Of the 140 characters you'll find on King Street at any given time, Fran Hiscock is the queen, the living jewel in the crown of downtown Dartmouth's food community. Fran Hiscock is Fran's Fish and Chips.
For nine years, Fran's has been parked in downtown Dartmouth, between Portland and Queen, fragrant steam puffing out of the exhaust fan on the roof of the white and red truck, greasy smoke signals announcing some of the best fried food you'll find on either side of the bridge. Chances are, if you've stepped up to the window at Fran's, you've been served by the woman herself, her black hair pulled back in a ponytail or bun, a kerchief on her head. "Hi sweetie," she'll smile, before taking your order. "Enjoy!" she'll shout out the window as she hands you a box overflowing with crispy hand-cut fries.
And you will enjoy it. Fran's has the best fish and chips in the city, better still when seasoned with vinegar and lemon juice ingeniously provided in spray bottles. Neon Bristol board screams out "fresh clams" when she has fat-bellied local clams that she'll batter and fry to tender perfection. Her burger is handmade, seared on the flat-top and topped with fried onions. Fran knows how to fry.
But it's what she is baking up that's really exciting. For the last year, Hiscock has been building up to the opening of the King Street Cafe, just a block away from the truck. This is actually her return to a brick-and-mortar space. In the early 2000s, she had a restaurant in the Annapolis Valley. "It was called Gilley's Fish and Chips, in Waterville," Hiscock says. "This restaurant is sort of going back into that direction, but it won't be quite the same. I've been working on it for a whole year and it's just coming into focus now."
The King Street Cafe, which opened this week, is a small, homey, country-style diner. The restaurant will only be open for breakfast and lunch, and will mostly feature soups and sandwiches, salads and wraps. "It's going to be all homemade food," Hiscock says. "Homemade biscuits, rolls, soup. I think it will be very nice, but it will be very unlike Fran's: no fried food, just baked."
In the nine years that Fran's has been parked downtown, Hiscock has seen a lot of change in the neighbourhood, a new vibrancy and sense of community in the way that the residents and business community have grown together. "The neighbourhood has changed a lot. It's really cleaned up good," she says.
"I love this neighbourhood. People are friendly," says Hiscock. "It's just really nice. And I happen to have the greatest customers in the world. They're all just beautiful customers, and not only that: people care." Hiscock wants her restaurant to be a place that fosters that sense of community. "I want my cafe to be somewhere where if someone's hungry and they don't have money, we can set up a system where people can pay it forward. Like, the tips—if we get tips—will go towards helping to pay for people who want to come in, but can't pay.
"I just want it to be a welcoming place where people feel very comfortable," she says. "Whatever your age, wherever you're from, whoever comes in: I just want people to feel comfortable."
The grand opening for the restaurant is this Sunday, November 22, from 2pm-4pm. "All the public's invited," Hiscock says. "We're going to have some finger food, but when it's gone, it's gone. First come, first serve!"
Fran's Fish and Chips will close for the season at the end of November. "But it'll come back in April. There's no risk of losing that fish truck," she promises. "That fish truck is coming back! I've got faithfuls to feed."
King Street Cafe
65 King Street