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.