Three Courses of Beecher's Cheese in Less Than a Block!

I love cheese. Love, love, love it. On my own personal food pyramid, the cheese food group comes in just below the pork group, just above the middle-of-the-night burgers group.

So you can just imagine how thrilled -- no, joyous -- I was when I discovered Beecher's just a five-minute walk from the office. I mean, artisan grilled-cheese sandwiches and milk-jug seating aside, I can walk right up to the glassed-in counter there and buy a pound of cheese curds and just sit on the sidewalk, blocking traffic and eating them by the fistful with a kind of blissful, distant opium-eater's grin on my face.

Best 12 bucks I've spent in a long time, no doubt.

Still, as happy as I was -- as happy as I could be with a pound of cheese on a rainy afternoon -- it got even better when I walked up the street and found that the Steelhead Diner (a place that I've been looking forward to checking out since the minute I crossed the Washington state line) serves the same curds in the only better way they possibly could be served than straight out of the cheesemaker's vat: deep-fried.

Yeah, baby ... A big mound of those suckers, golden-brown, hot from the Friolator, all melty and delicious like God's own cheese sticks? Awesome. And though fried cheese has never needed much in the way of condiments in my mind, I now know better thanks to the little cup of sweet mustard served by the Steelhead's diabolical pushers in the kitchen.

And while any sane and rational man might've been content to stop after just two servings of cheese in one afternoon (at least a pound-and-a-half, all told), I wasn't done yet. Because if there's anything better than cheese curds, it's fried cheese curds, and if there's anything under the sun better than fried cheese curds, it could only be poutine.

Hot french fries, thick gravy, mounds of chunky cheese curds on top -- as far as things that are bad for you go, poutine is just about as bad as things get. But then, it's also one of the more delicious concoctions on the planet, so there you go: a conundrum. Personally, I say just make peace with your Higher Power and dive in biting, because anything this good is worth a bit of risk. True, Steelhead's version is not the best I've ever had (the curds were too squeaky, not melted enough, and the gravy missed some fatty edge of true artery-blocking richness even if the fries themselves were excellent), but it was very good. And really, there is almost no situation I can conceive of where having some poutine is worse than having none at all.

But true, great poutine is something worth searching for, worth dedicating your life to, and I plan to keep looking. Provided something else doesn't get me first, someday, I'm pretty sure that poutine will be listed in the official paperwork as my cause of death. Cholesterol at 5000, heart pumping pure lard -- I will just quietly keel over one night. And if I have any say in it, the way I'll go is face-down in a half-finished plate of french fries, gravy and cheese curds. Maybe not at the Steelhead (probably a bit gauche for a room so slick and fancy), but somewhere.

And when I do go, you can bet I'll be smiling.

The last thing I'll see before the gates of food writer's heaven ...

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