While playing with your food is not kosher in restaurants, playing games while eating food is perfectly okay and even encouraged at Fray on Fraser. Our visit last Wednesday turned from a casual dinner with drinks, to an evening racking our brains for answers as we played Fray Trivia with Quizmaster Deb.
That’s one reason why I like Fray, the other reason is that Chef Kelly Maley is proud to source his ingredients and most of his “hooch” locally.
We started our meal exploring their hooch menu, deciding on a pint of Howe Sound’s Rail Ale and a glass of Domaine de Chaberton’s Bacchus.
The Rail Ale went well with everything that we tried, while the Bacchus was an easy drinker and proved to be great on its own, while also pairing nicely with the portobello fries.
Portobello Fries (9.95) – Half order shown
A Jenga stack of lightly fried breaded portobello mushroom strips with sun-dried tomato aioli
Normally when the waiters and waitresses carry these suckers out it is a true test of dexterity just trying to keep the Jenga stack from toppling over. Fortunately, for our server, we had just a sample of it so the stack was half the size; next time she won’t get off so easy.
They used to serve these portobello fries with a truffle aioli but switched to a sun-dried tomato after deciding that the truffle flavour was overwhelming the flavor of the fries. Deep fried veggies are trendy, however most of them can not stack up to these battered portobello mushrooms. The batter is slightly greasy as expected — they are deep-fried after all — but its not a thin batter that retains grease, and rather a nice coarse crust that has just a pinch of thyme added in to the batter and coats the meaty mushrooms perfectly.
Steak Mushroom Bites (8.95)
Marinated chunks of AAA BC beef, sauteed in red wine with quartered mushrooms and chipotle lime aoili dipping sauce
These bite-size bits of beef are seared on both side to cook it just enough so that you get that smoky outside and juicy inside. Marinade would help these be a little more flavorful on their own but the accompanying sauce, plump mushrooms and citrusy aioli with a little kick make them still a tasty appetizer that gets your mouth salivating. I like the thin garlic bread because you can taste the garlic butter in every single bite and it is good to soak up the leftover juice in the bowl.
Maple Bacon Jam Burger with a side of greens (14.95)
Fray burger with monterey jack cheese and mushrooms on a bed of mayo and chefs secret maple bacon jam
Wow, I’m in burger heaven. After having this burger I’m not surprised that they came second in the recent Vancouver Foodster Burger Challenge, with Chef Kelly’s Triple Threat burger. The beef is sourced from Pemberton and is formed in to a 7 oz patty of deliciousness. If Chef Kelly had his way this burger would be cooked medium rare, but that tends to be a taboo move in the eyes of the average Vancouver diner; go to France and they’ll actually ask you how you want your burger done. I’m with Maley, I like it pink in the inside please. Regardless this burger still is juicy and messy, just how I like it. The Monterey jack cheese and decent serving of sautéed mushrooms complement the flavour of the patty and the secret maple bacon jam. I tried to coerce Chef Kelly in to spilling the beans but he said that “after months of working on it, creating that maple bacon jam was one of his proudest accomplishments”.
At Fray they source almost all of their meat locally through Inner City Packers, with the only exception being the ground beef. Why not the ground beef though? “You can’t get the same texture in the ground beef from BC that you can get in the ground beef from Alberta,” explained Chef Kelly. Now I wouldn’t be able to tell unless I was comparing the two side by side but there is no denying that the texture of the burgers at Fray is spot on with a hearty and robust flavour and consistency.
Pulled Pork Sandwich with a side of Rosemary Crisps (11.95)
A serving of slow-cooked candied pulled pork with coleslaw and a sweet apple glaze and house-shaved lightly fried potato crisps.
As we ordered the pulled pork sandwich we were given what seemed like a disclosure. “This isn’t your average pulled pork, it’s not all about the BBQ sauce and it’s very sweet.” Intrigued and on a hunt to find the best pulled pork in Vancouver we disregarded our hesitations and gave it a try. First thing we noticed was the heaping pile of pork on our plain looking but fresh tasting bun; skimping out on the main ingredient is clearly not an option for Chef Kelly. While I like my burgers and sandwiches messy (remember my love for the burger), I can’t disregard the fact that this was a unique sandwich and a fully loaded “all about the meat” one at that.
Apple Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramel Drizzle (8.95)
We ordered this dessert for two but it was really more appropriate for three or four, or a couple that hadn’t gone through appetizers and entrees already. Despite saying this it was absolutely addictive, making it hard to put the fork down even if our stomachs were aching from over-indulging. I would return to Fray for the apple crumble alone, loving the crisp brown sugar topping, the ample amount of cinnamon coated apples and the ice cream melting on top.
Chef Kelly Maley has completely revamped the menu since he started at Fray nearly nine months ago. With twenty years in the industry he is proud to have found his home at Fray where his not only the head chef, but also the head bartender and the general manager. Working 80-90 hours a week (about 16-18 every day), you would expect Chef Kelly to appear exhausted and easily agitated, but the rough around the edges, tattooed man appeared upbeat despite all odds. Maybe we caught him on a good day but according to him, every time he sees his guests leaving with a full belly and a smile on their face — even if slightly out of pain — his hard work is justified. We must’ve made him very happy then.
“I call this fat kid food,” Chef Kelly said with a smile. While not the best phrase for marketing you can understand what he means when he further explains himself. “I like to make the same kind of food my mom used to make when I was kid — comfort food. At Fray we’re all about making real food for real people, so I don’t bother making food that looks so good that you don’t want to eat.”
With complete control of the menu he likes to see it change seasonally to incorporate fresh, local ingredients, but finds it hard to take things of the menu when they sell like crazy. If it’s not broken, why fix it right? That said there may be a few changes to the appetizer list, as well as some adjustments to the Quinoa Burger. Chef Kelly is currently on a bit of a health kick so you may even see some additional “skinny kid food” on the spring menu. The easy way to find out? Keep on visiting.
Read more about the Fray team, including Chef Kelly Maley here.
For more photos check out Kelly’s Fray photos on Flickr.