PENROSE FISH & CHIPS (600 Mt. Pleasant, at Penrose, 416-483-6800) Complete meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a pop. Average main $8. Open Tuesday to Friday 11 am to 7 pm, Saturday 11 am to 6:30 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free, booth seating, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Yes, that's 85-year-old matriarch Marion Johnston behind the counter at Penrose Fish & Chips, one of the city's oldest chippies.
Penrose has been frying fish halibut only, please since 1950. Johnston's still up front, overseeing the deep fryers of rendered beef fat that give her piscatory product its distinctive flavour. After splashing it with optional malt vinegar, she wraps each takeout order in yesterday's newspaper, much as she has since day one.
Unlike other similar joints, Penrose also provides tables for those who prefer to dine in situ. A row of vinyl-upholstered booths runs down the narrow room's length, its walls hung with period downtown views, nautical knick-knacks and a thumbs-up from Rita MacNeil. Why, Barbra Streisand's handlers stopped by just the other week and picked up an order to go when the Brooklyn diva was in town and had a hankering for some deep-fried nostalgia.
Babs reportedly adored hers, but at a recent Friday lunch I find the halibut and chips ($8.10) a tad dry, the fish deliciously battered and fried to a golden crisp but a bit tough around the edges. Similarly, the chunky fries made from Shepody potatoes, the spuds specifically genetically engineered to be boiled in oil, lack the contrast of crunchy outer shell and silken inner core. But, then, perhaps I've been spoiled by an all-too-steady diet of Yukon Gold frites.
Two slices of white bread served with pre-packaged butter (50 cents) will likely only appeal to purists, but the creamy house coleslaw ($1) a fine dice of cabbage, carrot, cucumber and celery in sweet salad cream will impress the most jaded of appetites.
And who can resist a slice of retro lemon meringue pie ($3.50), a made-from-scratch marvel that Johnston has been whipping up every weekend for the past 56 years?