FOR DECADES, Chez Vachon has been an obligatory tour stop on the presidential campaign trail, gaining national attention in 1993 when President Bill Clinton stopped by the West Side restaurant to dine on poutine and converse with locals.
French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds is the French-Canadian restaurant’s calling card. For 25 bucks, you and a few of your hungriest friends can share “The Grand Poutine,” a 5-pound serving worth boasting about on social media if you’re up for the challenge.
On a recent visit to the Kelly Street diner, I was accompanied only by my Lovely Dining Companion and it was too early for lunch, so I opted for the breakfast poutine, designed for a single person to safely consume.
The breakfast variety ($8.49) is a dish of home fries topped with two eggs, Canadian curd cheese and brown gravy. I was feeling downright presidential as I devoured forkfuls of gravy-smothered egg, potato and cheese goodness, with a side bowl of molasses-dark homemade beans (one “scoop” for $1.59) on the side that included a couple of chunks of salt pork.
I requested the eggs with the whites cooked and the yolks liquid, more or less “over medium,” but the yolks were cooked all the way through. At least the whites weren’t runny. Otherwise, the “Breakfast Poutine” was a hit.
My dining companion chose another of Chez Vachon’s most popular menu items. Her “Crepe Combo” ($7.99) also included an egg, a slice of bacon, a sausage link and fresh fruit (which she selected rather than baked beans, home fries or a potato pancake.) You can double up on the crepes and all the other items for $9.99.
She also opted for some fresh strawberries ($1.49) to top her crepe. I gladly shared a few forkfuls of the scrumptious, thin pancake, which have an eggier flavor than a regular pancake. You can also order them with canned fruit filling, but we highly recommend asking for fresh toppings. My LDC also requested a side of maple syrup, which our waitress brought in a small container. It was just enough.
She also ordered a side of wheat toast ($1.79 for two slices) to dip in your egg yolk. (I should have asked for “sunny side up” like she did.)
Having already consumed our daily quota of coffee at home, we each accompanied our breakfast with a mimosa ($2.75). For entertainment, we eavesdropped on the two guys sitting next to us, albeit at a safe COVID-19 distance away. They talked about politics, mostly how much they were tired of hearing about it. One of them raved about the happy hour meatballs at Giorgio’s on Second Street. It’s the sauce, he said.
Chez Vachon has changed hands a few times since its founding in 1979, but it has been owned for more than a decade by Jessica and Robert Perkins. Last spring, the owners added a small enclosed seated waiting area near the entrance, which gives the dining area a little more separation.
The weekend morning we visited, the restaurant was doing brisk business but likely not the pre-pandemic crowd it usually attracts.
Due to COVID-19 precautions, the restaurant has also temporarily blocked off the bar stools from use by pushing up some tables against them, and has installed the COVID shields you see everywhere these days.
Chez Vachon is open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. Its menu is pretty evenly split between breakfast and lunch fare. The latter includes, sandwiches, burgers, meatloaf, fried haddock, quesadillas and French Canadian staples like pork pie and salmon pie. It offers homemade soup daily and, on Fridays only, clam chowder and pea soup.
The restaurant continues to maintain a welcoming atmosphere, a place where neighborhood people congregate.
But we pine for the days when those tables don’t block the stools any more and we can sit down and start up a conversation with whoever happens to be sitting there — like maybe some guy or gal running for president.