Shakes and Franks
Shakes and Franks is a new Beaches eatery devoted to two of the greatest entries in the pantheon of junk food. Located kitty-corner from Beaches Park, the takeout spot is the creation of two brothers, Sergio and Giancarlo Leone, first-time restaurateurs who nevertheless have had a lifelong connection to the food industry (their dad ran an ice cream manufacturer in Vaughan).
Sergio says he watched one of his two favourite foods - the humble burger - become Toronto's biggest food craze in recent years; when hot dogs began going in the same direction, he knew it was time to take the leap and launch a place of his own. His lifelong obsession with milkshakes, fuelled by the family business, seemed like a natural addition. "The ice cream is such a tie-in for us - so I was so determined. I was like 'I'd have to make the best milkshakes in Toronto.'"
The brothers are still based in Vaughan, and weren't set on kick-starting the business in the east end - until they visited the former Marble Slab location, saw the heavy foot traffic in the area from families and dog-walkers, and were sold. "That's kind of what you're looking for - the Queen West walking traffic, without the Queen West extensive prices on rent."
At the eight-seat restaurant, painted ketchup-red and mustard-yellow, Nathan's Famous ballpark franks, available in six-inch and footlong sizes, can be dressed to order with a huge array of housemade toppings, or done up as one of their half-dozen signature dogs.
The chill cheese dog ($6.75 regular, $11 footlong) comes topped with a housemade chill that's basically beef held together by tomatoes, onions and spices (because who wants beans on a hot dog?), as well as their own cheese sauce.
The hula dog ($6.75 regular, $11 footlong) features a bacon-wrapped frank topped with pineapple slaw and lemony mayo. Eating this feels like a direct violation of my strictly-held "Hawaiian pizza is gross, except when I'm hammered" principle - but, surprisingly, the combo of pineapple and processed meat works. The flavour of the bacon and mayo take a backseat - it's all about the pineapple and hot dog here.
The "shakes" part of the equation, true to Leone's love of milkshake mad science, also delivers. The staff are loath to share who makes their ice cream right now (since the owners plan to start making their own in the not-too-faraway future), but can divulge that they use whole milk in their 16oz shakes - "literally just enough to get it to spin".
The Nutella shake (which contains just three ingredients; guess what they are) doesn't skimp on the sweet stuff, but I'm partial to the banana cream pie shake, which gets its pleasing mouthfeel from banana chunks and graham cracker crumbs, and some visual appeal from a ring of caramel sauce and a touch of whipped cream.
It might not be immortalized in the name of the restaurant, but the poutine here kind of steals the show. Smothered in housemade gravy - half-chicken and half-beef stock, in keeping with the original Montreal poutine sauce - it comes densely layered with huger, more abundant cheese curds than any bucket of poutine you'll find downtown. (Leone says folks visiting from Montreal have heaped praise on the dish - a high compliment indeed.)
Side options also include a pulled pork poutine and a couple of riffs on Taco Bell-style Mexican fries (including chill and non-chili versions).
This summer, just in time for walking traffic to really explode, they're going to be adding a banana split to the menu - one smothered in housemade chocolate and strawberry sauces, natch.
Photos by Hector Vasquez.