Friday, January 16, 2009

Fran's Restaurant

There's an unusual amount of interest in Glenn Gould's eating habits—mainly, I guess, because he didn't eat very much, so it so it ties in to the ascetic quality of his personna.

You probably know that Gould was a frequent patron of Fran's Restaurant, and I can think of at least three good reasons why he would be. First, Fran's served the kind of food that, for a long time, was the only kind of food you could get at a restaurant in Toronto: i.e. bland and/or boring food—GG's favorite kind. Here's the menu from 1940 featuring such gourmet items as Pork Sausages and Gravy, Boiled Ham, and Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches. Second, and probably more important, Fran's is open 24 hours a day, which would accommodate Gould's nocturnal schedule. And third, Fran's had locations immediately proximate to both Gould's St. Clair Avenue apartment and the Eaton's auditorium on College Street where he made many of his recordings.

Fran's is still around as a chain although the original Yonge & St. Clair location is now closed. Fran Deck and his family sold the business to independant investors in 1977.

I don't eat out much because I'm a low-budget kind of guy these days. But some days I don't feel like cooking. Okay, most days I don't feel like cooking. So, a few weeks ago I decided to go to Fran's on College St., both to get some dinner and to do some reportage for this blog here. So, what's Fran's like now?

Well, first of all, the menu has been updated insanely. Now you can get items such as "Cajun Jambalaya Pasta" or "Foil-Packed Halibut Florentine." Actually it now resembles, both in character and in scope, a menu from one of those suburban franchise "eateries" like Applebee's, typically located on the perimeters of shopping mall parking lots the size of Switzerland.

But anyway, remember the 1980's, when it was briefly fashionable to describe certain things as being "post-modern?" No? Okay, well one of the many contemporary interpretations of that term involved the concept of ironic self-reference. The idea was that (for example), whereas in the past, you would simply have a diner, in the post-modern era you would instead have a "diner." That is to say, the proprietorship of the post-modern enterprise would be aware of the cultural trope of "The Diner" and thus self-consciously conform the presentation of the establishment to match it. In the case of an artificial franchise like Johnny Rockets, you might describe the end result as a "fake" diner. And in the case of a place like Fran's, you might call it an instance of a thing's becoming a parody of itself. And if you won't, I will. Here's their website. You be the judge.

I'm not sure whether there was ever any agreement about what the term "Post-Modern" really meant. This may well be because most of the writing about it was fatuous academic mumbo-jumbo. The term has pretty much disappeared now. I think it was a passing fad. So let's move on to discussing actual food.

I just got off the subway at College St. after work, and Fran's is basically right across Yonge St. It's about minus 20 degrees outside, and so my first thought is just to go for a rice pudding and coffee, but I actually need to eat something substantial and so resolve to order an actual plate. My recent Fran's experiences have been kind of hit-and-miss. I don't trust the more "Applebee's" selections on the menu, so I decided to go for one of the few remaining "old-school" selections: Liver and Onions with Bacon, a side of vegetables, mashed potatoes, and a Coke, as shown below:

Overall, I found this to be a really good platter. The liver was cooked nicely—not over done, and with a subtle, peppery flavor. There was, albeit, a fair amount of gristle, but this is pretty much unavoidable with liver. The mashed potatoes had just the right amount of butter mixed in, and also a good, fluffy texture. The bacon was a fitting compliment to the liver and was cooked, I think, to suit all tastes—exactly mid-way between floppy and crispy. But, the big surprise here was the vegetables. I was expecting, of course, that the vegetables would be re-heated from frozen. And perhaps (ok, probably) they were. But frozen vegetable technology has come a long way from what I remember when I was a boy back in the 20's. These vegetables had a good flavor and al dente texture that was a very pleasant surprise. They were so good that I actually finished them! Imagine that.

They say that Things Go Better with Coke. I'll say, at least, that Liver and Onions go better with Coke.

I would have had the rice pudding and coffee, but I was really full and, also, over budget.

So, there it is. Fran's: now kind of an 80's theme restaurant, but you can still get good food there if you order right.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, Glenn Gould had probably very uncertain eating habits. I wonder, if there were food additives among his dozens of pills...