The Fry Guys are on a delicious mission. A mission to eat at every single chip truck on the Trans-Canada Highway. The group of four, fry-loving friends from Toronto started their epic journey last summer. Packing up a vintage ‘74 Airstream trailer, they set out on the three-week Ontario leg, cameras and forks in hand, documenting every delicious, golden spud along the way.
Patrick T. Lo, 31, Chris Solomon, 32, Zachary Muir-Vavrina, 33, and Paul Parolin, 32, met at the Ontario College of Art and Design, where they bonded over a love of food, travel and Canadiana. Last year, the longtime friends cooked up the mouthwatering idea of eating their way across the country together, on an epic road trip along the Trans-Canada Highway.
Conjuring fond memories of roadside food, chip trucks stuck out as a quintessential part of Canadian road trips.
“It is such an interesting part of Canadiana that doesn’t really get the attention that it deserves,” says Parolin. “What if we went around and reviewed all of them and documented them? It might be what people are looking for to embark on the trip themselves.”
With Solomon at the wheel and Lo filming their culinary adventure, they hit the Trans-Canada Fryway in Toronto last August. Driving east to Québec, north to Kenora and round-trip back to Toronto, the Fry-Guys taste-tested chips at 55 different wagons along the way.
Each exit was a chance to taste a bit of local flavour, and the guys were ready with a slew of criteria and a five-fork rating system to apply to each stand. Only judging the fries, they got one small order with gravy, per stand, looking for fresh, crispy chips that stood up on their own. While the fries were the most important part, they were only one component. The ambiance, the number of picnic tables and even the number of seagulls were all factors for a winning chip truck.
“If there’s seagulls, you know it is worthwhile,” says Parolin.
While they started as humble food lovers, the Fry Guys refined their potato palate considerably on this road trip.
“At first, we were earning our credentials, but now I feel like we are the experts, for sure,” says Parolin. “After the pure number, I know right away if (the fry) has been sitting out, or if it has been frozen.”
In the three-week journey, only three spots earned the Fry Guys ultimate 5-Fork rating. Wes’ Chips in Arnprior stood out with its evenly-cooked fries and the Ottawa Valley tradition of letting the customer add in ketchup, salt or vinegar halfway, before topping up the container with more perfectly-fried spuds. Excellent fries, combined with lots of picnic tables and vintage signage makes Wes’ a must-visit, as locals have known for years.
“If you were remotely close to Arnprior, it is definitely worth the stop,” says Parolin.
Kingston’s Country Cabin Chip Hut and Kenora’s Ye Olde Chip Truck are also the trucks to beat in Ontario. Beyond the fantastic fries, Ye Old Chip Truck was one of the Fry Guys’ most interesting stops along the way. The chip truck chain is owned and operated by a pair of 20-something best friends, who bought their uncle’s former business, turning it into a spud-tacular empire.
“It was such an amazing passing of the torch moment, to see a place that has been around for 60 years in such great hands now with these two young entrepreneurs,” says Parolin.
While chowing down was a big part of the trip, it’s that unique Canadian chip truck culture that the guys aimed to capture. Like the dueling French fry stands in Sturgeon Falls.
Situated between North Bay and Sudbury, Larry’s and the Riv have been serving up fries across the highway from one another for more than 25 years. These fry-vals caught word of the Fry Guys’ trip long before they arrived and there was a crowd ready to greet them.
“Larry’s is run by people who have been there for 20 years, themselves. Then to go next door to Riv’s, it was like a high school class, everyone there knew each other,” says Parolin. “Their older siblings worked there, and their parents had worked there. It was almost like a right of passage if you are from that region.”
While these stands are often social hubs for the local community, the Fry Guys found their voyage helped connect fellow fry-cooks across Ontario. One stop in Deep River was especially moving. They asked the owner of a fry stand to sign their trailer and she stopped and told them how much it meant to her to see all the other people who spend their day slicing and frying.
“When she looked at all these other names of people across our country who are doing the same thing she’s doing, it felt like she was a part of something bigger,” says Parolin. “It is stuff like that that made the trip worthwhile.”
Since the sunny days of August, the guys have been working away to publish the first leg of their trip as a web series. (Check out their first episode below.) They hope to have the rest of their Ontario episodes complete this spring, and to continue their cross-Canada road trip this summer, ahead of Canada’s 150th birthday.
“Eating the French fries was the thread that holds our idea together, but it is just as important to us to focus on the actual journey of going across the country and what that means to Canadians,” says Parolin.