When Chris Parry and Kyle Polanski first viewed a leasable space on Fraser Street at East 24th Avenue, they went for a walk afterward to think about it. Nearly every appliance in the former pho diner needed an upgrade. Sure, it was cheaper than it would be on Main, and bigger than anything they’d seen, but could they make a go of it? Since it was dinner time, the duo opted to consider it over a sandwich. So they walked up the block. And walked. And 15 blocks later, they were still walking and looking for that sandwich. That’s when they knew: this neighbourhood needed them.
Now, 10 months in, they’re waiting for mid-Fraser to pop—and it hasn’t yet. Some days, crowds gather at their restaurant, Fray; other days, few souls darken the door.
“Anytime now, 16 things are going to open across the street, and then we’ll be a hub,” said Aussie jack-of-all-trades Parry. His partner, long-time restaurant insider Polanski, has kept his day job as general manager of the Cove Bar and Restaurant in Kitsilano.
“For now, we’re not pulling from the suburbs [as Main Street does]. We have to grab people from the ’hood. It works, because so many people are living in these little 500-square-foot apartments, and there’s not a lot of eating, entertaining, or kitchen space. So we see them three or four times a week: they can stretch out and play Scattergories or play Prisoners of Catan till 10 p.m.”
In other words, they’re executing an unpretentious rec room–style eatery for the area. With comfy booths, an underplayed Mexican wrestling décor theme, and muted green walls with wood beams, the room feels peaceful and playful. Fray manages to deliver a lighthearted fresh-and-local menu alongside its ethical ambitions.
On a recent weeknight, when the room was, sadly, half-full, the kitchen whipped up an extraordinary appetizer: a Jenga tower of Portobello fries. These are mushrooms, cut into strips, with an egg wash holding on a layer of panko, double deep-fried and served with garlic-y truffle aioli. They’re soft and slightly chewy, dense with earthy flavour, and brilliantly unexpected.
The F-Bombs, too, held our attention with an intense salty-sweet punch. They’re a handful of fresh figs wrapped in bacon from Abbotsford’s Gelderman Farms, baked until crisp with a velvety centre and doused with a little reduced balsamic vinegar. Although they’re currently off the menu, they will return later in the summer when local figs are available.
Both appetizers were delicious and, frankly, refreshingly kooky. The rest of dinner, which included the Mountainview Burger, the wild mushroom ravioli, and the house-made cheesecake was tasty, but not as special as the starters. Dinner for four adults with four alcoholic drinks came to $125 before tax and tip.
For brunch on a recent Saturday, I was expecting a lineup, so I hustled the family out the door. At 10 a.m., though, the place was deserted. I worked through my immense corn flake–crusted French toast in peace. The dish, a creation of former head chef Benny Cheng (who left to pursue a spot on next season’s Top Chef), involves three slices of Italian bread glued together with citrus-zested cream cheese and thickly coated in crunchy corn flakes. Delicious? Yes. And pleasantly odd. But also overwhelmingly full of intense flavours and textures, under oodles of Chantilly cream, organic blueberry compote, and real maple syrup.
It needed a salty counterpoint. So I helped myself to a taste of my husband’s Slaughterhouse brekkie, which included a perfectly rare, tiny flatiron steak from Pemberton Meadows, house-cured peameal bacon, farmers sausage, and side bacon. All of it was memorable, a rich, fleshy celebration of meat. Two adults and two kids for brunch was $42 before tax and tip.
Perhaps the best part of the meal came afterwards. I sipped my big green mug of ethically grown Brazilian java from Richmond’s Mogiana Coffee and played cribbage with my husband, uninterrupted by the kiddies, who were hooting over Space Invaders on the retro ’60s tabletop video game. With a shelf full of entertainment appropriate for infants through teens, a decent junior menu, and a chaos-tolerant staff, Fray is easily the most kid-friendly room in the city. Both Parry and Polanski have kids, so they know.
There’s a lot more to Fray than what’s currently on the table. Upstairs, the duo hopes to open a foodie-boozy movie theatre, inspired by the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain in the U.S., using seats they bought when the Van East Cinema closed. The B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch has put up some hurdles to that, Parry said. The LCLB has also restricted plans for trivia nights, drunken spelling bees, and late-night hours, he explained. They’re working on it.
However, Fray’s plan for an expanded pie menu is ruled by no bureaucracy, so expect a handful of locally made pies to be available soon. An evening of pie, craft beer, kids, and Battleship on still-modest Fraser Street is a welcome vision. Fray, which literally means a noisy battle or brawl, serves up the opposite; it is, in fact, a friendly refuge.