50.

Our food took a long time to come. I neglected to actually time it, but it felt like a long, long wait despite being out with two friends I hadn’t seen in ages. Later we ordered coffee and dessert, and these were equally slow coming.

When my poutine arrived, I noticed the colour of some of the fries sticking out of the top of the bowl. The tips were very dark brown, almost black, which suggests to me the dish spent some time under a broiler. Probably a little too much time, in fact.


The fries were frozen shoestring style, and not fresh cut like I expected. SJAH offers fresh kettle chips, so I figured they did their own fries too, and though I hear they normally use fresh fries for their poutine, that’s not what I was served.

I’m not opposed to frozen fries, but these particular ones were overcooked and bland. That could be their natural state, or it could be because they had been broiled, but they were tasteless and very dry. Note: the broiler shouldn’t be necessary for poutine. If the gravy and fries are both fresh, this will normally provide enough heat to soften the cheese.

I’ve discussed this with others, and the consensus is that the optimum state for cheese curds on poutine is “just starting to melt.” In this case they were totally melted, which is still better than cold cheese with cold gravy, but not what I’d prefer. However, the curds were stretchy, and I’m told this is an indication of a better quality cheese made from milk, as opposed to lower quality varieties, which are made with lots of oil and don’t stretch well when melted.

The gravy was far better than I expected. The vast majority of poutines I’ve reviewed here has led me to conclude it can be difficult to get the gravy right, but this was much, much better than the over-seasoned goo turned out in a lot of kitchens. This was a brown sauce with a unique flavour, owed to several whole pepper corns mixed in. It was a bit difficult to avoid biting into a whole one, but overall the gravy was the best part of this poutine.

The Verdict: The Saint John Ale House poutine isn’t astounding, but still much better than most. They’ve got what is apparently the trickiest part figured out, so they just need to get the fries up to par and skip the broiler, and then it could be very good.


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