Believe it or not, The Toast of New Orleans is actually the title of a 1950s musical starring Kathryn Grayson, Mario Lanza and David Niven. It's about an uppity opera singer who meets and falls in love with a roguish Louisiana fisherman who happens to be a natural songbird. Seeing as this is a food column, you surely realize that we won't be discussing that kind of “toast”, but it's certainly something to sing about.
Growing up, my mother would often make us “cheese on toast” as breakfast or an afternoon snack. She'd lay thick slices of jack cheese on whole wheat or sliced sourdough and pop it into the toaster oven. While it cooked, she would periodically spread out the melted cheese with a knife so that the finished product would have an even layer of bubbling cheese. Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think I'd find toast as an appetizer or an entree on a restaurant menu, but over the past few years, it seems to pop up practically everywhere you look.
It's not so surprising to see toast on the menu at a breakfast spot, especially at a restaurant called Toast, but it's not simply toasted bread or even my mom's cheese on toast. It's something quite different, something closely resembling bruschetta, but not quite. Chef and owner of Toast (and Tartine) Cara Benson takes toast to a whole new level using her own freshly-baked multigrain or brioche bread and topping it with cream cheese, cured salmon, and scrambled eggs, or better yet, local honey, prosciutto, and tangy ricotta cheese. If this doesn't tantalize, the price certainly should, with no “toast” breaking the $6 mark. I'll take three, if you please...
Outstanding, well-made bread like Benson's is obviously the key for any worthwhile toast, be it what pops up out of your toaster or the more “elevated” type, and they're definitely on to that fact at the French Truck Café. This bright yellow double shotgun-turned-café, launched by small-batch coffee roaster Geoffrey Meeker, is not only a terrific spot to score an amazing cuppa joe. Using breads made by master “bakester” Megan Forman, owner of Gracious Bakery in Gert Town, French Truck Café offers their own selection of sumptuous toasts. Try one (or two) of each toasted type, like white bean with prosciutto brittle and pistou, fresh avocado topped with red pepper and pickled red onion, or sweeten things up with a “B.N.B”—bacon, nutella, and basil.
Over at Cavan, the new tavernesque-type restaurant hiding inside a stunning 19th-century townhouse on Magazine Street, there's a whole section of the menu reserved for toast. Chef Ben Thibodeaux dazzles with his chilled white bean toast with grilled kale and walnut pesto, or the creamy crab and avocado toast with butter beans. But my favorite so far is the roast tomato with goat cheese and bacon marmalade topped with a sunny-side-up egg for brunch. I assure you, it's as wonderful as it sounds.
Though it may be bursting at the seams with new restaurants, Freret Street recently added to its culinary repertoire a wine bar and bistro dubbed Bar Frances. Touting “new American” cuisine, Bar Frances seems to have a distinctly French slant with a sprinkling of Asian and Italian influences to boot. Among saucisson, duck rillettes, beef tartare, and chicken liver mousse springs mushroom toast, made with grilled shiitake and pickled honshimeji (brown or white beech mushrooms) atop a thick slice of country bread baked by Bellegarde Bakery.
I've barely scraped the surface of this crusty topic, but I hope I've buttered your appetite for this well-topped trend. As for this article, well … it's toast!