Fries, cheese curds, and gravy. These three simple ingredients mixed together have come to encapsulate Québécois identity through its signature dish, poutine. Although who really invented this dish remains a subject of fierce debate, anyone curious to get to the bottom of the matter should head to Drummondville, in the heart of the province’s agricultural breadbasket, and follow the bright neon glow to its historic diner, Le Roy Jucep.
The restaurant’s claim to history lies with its founder, Jean-Paul Roy, who had worked as a young chef at the Mont-royal Hotel in Montreal before moving back to his hometown. At some point, he developed a potato dish with gravy, sometimes making it with cheese curds at the request of local customers. In 1964, he took over Orange Jucep, a drive-in ice cream parlor, and renamed it Le Roy Jucep, adding the dish to the menu. Tired of writing “fromage, patates, sauce,” the wait staff began to abbreviate the dish as pudding, or “poutine,” and a legend was born.
So is that story the truth? As with most things about poutine, its history is messy. There are several competing claims for its origin, the strongest among them from a restaurant in Warwick named Le Lutin qui rit, which claims to have put a potato-and-cheese dish called poutine on the menu in 1957. However, that meal lacked gravy. Sylvain Charlebois, in his book Poutine Nation, makes the case that while poutine may have been introduced elsewhere in the Centre-du-Québec region, Le Roy Jucep was the first restaurant to serve the version of poutine that we know today. What is indisputable is that poutine has since made its way onto the menu of diners and restaurants across the province, the country, and even the world.
Even if the provenance of its signature dish is contested, Le Roy Jucep makes for an attractive and singular “casse-croûte.” A distinctive half-orange slice welcomes visitors into the gorgeous retro-futurist interior, with orange and yellow neon lighting and all the bells and whistles of a mid-century roadside diner. You can still order the signature drink of the restaurant’s first incarnation, an orange julep, popular across the province. Then, when ready, you can order poutine in dozens of varieties, whether vegetarian, spicy, or the original mix of “fromage, patates, sauce” that have come to define a culture.
Know Before You Go
The poutine options here range from "L'Originale," in the style of the 1964 version, to newfangled riffs with Wagyu beef or ham and maple syrup.