FRAN'S (200 Victoria, at Shuter, 416-304-0085) Complete meals for $30 per person ($18 at lunch or brunch), including all taxes, tip and a glass of house plonk. Average main $12/$9. Open 24/7/365. Licensed. Access: barrier-free from hotel. Rating: NN Rating: NN
It's time to review Fran's, the local culinary institution that dates back to the 40s, in its recent incarnation as a retro-chic resto in the Pantages Hotel across from Massey Hall, and I'm stumped. Who of my epicurian posse should I choose to accompany me on my critical rounds? After all, this is the same masochistic lot who have willingly dined at hospital cafeterias, Captain John's and Lobby. But dumpy old Fran's - despite the designer make-over - looks like a hard sell. Then inspiration strikes: I'll have the two Frans - ace NOW copy editors Francie and Fran - do Fran's.
And so I arrive just past noon on a busy Christmas-shopping Saturday to find my gourmet gal pals already ensconced in a high-backed chrome 'n' vinyl booth. They're both sipping Fran's signature two-pot-service orange pekoe tea ($1.69), one pot full of steeping tea, the second of just-boiled water so that customers, as they have since Glenn Gould was a regular at the now defunct St. Clair location, can adjust the strength of their brew. That, or make it last for hours.
I scan the laminated menu for signs of Fran's bygone days - That Salad with Mrs. Deck's dressing - but find globe-trotting grub like Fried Rice Omelette ($8.95) and Ocean Crab Extreme Salad ($12.99) with a side of Mexican black bean salad ($2.99) instead.
Francie has already opted for the "All Canadian" Banquet Burger ($7.95), a standard beef patty, peameal and cheddar combo that she's sided with crunchy steamed roughage - cauliflower, broccoli stalks, snow peas, water chestnut and carrot - rather than starches. She removes its McDonald's-style sesame seed bun as well, pronouncing the burger "edible." Some banquet.
Fran is less than pleased with her Eggs Blackstone ($10.99), a pair of poached eggs on a split English muffin topped with regulation smoked salmon, grated mozzarella and paprika-dusted hollandaise. The eggs have journeyed beyond poached to hard-boiled. Nice home fries, mind.
Menu-described as "spicy chipotle marinated shrimp" in "smoky tomato broth" (sic), my Infusion Bowl ($11.95) contains neither. Instead, it consists of a half-dozen grilled plump tail-on shrimp swimming in mild tin-tasting Italian tomato sauce strewn with al dente Asian veg - red pepper strips, canned baby corn - over slippery rice linguine.
We finish with the joint's legendary Sky High Lemon Meringue Pie ($4.25), a pleasant lunch-counter relic that's 21/2 inches tops, and Fran's rice and raisin pudding ($2.50), a vanilla custard-topped dessert rated best in town by Toronto Life in 1953. That'd be about right.