The Frownie

At dinner the other evening, a friend of mine was recounting his recent trip to Pittsburgh for a wedding. Having attended a small college near the city, he became rather nostalgic talking about his late nights chugging coffee and cramming for finals at the local Kings Family Restaurant. Never having been to neither Northwestern Pennsylvania, nor Ohio, I had never heard of such a place and said as much. He then proceeded to mention that Kings Family Restaurants were the home of the “Frownie”.

“The what?” I asked, though the name seemed to illustrate itself with near-perfect precision.

“A Frownie is a brownie, but with a frownie face piped onto it. If you purchase a whole pack, it’s called a Pity Party.”

I stopped hearing anything more about the wedding. I only wanted to know about Frownies, so I went home to do a little research.

That’s one mean dessert.

Kings Restaurants’ latest dessert offering, which they are calling The Angry Mob, includes twelve frownies, accompanied by hot fudge, whipped cream, twelve scoops of vanilla ice cream, and a poster. I suppose that, if one can manage to ingest such vast quantities of fat and sugar, one might as well eat the poster, too.

The Frownie, as much as I have been able to learn, was dreamed up about three years ago to drum up business at the 40 year-old restaurant chain, which had been flagging in recent times. Thanks to Smith Brothers Advertising, who make the likes of other Pittsburgh-area brands like Heinz Tomato Ketchup sexy, the Frownie has caught on.

It’s not surprising that the Frownie originated near Pittsburgh, home of Carnegie Mellon University. Carnegie Mellon, if you didn’t know, is the birthplace of the emoticon, thanks to Scott Fahlman, who started the whole sideways smiling business more than 25 years ago on the University’s Computer Science community b(ulliten)-board. He invented the frowning emoticon, too. In the same message, no less.

Where I attended culinary school, plating foods in such a way as to resemble a human face was frowned upon– the thought being that no one wanted to dig into something that resembled one’s self. Clearly, they were mistaken. Then again, they were mistaken about a lot of things. Children are undeniably attracted to the cannibalization of smiley-faced pancakes, so who can say eating a scowling brownie is wrong?

Imagine living through a Northeastern winter. I know if I were to spend months freezing my hind quarters off battling the elements, I might find myself entering a local family restaurant and sitting down to a hearty meal and mugs of hot coffee to warm my hands and insides. If a dessert happened to come to the table with a scowl frosted onto its face, I’d most likely take another swig of coffee, look out the window at my iced-over car, and think, Frownie, I know just how you feel.

Katharine Hepburn’s Frownies

I had been thinking about brownies even before Frownies entered my consciousness, thanks to the September 2008 issue of Saveur Magazine. In their article, they list Katharine Hepburn’s home recipe, which originally accompanied an interview with the actress in the August 1975 issue of The Ladies’ Home Journal. Needing a basic brownie recipe, Hepburn’s seemed worthy, based upon name-recognition alone. It had been suggested to me that I might wish to give these Frownies some Hepburn-like quality. Since I neither know anyone who can lend me an Oscar on short notice, nor do I possess the ability to create slacks for dessert items, and taking a tremored, Parkinson’s-like blurry photo would have been in extremely poor taste, I decided to just let the unhappy things alone.


8 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup roughly chopped walnuts

¼ cup flour

¼ teaspoon fine salt

½ cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon water


1. Pre-heat oven to 325°. Grease and 8 x 8 inch baking pan with butter. Line the pan with parchment paper; grease the paper. Set pan aside.

2. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a 2-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, since one cannot imagine Miss Hepburn using anything else. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar. And the eggs and vanilla and stir to make a smooth batter. Add the walnuts, flour, and salt; stir until incorporated. Pour batter into the baking pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40-45 minutes. Let cool on a rack. Remove from pan and cut into nine squares.

3. Mix the powdered sugar and water in a small bowl, making a smooth, thick icing. Place icing into a piping bag fitted with a fine, plain tip, or place in a zip-lock bag, cutting a very small amount off one of the bottom corners with scissors. Pipe two blank, disappointed-looking eyes and a frown onto each brownie. Serve.

Makes 9 Frownies.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Frownie

  1. MissGinsu says:

    OMG this post tickles me so! The bottle of tanq in the background is such a dead-on detail, too. Thanks for making my Thursday that much more awesome.

  2. Katrina says:

    Someday, I think I will host my own pity party. With Frownies! I really can’t tell you enough how much I love this entry… even more than the butter one, I think. And I loved the butter one.

  3. Anita Reimann says:

    Hi, Michael, I enjoy your blog and I think we’ll make some Frownies this afternoon. Something in one of your recent posts (I think the dinner party one, where you mentioned talking about bacon) made me wonder if you’ve ever had chocolate-covered bacon… check out Vosges chocolates:
    They also have a dark chocolate plus hot chili powder bar.

  4. Dani says:

    Katrina – I have to steal the pity party idea

  5. whistler says:

    I’m sitting in front of a giant stuffed frownie (I’m at a client site) and it’s cracking me up.

    I must have one for my own.

  6. That is just hilarious. Are you familiar with the VooDoo Donut phenomenon up here in Portland? I’m thinking that those folks and the Frownie folks are pleasant aliens from the same piquant parallel universe.

  7. michaelprocopio says:

    Please excuse my tardiness. I’ve been otherwise occupied…

    Miss Ginsu– You are, as always, most welcome. The bottle of Tanqueray was a relic of the previous evening’s martini. I saw it in the camera frame and thought it would make a nice touch.

    Katrina– it makes me happy that you liked this. If you have a pity party, would you invite me?

    Dani– Steal away.

    Whistler– I hope you’ve ordered your stuffed Frownie by now. I want a photo of you forcing a piece of real Frownie into its sewn-on, drooping mouth.

    David– I have indeed heard of Voo Doo donuts. A fellow blogger did a piece on them a few months back. I had planned on being in Portland briefly this months, but my plans have now changed.

    Someday, I’ll get there.

  8. snafucity says:

    i made this recipe tonight for my dinner guest – a big hit! and VERY delicious.

    as it turns out i didn’t have an 8X8 pan or anything square … so i used an 81/2 round … and consequently, rather than creating lots of little Frownies, a single, giant Frownie was born.

    also apparently there’s a difference between parchment paper and um, wax paper … p.s. don’t ever use wax paper. no amount of greasing stopped it from completely adhesing to the back of Frownie’s head.

    and lastly … my local stores did not have confectioner’s sugar, so i winged it with superfine. worked well enough, though when dry was a bit toned-down looking vs crisp, bright white.

    keep up the awesomeness!

  9. michaelprocopio says:

    snafu– Confectioner’s sugar is also called “powdered sugar”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s