The Great Chip Stand-Off

Sturgeon Falls' eternal question: Larry's or Riv?

Right off the Trans-Canada, a Northern Ontario town has two chip stands in a longtime rivalry for the supreme poutine. We had to investigate.



My friends have an ongoing, heated debate: Larry’s or Riv?

They’re referring, of course, to the two notoriously popular chip stands in the West Nipissing town of Sturgeon Falls that have been feeding locals and travelers for decades.

The two potato-slinging shops stand on either side of the small town’s Main Street, and diners (myself included) have been known to make the hour-or-so drive east from Sudbury, or west from North Bay, just for some poutine or a handmade pogo.


Larry's poutine - photo provided by Ella Jane Myers.

They’ve even been known to draw in people driving across the country, because they’re literally less than a minute’s walk off the Trans-Canada Highway.

As a food lover and journalist, I had to get to the root of this debate once and for all.

After weeks of rigorous research, the results are in, but they’re not what you’d expect. It turns out choosing between the two would be like choosing a favourite child: it’s just not possible! Larry’s and Riv are both incredible in their own right; asking which is best is comparing apples to oranges.

Granted, the key differences between the two are worth noting, and that’s why it’s great to have both options. Several of my friends prefer the pogo from one stand and the poutine from the other, and they go back and forth regularly.

“Each chip stand has its own specialty and uniqueness,” said Kate LePage, who owns Riv. “People can say they’re doing something different this week—‘let’s go there.’ ”


Collete Brule - photo provided by Ella Jane Myers.

It turns out the rivalry is considerably less intense than I’d imagined, and the owners back this up. They both say they’re quite happy for a little friendly competition.

“It’s a business world, it’s good for the customer, because it forces you to do your best,” according to Colette Brule, who owns Larry’s and calls it “a survival philosophy.”

If you’re wondering what makes each stand so special, here’s a quick summary.


Larry's Chip Stand - photo provided by Ella Jane Myers.
 

Larry’s

Larry’s is the older of the two, established in 1953 by, you guessed it, Larry! He worked it for decades with his 11 children, including Colette, who took over in 1989.

Back then, the menu consisted of fries, burgers and hot dogs dipped in batter, an invention of Larry’s he didn’t realize already existed (pogos). This phenomenon—of one thing being invented by multiple people around the same time—actually has a name: multiple discovery. Like calculus or evolution, it seems pogos were such an ingenious idea that multiple people thought them up independently.

While they’re now famous for their poutine, it wasn’t introduced until Colette took over, debuting in 1991. The exact recipe is a closely guarded secret, but she did share that their base is a mix of beef and chicken. The result is a light but flavourful gravy that really allows the flavour of the fresh-cut, locally grown potatoes to shine through. As for cheese, they certainly aren’t shy here; this ain’t diet food.

Their menu has grown over the years, but they stick to the classics and do them well. Besides their poutine, their specialty has to be their crispy, hand-coated pogo that comes almost miraculously coated with yellow mustard.


Photo provided by Ella Jane Myers.

Riv

Across the street, Kate has been carrying on the traditions and trying new things since she took over in 2017. One thing that’s stayed the same is their poutine.

“There are certain basics that you don’t change: where you get your potatoes from, your gravy, your curds,” said Kate. “After 45 years, you don’t go messing with something, because people will know.”

The previous owner, Carol, taught her how to make the gravy when she started. The all-beef sauce is a dark, rich one that smothers the fries in a delectable blanket, contrasting the white cheese curds perfectly.

Some newer things she’s introduced include milkshakes with berry’s from Leisure Farms (where you can actually go pick your own) blended with ice cream from London, Ont. Their coffee milkshake—the Riv Buzz—is a must-try too, guaranteed to keep you awake for any driving you have ahead.


Riv's famous poutine and shake - photo provided by Ella Jane Myers.

An American trained chef who married a local guy and moved north with him to raise their kids, Kate enjoys the change of pace from large-scale, professional cooking. “People are nice, my kids are very happy, and it’s a lot less stressful!” she says.

It’s worth the drive into town after you’ve eaten to see what she means for yourself. The region is known not just for its wonderful chip stands, but also for its warm hospitality and beautiful hiking trails. You might need to take a walk to digest some of the food anyhow.

At the end of the day, and after all this research I feel full of confidence (and fries) that I have the answer to my friends’ debate: it’s not Larry’s or Riv, it’s Larry’s and Riv!

Featured articles