I've heard of fringers so hungry for culture they go non-stop from venue to venue, barely aware of the need for food. A sandwich will do them, or something from one of the many street food vendors to eat on the go.
Me? I couldn't do it. Neither could many other dedicated fringers who need a sit-down break and sustenance of a more solid kind. Not, perhaps, a full-course dinner, but some restaurants in the heart of fringe country do offer meals that are made up of a little bit of a lot of things, with the added plus of a dip into other cultures.
For a South American dip, HERMANOS is an attractive place, with linen-topped tables, lovely photographs and gorgeous lampshades. But for quiet relaxation, get there early -- it opens at 4:30 p.m., and arriving at 5 p.m. wouldn't be too soon. After 6 p.m., when it starts filling up, the decibel level starts to soar. There are full-size main courses, priced from $19 to $39, but there are also more moderately priced dishes, many of them large enough to share, and most of them delicious. It takes a careful reading of the menu to find them since some are listed under Tapas, others under Lunches and Late Night.
One of the best buys is the grilled rib-eye skewers, eight ounces of tender, richly beefy chunks of steak, served with little pots of bacon and port-reduced mushrooms, caramelized onions and cracked pepper aioli ($18). A runner-up is the bread and sausage board of grilled sausages, also with caramelized onions ($18). A third -- delicious, if not quite as generous as the above -- is the Peruvian ceviche of citrus-marinated pickerel.
The Chivito Uruguayan sandwich would challenge even two gargantuan appetites, which, at $14, makes it another good buy. That is, if you can get your mouth around the almost two-inch-thick filling of shaved steak, provolone, ham, bacon, hard-boiled egg, olives, onions, banana peppers and aioli -- all tucked into a good, house-made bun. It comes, as many of the other dishes do, with the sensational house-made chips. Only one dish disappointed: the mussels in a nice spicy sauce were, alas, no better than any of the mussels I've been getting elsewhere -- flannelly, dry and flavourless ($13 a pound). Properly, and without fuss, they were removed from the bill.
For an ultra-rich dessert try the dark chocolate Black Gold, served with dolche de leche ice gelato ($10). The wine selection is good, but I can never resist the glorious Brazilian Caipirinha cocktail of white rum (two ounces) and lime juice -- heaven in a massive, bowl-size glass for $9. 179 Bannatyne Ave., 947-5434.
-- -- --
PEASANT COOKERY offers nostalgia for francophiles in both the food and the evocative of France setting, not to mention two of the city's best deals in classy classics, both available after 5 p.m. on specific days. If it's Monday come for the marvellous charcuterie platter -- an assortment of p¢tés, cured meats and smoked duck -- at half its usual price of $14.99. If it's Wednesday you can finally eat your fill of oysters on the half shell for $1 each (usually $3). At either lunch or dinner, on any day of the week, there are plump mussels with exquisite fries for $12.99, a decadent poutine at $7.99 for the classic, $10.99 with chicken confit. The profiteroles filled with ice cream are good but if the exquisite lemon tart or rich chocolate terrines are on, don't miss them. 283 Bannatyne Ave., 989-7700.
-- -- --
Pronounce it yookee and YUKI SUSHI will sound more appetizing. And although it may be in an unlovely location, if you use the Main Street entrance you won't have to go through the hotel. It's a tiny room, with just a long counter and a few tables in the rear, but the owners couldn't be nicer and most of the sushi and sashimi sell for less than the going rate, with two pieces of nigiri sushi and three generous slices of sashimi from $2.95 to $4.45. Service is sometimes slow and an attractive alternative to eating in is to phone in your order for pick-up, and have a picnic in the square. 554 Main St. (McLaren Hotel), 956-2841.
-- -- --
GOLDEN TERRACE serves dim sum, most $2.60 to $4, from 11 a.m. to 3.30 p.m. One advantage to coming midweek is that the dim sum are made to order, and the happy hour from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m, when most go for $2.30 (a few for $3). The weekend advantage is that there are more to choose from. Keep in mind also previously reviewed dim sum at KUM KOON, $3.50 to $4.50 (now served in the evening as well) and NOODLE EXPRESS where they are made to order, served until closing at 8 p.m., from $2.40 to $3.90, or all at $2.40 during happy hour from 2 p.m. to closing. 180 King St., 943-9760.
-- -- --
Other recently reviewed restaurants near some of the fringe venues include LOGAN CORNER, 247 Logan Ave., 957-7288 and FOON HAI, 329 William Ave., 943-5032 for full Chinese menus; DOUBLE GREETING, 355 McDermot Ave., 956-1383, for Chinese noodle dishes; ELLICE CAFE for home-style cooking, 587 Ellice Ave., 975-0800, and the FREE PRESS NEWS CAFE for café food; 237 McDermot Ave., 943-0682. Both KAY'S CAFE, 339 William Ave., 949-0424, and UNDERGROUND CAFE, 70 Albert St., 956-1925, do great sandwiches but are open until 4 p.m. only.