Photo:Cheese in a toasted doughnut at Tom + Chee.
The best thing since sliced bread
No matter how you slice it, toast is now trendy.
The perfect toast for the new year is … well, toast itself.
This old staple made new again is indeed a slice of bread heated over a grill or in a broiler, oven or toaster. A simple process performed in your kitchen every day has been taken up by chefs in fine restaurants, gastro pubs, fast-food chains and breakfast spots.
Don’t expect PB&J, although that’s back in favor, too. Look for tuna, mashed avocado, liver pates and mousse and, of course, chopped tomatoes, garlic and olive oil.
At Black Sheep in Jacksonville, toast adorned with truffled local eggs from Black Hog Farms is a $9 treat at lunch. Or you can start off supper at Yardbird in Miami with an $11 order of toast, which includes a topping of roasted bone marrow.
Avocado on toast is now a signature breakfast dish for Florida millennials — a smash hit at the cafes of Bradenton-based First Watch, where it’s served with sea salt and olive oil. Avo-toast is also a staple of hip Miami, with feta and tuna, or, at Tom Colicchio’s Beachcraft, with big chunks of crab meat.
Toast has become popular at dinner for the same reasons it’s popular at breakfast: The dry, crisp texture and slight caramelization of the bread offers a keen, contrasting texture to lush toppings like hummus, cheese, chicken liver or the mayo on a BLT.
Fancy toast was reintroduced to modern Florida by the now ubiquitous bruschetta. Joanie Corneil, a champion of that Italian toast, began serving it gratis at Bella’s in Tampa 30 years ago — and still reminds diners and anyone else that it’s pronounced “brew-sketta, like the ‘ch’ in Chianti.”
Now comes pa amb tomáquet, Catalan for pan con tomate — bread with tomato. It’s not a simple thing: The way Catalonians grill their bread and top it with tomato, olive oil and garlic is a star item at Miami’s most contemporary Spanish spots like NIU Kitchen and Jose Andres’ Bazaar.
We’re also borrowing toast trends from Israel and Australia, and, of course, from the American home kitchen.
Nostalgia for simple family cooking is naturally a key element of another retro star, grilled cheese. So much so that Toasted, a rustic modern cafe started by Sonny’s barbecue alums three years ago, has restaurants in Winter Park and Lake Nona, loaded with grilled cheese on toast. It has 11 versions, with cheeses ranging from chipotle to goat, punched up with figs, blackberry, smoked brisket, truffle oil and more. Plus tomato bisque for sipping or dipping.
The same combination is the namesake of national chain Tom + Chee, with locations in Orlando, St. Petersburg and Bradenton. It offers several breads, including a glutenfree variety, 11 cheeses and toppings from roast turkey to potato chips. There are three tomato soups, but the signature is cheese in a toasted doughnut. Nine ways.
For all the wild variety in top-Pings, the best toast starts with good bread, and the 21st century is lucky to have lots of it, from whole grain to ciabatta. Miami’s Zak the Baker has an abundance of good breads and almost a dozen ways to toast and spread them, whether sweet (cashew butter) or savory (beet and feta).
In Naples, the Italian gastropub Bar Tulia serves big toasted slabs of Italian bread smeared with nduja, an old form of spreadable salami, with its mussels — and perhaps outshining them. At Boca Raton’s splashy Tanzy, the setting is surreal, but the food is Italian, with grilled bread bearing beef carpaccio and pickled mushrooms or sidling up to an array of Italian meats and burrata. The Rebel House in Boca offers a renegade version of bruschetta with blistered cherry tomatoes and whipped ricotta.
Chef Tyson Grant of St. Petersburg’s Parkshore Grill, says, “I just put lobster salad on toast on my menu.”
At French-accented Orsay in Jacksonville, toasted baguette accompanies the rillettes of the season, which could be pork, chicken or duck, and bright garnish like sour cherry marmalade. Andrew Carmellini’s The Dutch in Miami has steak tartare on toasted rye and pairs grilled bread with ricotta.
This year, you can start every morning knowing that your toast is not only comforting, but also trendy.