Say you just bought a brand new Aston Martin DB11 and you’re suddenly a little hungry. What do you do? Do you need to spend what’s left of your budget eating at the finest, fanciest restaurants around, or can you slum it eating deliciously greasy french fries coated in gravy and cheese?
I’m in favor of that latter. That’s why I got a DB11 and set off on a 300-mile grand tour in a quest to find Canada’s best poutine.
Any Québécois will tell you that poutine is not fancy food. They’ll also tell you that the best recipes are hidden somewhere in an old shack on the side of a dirt road, in a rural area, where the gravy is thick, and “tabarnak”, “calice” and “osti” are filthy words that come out of the locals’ mouths.
If there’s a meal that represents rural Québec, it’s poutine. Let’s call it the food of the people. It was never designed for the high-end, supercar-buying, bourgeois snobs. That’s why hunting for the best of it in a machine as fancy as a DB11 seemed like a great idea.
After all, do you need to change your eating habits once you buy an expensive new sports car? Sure, we’ve all seen a Ferrari or two parked in front of a fancy Italian restaurant, and supercars are frequent at the local casino diner, but what if you’ve always had a thing for poutine? Is it still appropriate to pull up to your favorite potato shack in a $200,000 machine to order “une grosse?” Or will you be stoned to death by an angry, jealous, pissed-off mob?
I had to find out.
The DB11 is a large, fast, two-door coupe that symbolizes the continuation of Aston Martin’s legacy of high-powered, front-engine GT cars. Its entire structure is aluminum intensive to remain as lightweight as possible, and its swooping body is filled with tricky active aero and air ducts that channel air through the car for improved stability at high speeds.
Also, it looks cool.
It’s a truly stunning car to behold; low, wide, and long, with bulging fenders and an aggressive stance. Power comes from a front-mounted, 5.2-liter, twin-turbo V12 which pumps out a claimed 600 HP and 516 lb-ft of torque. All of that power is sent strictly to the rear wheels, of course, through an eight-speed, ZF-sourced, automatic transmission.
Base price is $214,820; your average large poutine will cost you about $10 Canadian.
Aston Martin claims the DB11 accelerates from a standstill to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds. But that number might change once I’ll have ingested a lofty amount of gravy-covered fries and cheese curds.
I didn’t have the DB11 for very long, so I had to condense my itinerary. I had two criteria: nice roads and good poutine. The Eastern Townships region, which happens to make its own cheese and grow its own potatoes, seemed like a good fit.
The plan was to drive out of Decarie Motors at 8 a.m., suffer Montréal’s soul-sucking rush hour traffic, cross the decomposing Champlain Bridge, onto Highway 10, and head east to the city of Sherbrooke where I would begin my poutine-sampling journey.
I would then rocket through the Memphremagog/Brome Missisquoi county in the DB11 to end my adventure in the ski-resort and horseback riding town of Bromont, and have the car returned to Montréal before five.
The drive down to Sherbrooke, on Highway 10, proved itself to be smooth and quiet in the DB11. Thanks to the car’s capability to individually adjust its suspension and engine management, setting the car to its most comfortable mode transformed this fire-breathing machine into a soft, smooth and compliant luxury barge whose hand-built V12 all but falls asleep thanks to cylinder deactivation.
On the way there, the car glided along quietly in absolute serenity while I was nothing more than a sack of meat and bones calmly enveloped in an air-conditioned-cooled cocoon of aluminum, fresh cow hides and expensive veneers.
My first destination: Louis Luncheonette; a Sherbrooke landmark that has been making poutine since 1952. It distinguishes itself by using locally-sourced cheese from the Coaticook dairy company located just outside Sherbrooke. Each poutine is sprinkled with an entire room-temperature bag of the stuff, so the cheese is moist, tastes fresh and squeaks loud when you chew it.
Louis’ employees also peel the local-grown potatoes themselves, instead of ordering batches of pre-made fries, making them all thick, fresh, and wholesome.
I had to squeeze my large expensive sports car in an incline between a few Honda Civics whose combined value equaled the value of the Aston’s carbon fiber lip I was trying not to scrape off.
No drama at Louis though. No angry mob. Just a few people asking questions and taking pictures.
Louis offers two types of gravy: barbecue or classic. Classic is the sauce to get, as it’s lighter and less salty than conventional gravy types, so it doesn’t hinder the taste of the fresh cheese and fries.
Their poutine is served in an environmentally unfriendly styrofoam cup, but the thing can easily be held in one hand as you eat with the other. Furthermore, the DB11's semi-horizontally-opening doors proved to be a useful feature for me to savor my meal on the side of the car.
Disappointed that I had not created a scene at Louis with my brash British sports car, my shooter Myle and I hit the road to find redemption in a real poutine shack. Our next destination would be La Cantine du Lac, in Magog, which in English translates into: “the shack by the lake.”
That shack is not actually by a lake, but on the side of a highly populated boulevard which is not far from a lake. Some parts of the building are slowly peeling off, and there isn’t even an actual parking lot, but some vague, dirt area where people randomly park their ride.
Upon our arrival, the first thing I noticed was a huge sign next to the front door telling me the place will soon be destroyed and replaced by an expensive condominium complex.
As I pulled up in my shiny new Aston Martin I could spot some locals sitting inside, eating poutine and gazing at the car.
I climbed out of the DB11, up the shaky, wooden staircase to make my way through the squeaking, spring-loaded door, removed my sunglasses, and there it was: the greasy potato shack of my dreams, complete with deep fryers running full swing, and boiling gravy bubbling away.
A middle-aged woman was working behind the counter, artfully putting together fries, cheese and gravy like the professional poutine-maker that she is. A throng of locals stared at me, and the car, as if they had just spotted some sort of alien lifeform.
“That car,” said one. “That’s a DB11 right? Must be fast. How much horsepower?”
“SIX HUNDRED!” I screamed, breathing heavily, sweating, hands shaking, feeling totally out of place. I may have been driving a $200,000 car, but I’m not a $200,000 car guy. Not really. Borrowing a car doesn’t make you that guy. I should have been next to these customers, eating poutine and chatting about my own Honda.
“Six-hundred horsepower, holy shit, be careful with that thing man, there are a lot of cops around here,” yelled a dude from the other end of the room. “Yeah, you’ve got balls to park that thing here. Most people don’t know how to drive in this town.”
An explosion of laughter filled the room. I giggled along with them, secretly trying to finish transaction done and get the hell out as fast I as could. I was being paranoid. I knew I didn’t fit in there, with that car. Would they tie me to a table and drive off with it? Who could say.
I decided to eat my poutine in the parking lot instead. Fuck it.
So, the poutine from La Cantine du Lac turned out to be quite tasty, but there’s no refinement in the way it’s prepared. No handpicked potatoes or fancy cheese here. Just a mess of thick, greasy fries and not-so-fresh dry cheese. But you do get a lot for your money; a small portion is about the size of Louis’ medium size.
What their poutine lacks in quality, it makes up for with this thick, sweet gravy sauce that embeds the fries with a rich taste of reciprocated chicken fat that instantly fills you up with abdominal-muscle destroying grease.
At this point I could feel my heart beating in the vein of my neck. As I stood there in the blazing sun attempting to win over my gastric emissions, Myle shouted at me: “Will, let’s go, we have one more place to visit.”
That’s when I rolled my self-digesting meat shell into the DB11's spacious, power-adjustable, vented chairs, fired up the almighty V12 and roared off into the distance towards my next destination.
On Chemin des Pères, between Magog and Bromont, it was finally time for me to let off some steam from all that gastronomy. At this point I had gotten familiar with the DB11, and although the car seemed scary in traffic due to its high cowl, low roof, long hood, and bulging rear fenders that occupy all visibility in the side-view mirrors, the DB11 is actually a big softy.
There’s an S button located on the oddly-shaped steering wheel, to the right. Pushing it twice sets the car’s engine, transmission and steering wheel in S+, the DB11's most aggressive setting. To the left, another button adjusts the adaptive dampers. Again, pushing it twice sets them to their stiffest and most responsive setting. I pulled on one of the gigantic and elegantly machined aluminum, column-mounted paddle shifters to engage manual.
I was now commanding the V12 with my fingertips. I pulled the left paddle to drop a few gears - click - click - and discovered some of the most addictive paddle shifters I have ever experienced.
I floored it. And all hell broke loose.
The previously quiet V12 transformed into a loud, singing chorus of mechanical magnificence. The turbos whooshed as they channeled gallons of compressed air through the drivetrain, furiously farting through the dual exhaust pipes. An orchestra of might, fury and anger resonated across the countryside as my back was pressed hard onto the svelte leather couches. I got tunnel vision from the excessive speed.
The DB11's V12 doesn’t wail like some supercars, but it sounds equally beastly, refined, and almost futuristic as the turbos whine and chirp through each gear change, revealing slight turbo lag—and no shortage of eyeball-destroying acceleration.
Obviously, the DB11 is seriously fast. But on a sinuous road like this one, it isn’t scalpel-precise, so you’d better hang on and know what you’re up to, because this is a big car that can get violent with speed. It moves about in an almost organic manner, revealing its heft, especially during elevation changes, where its wide ass quivers gracefully like a galloping horse grasping for grip on a gravel road.
It’s constantly talking to you. You’re not playing with the car. The car is playing with you, and commands you to respect it. It’s all absolutely addictive.
The brakes aren’t as solid as I would have expected; they brake hard, yes, but they feel overwhelmed by the car’s size and weight. This is a grand-tourer after all, not a track-record-destroying supercar. But the electric power steering, a first for an Aston Martin, is impeccably responsive. It’s not vague at all, and transmits what the front wheels are doing quite well. There’s also no on-center dead spot as is typical with such systems.
The DB11, although a big car, responds quickly and smoothly to the slightest inputs, delivers tons of cornering grip, and never throws you around while doing so. Instead, it kicks your ass wearing a white pair of gloves.
I woke up from the experience realizing I had covered way too much ground, way too quickly, and had burned a massive amount of gasoline along the way. This car is a total drunk - but that’s expected when you’ve got twelve thirsty cylinders sitting there with their mouths open waiting desperately to be fed.
By the time we arrived to Bromont, my hands were shaking. My heart was thumping through my chest. And my palms were sweating gravy all over the leather-wrapped steering wheel. The DB11 had fulfilled its duty of being a GT car.
And I was hungry for some more poutine.
My final destination, Fromagerie Qualité Summum, was probably my favorite culinary experience of my grand-touring trip.
First, there’s the name of the place: Qualité Summum. In English that means “peak quality.” Seriously, how confident do you need to be to call your poutine restaurant the peak of quality in Québec, the province that invented the thing.
Then, there’s the way they make the damn thing. Like our friends over at Louis, Summum focuses primarily on the cheese. Every morning, fresh batches of curds are ordered from the Fromagerie Qualité Summum cheese factory located in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec.
Their poutine tastes good, and their fries are fine. But they don’t put enough gravy on the thing. However! They have one, solid, pièce de résistance: they put cheese at the bottom of the poutine as well. At the bottom.
Any pro poutine eater will tell you that the cheese is the best part of the dish. On a traditional poutine, the cheese is on top, which means when you’re halfway through, the only thing left are moist fries and gravy. And that’s kind of depressing.
Discovering magnificent cheese curd nuggets at the bottom of your poutine is like striking gold. The culinary adventure starts all over again. It’s brilliant.
So it really is the cheese that makes the difference for a good poutine. No matter how much fancy sauce you pour on the thing, if your curds aren’t done right, your poutine will suck. This is why the winner of my poutine-tasting trio is Fromagerie Qualité Summum in Bromont, Québec.
As for the DB11, it proved itself to be a magnificent vehicle for this quest. Sure, it attracted a lot of attention, and people asked far too many questions, which caused a fair bit of stress and feelings of class warfare. These things happen.
But it’s an extremely comfortable, supremely well put together, fast, loud, luxurious and highly sophisticated machine that keeps one foot solidly planted in Aston Martin’s past.
And it will still allow you to do conventional human being activities, like ingest 6,000 calories in a day.
William Clavey is an automotive journalist from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He runs claveyscorner.com.
Special thanks to Decarie Motors for providing the car.