Fresco's Fish and Chips (St. Clair)
Fresco's Fish and Chips now has a location at St. Clair West in Hillcrest Village. The original is one of my favourite places to eat in Kensington Market - not just for fish and chips, but also for poutine and po'boys. Perhaps I eat there a little too regularly, as I'm embarrassed to discover that owner Michael Fresco recognizes me when I come to visit this second spot.
Unlike the tiny space on Augusta Ave., which is mostly geared towards take-out with a few seats inside and a handful of front patio tables, there is definitely room to eat in here. This shop is much bigger - both in terms of the dining area and the kitchen (the front patio is smaller though).
Decor here is similar to Kensington's, with Beatles memorabilia on Fresco's signature blue and yellow walls (expect to hear the band's hits played over the speakers as well - Fresco is unabashedly a big fan of the Fab Four), although there are some other quirky additions from the dig-for-treasure glorious mess that is the Buy and Sell antique store next door as well.
Another difference is that this joint is licensed, so you can order a tall can or bottle to go with your food. A decent selection of beers (Budweiser, Steam Whistle, Underdog, Muskoka, Stonehammer, Mill St. Organic, Great Lakes, etc.) and ciders (Brickworks and Strongbow) range from $6 to $9.
Because the kitchen here is larger, chef/operating partner Rob Green is able to experiment and offer more in terms of choices, including rotating specials like seared - instead of fried - fish with potatoes as well as Sunday brunch. He previously worked in the kitchens of Ruby Watchco and The Grove (now closed), so he clearly has a skilled culinary background.
Green's developed some new dishes, like maple bacon poutine ($8.95 small, $13.45 large), an irresistible combo of made-in-house double-smoked, candied bacon, real curds, gravy and a sunny-side up egg on top of fries.
It's sweet (maple syrup!), savoury (poutine!) and smoky (bacon - carcinogens be damned!!), and pretty much the ultimate Canadian dish in my mind (and mouth).
My friend inhales the buffalo wings (half-pound, $10; one pound, $12), a recipe Fresco and Green have worked hard to develop and improve to strike the right balance of spices, herbs and flour to make for tasty and crispy chicken. Instead of a side of fries, we substitute it with deep fried pickles (+$2.50) in a satisfyingly crunchy dill batter.
Most people know Fresco's for its fish and chips and possibly its poutine (vegan and gluten-free versions are made too), but don't overlook its sandwiches either.
The shrimp po'boy (sandwich alone, $8.95; with fries, $11.95; substitute fries with kale salad, +$2.50), with battered shrimp, coleslaw, cheddar cheese and chipotle mayo on a fresh baguette, is an easy fave of mine at the Kensington locale, and it doesn't disappoint here on St. Clair either.
Of course, the main event at Fresco's is the fish and chips, and we split an order of the cod (one piece, $8.95; two pieces, $11.95). It comes with coleslaw, tartar sauce and lemon, and I'd recommend shelling out an additional $1.50 for the extra crispy batter that uses crushed Miss Vickie's chips, because it makes it that much more delicious and is worth the splurge.
Fresco and Green tell me they get more families (there are family meal deals on the menu) and less tourists here, along with nearby high schoolers dropping by for lunch (heck, even I can't resist the $5 poutine and pop special - health be damned!). They like that this is an up-and-coming area, and they're looking forward to getting to know the local community.
I'm sure they'll be adding a lot more recognizable faces to their repertoire of regulars soon.
Photos by Jesse Milns