Despite its Francophone pedigree and deserved reputation as one of the most European of North American cities, Montreal claims surprisingly few culinary specialties as its own. Sure, there’s smoked meat, steak seasoning and wood-fired bagels, but these are reasonably prosaic selections, firmly rooted in the deli tradition — not that there’s anything wrong with that. That leaves us with poutine, as much a product of the wintry Québécois hinterlands as it is of metropolitan Montreal. What is poutine, you may ask? At its most elemental, it’s a guilty pleasure combining fries, gravy and cheese curds.
Shaggy’s Famous Poutine, nestled in University Hill’s basement Hilltop food court, claims to be one of the few places in the States featuring this north-of-the-border delicacy. The management has wisely shied away from any hint of innuendo in its promotional materials or menu. The restaurant’s motto is “Everybody loves a good shag,” and their entry-level option, simply adorned with gravy and Wisconsin cheddar cheese curds, is the “Virgin Shag” specifically targeted at “first-timers.” It’s also worth noting, and perhaps comes as no surprise given the Hill setting, that Shaggy’s is open late. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t open until 4 p.m., and closes most weeknights at midnight. From Thursday until Saturday, it closes at 3 a.m.
Friend Kon had recently returned from a Canadian sojourn where he sampled an upscale version of poutine, swapping Camembert for the humble curds. Further evidence of this eatery’s resistance to double entendre manifested itself in the name of his selection, the $6.49 Dirty Sanchez, in the larger Magnum (I don’t think this was a Tom Selleck reference) versus Quickie size. Besides its tasteful name, this preparation featured a generous amount of golden, medium-thick fries slathered with heaping helpings of curds, chili, sour cream, salsa, sliced jalapeños and guacamole. For Kon, this choice compared favorably to what he had sampled in this dish’s country of origin. The chili and guacamole were surprisingly well-prepared, and would have been fine on their own.
I went with the $7.29 large French Tickler, a traditional mix of curds, fries and brown beef gravy augmented by bits of smoked meat. This cured brisket, a Canadian deli staple, resembles an appealing cross in both taste and texture between hot pastrami and corned beef. While it’s been some time since I’ve had the real deal in Montreal, the flavor and texture immediately transported me back to the Boulevard St. Laurent. The cured meat was invitingly warm, and the garnishes of dill pickle and yellow mustard harkened back to the beef ’s deli origins. The only change I would make to this dish is to reduce the salt in the brown gravy, which otherwise carried a nearly homemade taste.
I’ll go out on a limb and guess that most people probably won’t be weighing whether to go to Shaggy’s versus Frasca or The Kitchen on a particular night. That said, I probably would have been all over Shaggy’s when I was in college.
It epitomizes the sort of over-the-top-yet-satisfying junk food that one should probably only eat in their late teens or early 20s. Like Kon, I would return, but it wouldn’t be on a regular basis, just for an occasional Canadian indulgence.
Shaggy's is located at 1310 College Ave., Suite 210, Boulder. Call 303-449-4265 or visit its website.