Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Penrose Fish and Chips closes after 64 years.

Today's Toronto Star brings the sad news regarding a venerable city eatery, Penrose Fish and Chips, which closes this week after 64 years in business:
"You've gotten good at that," Tim Johnston tells the takeout girl, as she wraps his French fries in newspaper.

Without pausing, she quips back: "A couple thousand times and you’ll get good at anything."

That may be the secret to success at Penrose Fish and Chips, which has been deep-frying filets and thick-cut potatoes in more or less the same way for 64 years. It is now considered the city's best.

And now, it is closing. The north Toronto institution will shut its doors for good on Wednesday afternoon.

The place has been packed since early September when the owner announced it was closing; they keep running out of fish before the day’s out. A visitor’s book near the checkout is filled with handwritten dismay.

"Can't believe it’s my last visit! Thanks for being a big part of my life!" read one message. Another, more pithy: "DON'T CLOSE!!!!!"

But close it must, says owner Dave Johnston. "Forty years of sixty-hour weeks," he says. "It takes its toll."

Johnston inherited the business from his father, a Second World War tank driver who fell in love with fish and chips while stationed in England. His first storefront was at Dundas and Gladstone; the current location, on Mount Pleasant Rd. just south of Eglinton Ave., opened in 1950.


It has been consuming. A police officer bidding Johnston farewell looked incredulous. "You ready for this?" the cop asked.

"Absolutely not," Johnston replied.

However, at 59, standing behind a deep-fryer all day is too much for his bum knee. He plans to sail and travel in his spare time.

There are parts of the job he will miss, though. "It grows on you and wears you away at the same time," Johnston said.

His favourite part? "The people." Well, he adds, laughing, "most of the people."

"You see them grow up and you see them bring their kids in," he said, his eyes moistening. "It's really quite neat."
To read the rest, click here. A bit like Steven Temple Books, Penrose Fish and Chips was a Toronto fixture that I never experienced firsthand. I nurtured hopes of visiting Penrose for a long while, having learned of the place shortly after I moved here and putting the restaurant on my list of places to visit; I never quite got around to it, and I regret that. Having eaten fish and chips just about every week when I was growing up in Southeastern Massachusetts, I still seek them out from time to time and I have a very specific idea of what I like (particularly with respect to the batter, which ought to be brown and crunchy). I have been generally satisfied with the fish and chips that I've had in Toronto - perhaps there is just enough lingering British influence here to ensure authenticity - but I usually get them in pubs and not at old-school fish-and-chip places like the Penrose, which are getting to be hard to find. That being said, the closing of this local institution may strengthen my resolve to visit similar places on my 'to do' list before they ride off into the sunset. AMDG.


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