Toast seems an unlikely object of culinary obsession, to say the least. But it’s been trending hard in New York for over a year now (and in places like San Francisco much longer), and we’re not talking about the simple buttered squares served with eggs in the morning, either. Nor are we referring to crostini; those dainty wheels of Italian bread crowned with snips of basil and spoonfuls of roughly chopped tomato and ricotta cheese. In fact, the term “toast” is used to apply to pretty much any amply-sized, well-browned slab of artisanal bread, generously slathered with everything from smoked sturgeon to nduja to roasted butternut squash, and enjoyed for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dessert, as a fancy bar snack, or an elegant small plate.
But if you’re really seeking the genesis of gussied-up toast — not to mention the omnipresent avocado toast; its own trend within a trend — look no further than Australia, where it’s become as beloved a café staple as marmite and flat whites. Which is why New Yorkers can always be assured of a toast fix at either the Brooklyn or Flatiron branches of Toby’s Estate, which offer locally-sourced Salvatore Ricotta, paired with slow-roasted tomato and herb-walnut pesto on sourdough, Avocado sprinkled with black sesame seeds, and topped with tahini-lemon sauce, and yes, even Vegemite and Butter, on thick, nutty cuts of whole grain toast.
If you’ve ever had beans on toast, you’ll know that charred bread-based dishes are equally popular in Great Britain. But at April Bloomfield’s John Dory Oyster Bar, the variations are a touch more refined, including her infamous Parsley and Anchovy Toast (essentially a fishy, umami-rich pesto), and a current, seasonal special — Winter Mushroom Toast with miticrema and slivers of fried duck skin. Not that the Brits are alone in their passion for toast. At Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s vegetable-venerating ABC Kitchen, toast is used to showcase the very best of the greenmarket, which is why you’ll often find four or more options on the menu, such as Housemade Ricotta with cranberry compote, Mushroom Toast with pecorino and herbs, Roasted Kabocha Squash cut with apple cider vinegar, and a luxurious Crab Toast, swirled with lemon aioli.
Considering Blue Ribbon Bakery Market has direct access to high-quality bread, it’s no surprise that toast has become a cornerstone of their takeaway menu. Seriously, you’ll find almost 20 different choices, listed under Meats & Fish (Pate with Dijon Mustard, Smoked Shrimp with Cream Cheese, Cotto Di Parmai with Watercress); Vegetables & Fruit (Hummus and Lemon Oil, Egg with Pickled Peppers, Oven Roasted Tomato with Arugula), and Cheese & Butter — including Manchego and Mexican Honey, Churned Butter and Cinnamon Sugar, and Fresh Goat Cheese with Fig-Walnut Confit.
There’s plenty of great options in the outer boroughs as well. Baba Cool in Fort Greene boasts five delicious variations, and good news for grain-avoiders — any of them can be made with gluten-free bread. Think Strawberry and Ricotta Toast; drizzled with honey on stirato (a stretchy ciabatta), Avocado with chili flakes and cumin, Beets with Ricotta, Butternut Squash with sunflower seeds, balsamic and goat cheese, and the vegan and dairy-free White Bean Toast; paired with cherry tomatoes, pea shoots, and plenty of black pepper, on pillowy squares of focaccia. And Milkflower in Queens makes more than great pizza — their selection of wood-fired toasts come piled with produce from nearby Brooklyn Grange. Past offerings include Corn Salad with jalapenos and minced tarragon, White Fig with cloumage cheese, and Braised Leeks, mingled with crispy chorizo, shaved egg, and spicy red chorizo oil.
So, if you can’t stomach the thought of forking over $4 or more for a pedestrian slice of toast; rest assured — when it comes to this ever-rising trend, New York’s best chefs are definitely thinking outside the (bread) box.
125 N 6th St., btwn. Bedford Ave. & Berry St.
John Dory Oyster Bar
1196 Broadway., btwn. 28th & 29th Sts.
35 E 18th St., btwn. Broadway & S Park Ave.
Blue Ribbon Bakery Market
14 Bedford St., at 6th Ave.
64 Lafayette Ave., btwn. Elliott Pl & Portland Ave.
3412 31st Ave., btwn. 34th & 35th Sts.