Have you heard about the gourmet toast craze? If not, don't worry. I hadn't heard of it either until someone mentioned it a few days ago. Having a deep love for all things bread-based, I had to investigate.
Like most trends, this one is kicking off on the coasts, in San Francisco and New York. If you do an on-line search, you'll find several articles decrying the $4 a slice (!) toast that some eateries are offering. But let's be specific here. We're not talking your average white bread and plastic packet of butter here. We're talking artisan loafs -- sourdough, whole grain, even pumpkin -- toasted just to the point of outer-crispiness and inner-softness, then topped with everything from local butter and fresh fruit preserves to melted chocolate and peanut butter.
Toast, as simple as it is, is a food that people get passionate about. I decided to conduct my own survey on Facebook and asked people to tell me about their favorite toast toppings. Friends came out from behind their dark cloaks of Internet anonymity to discuss this highly conversational topic. The topping most often mentioned was that childhood staple, cinnamon sugar. Many different spice companies make their own pre-mixed bottles of cinnamon sugar, which I've always found baffling. How hard is it to make your own? Not very, I assure you.
Peanut butter was the runner up, with or without jelly.
Then there were the purists -- those who stick with butter. But they were very specific. "Lovely butter (yes, real butter) on lightly toasted toast so it gets all melted and soaks into the bread equals a little piece of heaven in my mouth," wrote one friend. Another person commented that it had to be Kerrygold, an Irish butter.
"We like toast like Mercy Watson: hot and buttered," said another friend. I had no idea who Mercy Watson was, but I would've bet money that she was a jazz singer from the 1920s. Turns out she's a pig in a children's book series.
A fellow food writer who lives in Australia commented, "When the bread is good and fresh enough all it needs is good butter -- I love Lescure or Pepe Saya when feeling indulgent." (She also made a note not to forget about "delicious marmite," with its salty, yeasty goodness. I have to say, I don't know a single American who actually eats the stuff.)
Things got a little more interesting when people veered out of the realm of toast as a breakfast food.
Jerri Graham, founder of Westport's Nothin' But Premium Foods, says she likes smashed avocado, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper on a hearty slice of multigrain. (That one got a lot of "Likes").
Butter and garlic in various forms (fresh, powdered, blended) proved to be another popular choice, while one person extolled the virtues of toast with hummus, lemon, sriacha and cracked black pepper.
Toast as a sweet treat was another subtopic. Nutella, of course, was mentioned several times. A food scientist friend sang the praises of condensed milk with butter, while a chef friend said, "Speculoos cookie spread is mighty tasty on toast." (I completely agree.)
I went in search of some local gourmet toast, and found avocado toast at Java Coffee & Cafe in Westport. For $8 (they have to pay that downtown Westport rent somehow), you get four slices of crispy and chewy sourdough or wheat bread, topped with bright green slices of avocado and cracked black pepper.
I noticed that The Granola Bar of Westport also offers avocado toast (also for $8), so clearly the trend is hitting there first.
To be sure, there is something wonderful and fun about the whole idea of gourmet toast, but there's one category that can't be denied: diner toast. You know what I'm talking about. Thin slices of bread, soggy with a butter-like product, served with jelly. "I was just saying last week I never make toast, but I love diner toast so much," said my friend Kelly. "It's always perfectly buttered. There's something about looking through the little jelly tray knowing full well I'll always go with grape that adds to the specialness of it."
In high school, part of our weekly Saturday night ritual was to drive from Fairfield to Westport, and then back again, stopping at the Athena Diner in Southport for a late-night snack. I vividly recall a group of teenage boys piling into a booth, and one dumping a bag of change on the table. "This is all the money I have," he told the long-suffering waitress. "What can I get for it?"
She sized up the pile of coins and said, "Maybe some toast."
"Okay," he said. "Give me as much toast as you can." Clearly, he was way ahead of the times.
Until a toast truck comes to town, you can get avocado toast at the following locations:
The Granola Bar of Westport, 275 Post Road East (Playhouse Square), Westport
Java Coffee and Cafe, 44 Church Lane, Westport