The man was in his 60s. I had moved to the US from Canada several years earlier. He heard of a food truck in the Lehigh Valley celebrating Canada Day and decided to visit with an open mind.
When I have tasted The Flying V’s poutine, I have burst into tears.
One of the owners, Matt Vymazal, recalls that the man dearly missed Canada. Taking a bite of that poutine was the closest he had gotten to a feeling of home in a long time.
The Flying V Poutinerie is an authentic Canadian food truck, pop-up shop and restaurant based at 201 E 3rd St. in South Bethlehem. It is all owned and managed by husband and wife, Matt and Christie Vymazal. They aim to provide the community with – what they refer to as – real poutine.
Christie Vymazal used to call Bramton, Ontario, home, so she understands the nostalgia associated with cultural comfort dishes.
“When I talk to our customers that are Canadian, they all express the same opinion about living here in the states: you miss poutine,” Christie Vymazal said.
According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, poutine originated in Quebec in the 1950s and was served at greasy spoon diners and pubs as the perfect starchy meal to soak up alcohol after a night of drinking. Traditionally, the dish is a plate of french fries topped with warm gravy and squeaky cheese curds, sometimes featuring additives like peameal bacon and scallions.
“It being three ingredients makes it a simple dish, but it also makes it really hard to execute properly because those three ingredients have to be top-notch,” Christie Vymazal said.
Christie and Matt met in 2010 while attending Kutztown University. The summer after they met, Matt visited Christie’s family in Canada, where he was exposed to an entirely new culture and profile of flavors.
After his wife introduced him to poutine, Matt Vymazal, primed with years of culinary training from his time as a chef at a country club, was determined to master the classic dish.
“I would just give my feedback. We just kept tweaking and tweaking it,” Christie Vymazal said. “It was frustrating, I think, more for Matt, because he would put a lot of time and effort into each variation of it. We ate that kind of food pretty much every day.”
Matt Vymazal said most American restaurants don’t put in the effort to make the elements of their poutine cohesive. They just don’t understand the science.
“What I’ve learned is there’s science behind the temperature of the gravy, the temperature of the cheese, the fries that you want,” he said.
The Vymazals said they obsessed over perfecting their poutine recipe for nearly a year before opening. They started in 2016 with a traveling pop-up tent they set up at festivals. Then, they got a food truck and shared their real poutine with the Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia and New York City.
Ali Transue, a team member at The Flying V, was first introduced to poutine while practicing her French speaking skills in Quebec.
“I think a lot of people miss the mark because they either haven’t experienced it or they don’t appreciate the actual food itself quite as much as somebody who really comes from Canada or really loves Canada would,” Transue said.
Transue said she got a taste of the real thing in Canada, but when she came to the states she was left disappointed for a few years.
“Then I found the food truck, and I was like, ‘oh my gosh, this is it,’” she said.
After seeing success operating their tent and truck, in March 2020, the Vymazals signed a lease on the East Third Street space that would become their restaurant.
Two weeks later the world was shut down by COVID-19.
The Canada-US border was closed to all tourist and personal travel following the rapid spread of COVID-19, cutting people in the US off from Canadian culture.
The Flying V, too, closed. It reopened in August 2020 and soon people were traveling hundreds of thousands to visit and get their taste of Canadian food.
“Our farthest (customer came from) North Carolina,” Matt Vymazal said. “Someone drove up to have this because it’s the closest real poutine this side of the border. We had Connecticut, a lot from mid-central Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, all finding out about us and coming to this place to get a piece of home.”
Poutine fanatics nationwide and locally recognize that the Vymazals’ recipe reflects well on the Canadian classic.
The fries are freshly cut. The gravy is made from scratch. And the cheese curds, shipped straight from Wisconsin, are just springy enough when you squeeze them between your teeth.
“There is something about soul food when it’s really made with love, from real ingredients – there’s an art form to it,” Transue said. “Anything like that is going to, even on an energy level, just feed the soul better on a deeper level.”
Many of the Flying V’s customers seem to relate to the old man moved to tears by the nostalgic taste of authentic poutine. Customers keep coming back to get one more taste of that fry house from their childhood in Vancouver, to get a memory of that cafe in Quebec, to feed their soul with a real piece of home.