Fring’s: Let’s Just Say I Wasn’t Yelling HYFR Afterwards

Susur Lee has continued to expand his mini empire by securing the old Crush wine bar space.  Instead of opening another Asian-themed eatery, he has teamed up with entertainment icon and fellow sixite Drake to try and bring high end comfort food to the city’s streets.

I’m not sure why this new enterprise has been named Fring’s.  I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with Torsten Frings, the German midfileder who played 33 games and scoring 2 goals with the Toronto FC only to retire after requiring surgery and returning to Europe to coach in his home country.  Perhaps it’s an homage to the trademarked side available at Harvey’s, Canada’s own fast food restaurant.  A combination of about 3 onion rings and six or so fries, it is the ideal accompaniment for the indecisive.  Maybe it’s the name is a term coined by Champagne Papi to describe the merging of two fundamental components of Drake’s brand, friends and bling, into one happy milieu.

The decor is also a milieu; in this case a trendy industrial style mixed with a cheesy VIP lounge.  Brick walls and wooden window panels combined with fuzzy if not hairy lounge seats with marble tables means both a downtown ambiance and  a nightclub aura.

After being seated, we were greeted by our waiter. The slick hair, glasses and demeanor screamed hipster but I questioned his authenticity as he was trying way to hard.  Like most other restaurants, he gave us the recited speech explaining the proper process for ordering off a sharing menu.  His entire demeanor seemed scripted as well, especially when we heard him deliver the exact same speech, in exactly the same way, to the table beside us.

I’ll admit part of the reason I came here was to have the ability to report back to my daughter who is a massive Drake fan.  So, it goes without saying that my first question to the waiter was “What would Drake drink?”.  He quickly answered that his the pop icon’s favorite drink was the Tom Skudra ($18), a rum based cocktail with a mix of juices, mint and raspberries. I’ve taken to doing google searches on cocktail names and found that Tom Skudra was a Canadian photojournalist who passed in 2007  and best known for TV series called Programme X in 1970. That said, the drink also went along with the ongoing joke that, whether I try or not, I usually end up ordering the girliest looking  which is usually pink (mostly the result of my affinity for Campari) and this was no exception.  Unlike a Campari drink, however, it was exceptionally sweet and somewhat resembled a daiquiri. I was left wondering whether the waiter was lying through his teeth or Drake has a reeeealllll sweet side I don’t know about.

frings drink
Tom Skudra $14

Nothing says comfort food like toast so what better to start with than some homemade ricotta with jalapeno plum jam and pomegranate ($10). It was presented nicely and in Susur fashion, was an explosive blend of flavours and textures.

frings ricotta
Ricotta Toast $10

Next was the steak tartare ($20).  I was expecting a bit more of the aforementioned taste and flavour explosion but it fell a little flat.  The presentation, usually rather extravagant  on a plate that anything to do with Chef Lee, was uninspiring.  Plus, if they put egg on the octopus dish; why not a little on the tartare!

frings tartare
Steak Tartare $20

The southern spicy maple fried chicken ($26) seems all the rave by reviewers across the board but then again, any fried chicken seems to be.  Some will argue that the art of perfecting this comfort food is an intricate as a souffle while others say it’s pretty freaking hard to mess it up since it involves deep frying something.  I adhere to the latter.  I’ve made a few batches in my day and although some have been better than others, none have really been bad.  There was nothing wrong with the chicken at all.  It was crispy on the outside, moist and the middle and adequately seasoned. The sauce was good as well.   All I’m saying is I can get a bucket of KFC with 8 pieces, popcorn chicken, fries, gravy and two salads for about the same price.  Am I saying that KFC is a good as Susur’s fried fowl?  Not at all.  I’m just trying to point out that I might expect a little more for $26.

frings chicken
Southern Spicy Maple Fried Chicken $26

I find a burger an excellent benchmark of a restaurant.  The burger is a canvas for creativity, the variations are endless and the price point can range from a few dollars to a few hundred.  The Susur burger, served with JK fries, comes in at a hefty $24, which is more than other iconic burgers in the city including Richmond station ($21), Marben ($19) and Harbord Room ($19) and wasn’t anyway close to as good.

frings burger
Susur Burger with JK Fries $24

At this point, I begged the waiter for a drink a little more manly than the Tom Skudra  and preferably not as pink.  He suggested the Waste Man ($18), a cocktail with brandy, chamomile bitters and peach.  Although one might expect it to be sleepy (get it?..chamomile) this was a good strong drink more reflective of the 6God’s brand.

frings drink2
Waste Man $18

 

For dessert, I went with the waiter’s recommendation for the overpriced warm plum tart served with creme fraiche and almonds ($14). It was a bit chic and a bit homey, both of which aligned with the general theme of the place but otherwise was average and contained a whole lot of pastry and not enough plum.

frings dessert
Plum Tart $14

My Take

From a pop culture perspective, the marriage of Drake and Susur Lee makes perfect sense.   Much like Chef Lee’s fusion cooking, bringing two variant entities together often results in spawn which are both unique and exciting. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Fring’s.  Instead of being an innovator, it seems like Chef Lee is following trends which include cheese topped toasts , burgers  and comfort foods like fried chicken.  Not only are they average from a taste and presentation perspective, they are astronomically priced. The cocktails, steak tartare, fried chicken and burger are at least $4-5 higher than similar drinks and dishes at comparable Toronto eateries. The service was robotic.

In the end, I just expected two of the most innovative minds in Toronto to dream up something a little more exciting.  The cocktail list is overly fruity and juicy and the drinks have boring names.  I mean, any Drake song would make a cool cocktail name.  Take “Teach U a Lesson”‘ “Worst Behavior” (come Drake..you’re Canadian…add a u) and “Star67″ for example . The food is uninspired.”Big Rings” would be like a great side to a burger that can be bigger, better and cheaper.  Even some “Pound Cake” for dessert would work. There’s no tellin’ what the future holds for Fring’s but it’s too expensive and may get boring really fast. After all, I sure as hell didn’t leave yelling HYFR down King street after I left.

Fring's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Advertisements

Bang Bang Ice Cream: The New Hipster Apocolypse Serving Up Soft Porn Instead of Soft Serve

As I’ve stated before, the hipster movement is a bit like the Walking Dead.  At first you’d see the odd zombie roaming around and next you know you have an apocalypse on your hands. Part of this mass transformation has meant the expansion of  foodstuffs which have undergone hipster domination.  It started with coffee shops and quickly progressed to tacos and burgers.  They have laid claim to kale and cauiflower.  I think what I find most disturbing, however, is their latest attempt at beatnik tyranny; ice cream.  No, the centrefold of the Toronto Life a few months did not show Norm Kelly and Drake in a Yonge 6 Gods gangster embrace but instead summarized a number of ice cream cones available across the city.  It was at this point I knew that  the hipster infection had spread into the medium of one of any person’s fondest childhood memories. The ritual of popping down to a parlour with the fam and watching a disgruntled 16 year old serve my mom tiger tail for the 15th time (I swear she was only person in Sudbury who ate it) while I stood indecisive until a got a good kick in the arse was in jeopardy. I should have seen it coming. It does, after all, involve long lines and serving food out a crawl space which are both predictors of a hipster breeding ground.  It also allows for a more justified use of the cash only policy and certainly would never require a reservation.  Plus, you also don’t have open in the mornings.

I was in the Ossington area and decided to pop in to Bang Bang. It was a Wednesday night around 7:30 pm so the line wasn’t too bad.  Predictably, it looked like a garage.  The line swung around to a counter housing 4 or 5 types of cookies which seemed to be the most popular vessel for the twenty or so flavours of ice cream which were displayed on shelves in a David’s tea store. Against the far wall is a iron which feverishly works to pump out thin Hong Kong waffles which are subsequently folded into cones and stuffed with ice cream.

I wasn’t surprised to see an array of clientele waiting.  In particular, a hipster dad had his hipster kids with him.  Since the line moves at a snail’s pace despite their “one sample only” policy, they have a screen on the wall projecting some sort of video.  In this case, it was some cartoon I didn’t recognize but I thought it would keep the kids occupied for the long haul through the ice cream line. It looked pretty benign until things got heated.  For whatever reason a woman was suddenly naked in the middle of a forest and was greeted by a near naked and very built man.  Soon, enough, he had his large hands nicely positioned on her rather voluptuous ass and soft core animated sex followed.  Daddy hipster was shocked and quickly put his hands over the eyes of his baby hipsters and looked around feverishly hoping that he didn’t have friends or families in the vicinity to witness such an atrocity.  I was going to joke with him and  tell him that it was part of the Ontario government’s new sex ed curriculum but I figure that might resulted in a good shin kick or having my hair pulled really hard.

Soft Porn Instead of Soft Serve
Soft Porn Instead of Soft Serve

There are many choices including scoops (even an adult snack size for those who normally go for the kiddy cone), the aforementioned cookie sandwiches and Hong Kong waffles as well as macaron sandwiches and ice cream puffs.    When I finally got to the front of the line, I decided on banana ice cream in the waffle cone for $8.  I was told that because of the Hong Kong I could have 2 flavours instead of one so I also ordered Froot Loop as well. Since they are “made to order” there was some wait time involved.  It reminded me of the countless number of Hampton Inn buffets I’ve been to in which the wait for the waffle iron could go into the early afternoon.  It didn’t help when the guy behind the counter looked like he was having more trouble with the waffle iron than I would  trying to assemble an IKEA desk.  I finally got the cone and the waffle was still warm which was a nice contrast to the ice cream.  I’ve made banana ice cream at home and Bang Bang’s was almost the same.  It had a rich custard base and the bananas were quite ripe tasting.  There’s that magic moment when you first combine froot loops and milk.  Not only is the milk still super cold but the flavours of the cereal haven’t yet combined meaning you get two distinct tastes before they become uniform.  The ice cream recreated that magic moment.  Despite the warm waffle, the ice cream did not melt at too rapid rate and it wasn’t overly messy but there was no way I could finish it all.

Hong Kong Waffle with Banana and Froot Loop Ice Cream
Hong Kong Waffle with Banana and Froot Loop Ice Cream

My Take

Bang Bang Ice cream adds hipster to the old ice cream parlor.  Instead of a “Hi!” from Bill behind the counter at the family owned ice cream joint, you get to stand in line in a garage for a long time, watch porn and surround yourself with hipster angst not often associated with this classic summer dessert.  At least they take credit cards. In the end, if you can get over the slow service and prefer soft porn over soft serve (I was wondering why they called it Bang Bang) then drop on by. Good thing they have takeout pints because you might wanna leave the kids at home.

Bang Bang Ice Cream Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Best Six in the Six: Americano (I’m Runnin’ through the Six for some Joe and how Norm Kelly has changed the game)

When you have a teenage daughter you are often are exposed to terminology you have no business knowing and/or using in a conversation, especially when she is a Drake fan.  Like the majority of girls in this age range, she bounces around humming the gospel according to Aubrey while I pull up my khakis and ask why she’s obsessed with a guy named after a duck.  The battle continues in the car.  The Sirius radio is constantly switched between classic rock channels and those which spout the slang of modern day teen angst.  Long gone are the days where Meatloaf recalled the difficulty “seeing  paradise by the dashboard lights” when he 17 (and barely dressed..scary thought).  Instead, Drake reminisces about the hardships of working as a night manager at Shopper’s Drug Mart and his inability to throw a strike while bowling in  “Started from the Bottom”.  

While meatloaf became an advocate for…well..meatloaf, Drake has been crowned the hip-hop ambassador for the City of Toronto. His high profile association with the Raptors and the more infamous OVO festival has opened the doors for old white guys to weigh on things.  City councillor Norm Kelly, once known primarily for trying to harness the bronco actions of Rob Ford, is now a spokesperson and liaison between those with street cred (yes, I can use that term because of Mr. Kelly) and those who are just try to understand current pop culture.  His twitter feed is approaching 132 K followers, many of which are in the 15-25 year old demographic.  His last tweet (at least the last one I read while writing this) was a Tupac quote.

Thanks to Norm, I finally feel comfortable paying homage to Toronto’s dining scene through verse.  Never mind a top 5 or 10 list; it only seems fitting that a top 6 in the 6 list is most appropriate.  This is the first of series of a top 6 lists which identify great food and drink in Toronto.  I’m merely scratching the surface.  These lists are by no means comprehensive but are based on my travels through Toronto and the identification of places that are aight and worth dropping into.  I’ll start with my go-to drink at any coffee shop; the Amerciano. So, let’s travel through the Six for so joes…..

6. Dineen- 140 Yonge Street

Location, location, location..

For students and wall street vocations.

Good people watching when they meet,

with a decor that is quite boutique

And an Americano that is quite unique.

Why I think it’s aight: Unique tasting Amerciano and great people watching in an area saturated with Starbucks.

Dineen's Americano
Dineen’s Americano


5. Big Guy’s Little Coffee Shop– 2861 Lakeshore Blvd West

The sequel didn’t survive

but the original continues to thrive

offering a hipsterless vibe,

he may look like Notorious BIG

but he sure was nice to me.

Why I think it’s aight: Cozy coffeehouse outside of hipster ground zero with great service

Big Guy's Americano and Latte
Big Guy’s Americano and Latte

4.  Te Aro- 983 Queen Street East

Located on the Queen street strip

These guys really know their shit

they have classes where you get taught

to drink coffee at the perfect spot.

and they have a right to be boasters

they are afterall..pilot coffee roasters.

Why I think  it’s aight: Extremely knowledgeable, offer tastings and appreciate the science and complexity of roasting.  Coffee source for many other shops.

3. Red Rocket– 1364 Danforth Road

The coffee selection is absolutely sick,

although it’s name sounds like

Addictive treats and a friendly staff

You won’t leave here at half mast.

Why I think it’s aight: Crazy coffee concoctions and an extremely welcoming environment.

2. Jimmy’s Coffee- 84 Gerrard Street West (plus other locations)

With homage to Carter, Hendrix, Fallon and Page

Jimmy’s coffee is all rage

But there’s one Jimmy they’ve overlooked

Drake’s Degrassi name: Jimmy Brooks.

Why I think it’s aight: One of the best Americanos in Toronto in a fun and upbeat environment.

Jimmy's Americano and Iced Coffee
Jimmy’s Americano and Iced Coffee
  1. Mercury Espresso Bar- 915 Queen St. E

Whether Mercury, Venus, Earth or Mars,

One of the inner planet’s finest coffee bars.

On earth’s Queen street is where it’s furled,

with an Americano that’s out of this world.

But like space the  thing that I fear

is it’s lack of atmosphere.

Why I think it’s aight: Best Americano I have had in Toronto despite the fact it doesn’t have the same vibe as some of the others.

My Take

As I said, this list is by no means comprehensive as I haven’t ventured into most of the coffee shops in the city.  That said, I think these establishments offer a good product and overall experience.  I suppose I’m obliged to update it should I find a better joint. In the meantime, I have a number of go-to choices throughout the city and look forward to trying more as I travel through the six for my joes.