A well-known Toronto diner shares history, period photographs, and some favorite recipes.
Fran’s Restaurant was opened in Toronto in 1940 by G. Francis “Fran” Deck, originally from Buffalo, New York. Fran’s 10-seat diner gained popularity in part because it was open on Sundays. Devotees included the pianist Glenn Gould, who lived nearby: “Every morning around 2:00, Gould stopped in and ordered a plate of scrambled eggs.” At first, Fran’s served the usual inexpensive but satisfying diner fare—hamburgers, hash, wheat cakes. Over the next decade, Deck opened more locations, adding a high-end dining room. When Deck died in 1976, his children continued the business, experimenting with new locations and menu items. (Removing Fran’s rice pudding “caused public outcry….Two weeks later, rice pudding was back on the menu.”) In 1998, one Fran’s location was sold to Joon Kim; in 2001, he bought the corporation from the Deck family. Today, Fran’s is still family-owned and -operated, now by the Kims. The story of Fran’s is told by debut author Downes, a journalist, with an appealing mix of history, ephemera, comics, and a few key recipes. Though the text mentions the diner’s “unexpected combinations,” such as pierogies “topped with kimchi” or “ribs dusted with curry salt,” the recipes in the book are traditional: old-fashioned bean soup, lemon-maple-bourbon French toast, and a turkey patty melt, for example. Drink recipes include the Colonel’s Daughter and the Unraveled Caesar, a drinkable Caesar salad that never actually made it to the menu (it’s gently mocked in a cartoon titled “The Unfortunate Caesar Milkshake”). But you won’t find some of the most famous dishes, such as the rice pudding or shepherd’s pie; their secrets are “kept locked in a vault.” The recipes are well-written and -illustrated and easy to follow. Some require ingredients (three kinds of sweet syrup for a milkshake) or prep (making caramelized onions and roasted red-pepper jam for the turkey patty melt) that remind home cooks of why diners exist.
An affectionate look at a favorite local diner that will appeal most to those who know and love it.