Pie Pushers owners Becky Cascio and Mike Hacker spent five and a half years flexing their pizza-making muscles in a tiny food truck before expanding this year into a brick-and-mortar operation above The Pinhook. But devotees know they sling a mean biscuits-and-gravy during breakfast and brunch hours on the weekends, too. For the winter, Pie Pushers has pushed its sausage gravy onto its Main Street menu in a new, deeply satisfying take on poutine, a Canadian staple combining French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. It's the comfort food to end all comfort foods.
Pie Pushers' poutine is quite literally not for the faint of heart. It closely resembles their weekend brunch spuds, minus an egg or bacon on top. But the potatoes are deep-fried, so they're a little crispier. A thick layer of sausage gravy pillows a heaping pile of potato wedges. Melted cheddar cheese embraces the whole mess, which is finished with a smattering of sliced green onions. The massive serving size is definitely not good for you, but you'll forget about that after a bite or two.
"If you're a little hungover, that's the perfect size for you. Then you can go sit on the couch and watch Netflix. But maybe it's a nice size for two to share. It's date food," Hacker jokes.
Transplants from the Northeast might recognize the sausage gravy poutine as a close cousin to disco fries, a Jersey diner specialty where French fries are topped with brown gravy and melted mozzarella or provolone. But despite the dish's moniker, Pie Pushers' poutine doesn't have the element that's usually central: cheese curds. Hacker, who's responsible for the gravy recipe, doesn't think it's a make-or-break factor.
"In the Midwest, you won't find it any other way," he says. "But I feel like in this area, not everyone knows what poutine is, so I can kind of get away with what I want. Honestly, if we're going traditional, there shouldn't be sausage gravy, either. It should be chicken stock gravy. Everything's going to be a little twist."
The gravy is the not-so-secret key to the poutine's tastiness—it's hard to mess up cheese and potatoes, after all. Hacker's recipe includes red pepper flakes and thyme, but he says what really makes great gravy is the sausage. Pie Pushers uses local country sausage from Durham's Firsthand Foods.
"The gravy changes based on the kind of sausage you get," Hacker says. "The rest of it is just cream, milk, or whatever, some stock in there if you're feeling frisky, some herbs. But really, it's the sausage."
Even if you share it with a friend or three, the sausage gravy poutine is going to slow you down—Hacker says the brunch spuds on the truck earned the nickname "the back-to-bed boat." But whether you're having a decadently lazy day or just need to dig into something heavy and comforting, Pie Pushers' gravy train will get you where you want to go.
This article appeared in print with the headline "It's All Gravy."