In defense of toast: first look at Toast Bar
Please excuse the blatant Michael Pollan rip-off in the headline. There were no better words to describe the argument I am about to make. Artisan toast: I totally get it.
Yes, on the surface it sounds like just another food trend that glorifies a dish easily made at home. But we live in a world where we'll play $5 for a cup of locally roasted coffee when you could buy whole beans of the same blend and brew it at home. And don't even get me started on cupcakes.
Doesn't it only make sense that we'd pay $3 for a slice of fresh bread with a hearty topping? Before you scoff like I did, I implore you to give the new Toast Bar in Grandview a try. It's the latest from well-known baker Daniel Riesenberger, who runs Dan the Baker-an organic bakery you may recognize from your neighborhood farmers market. Chances are you'd recognize Riesenberger's crisp-crusted, artistic-looking breads if you saw them. You'd also know his loaves aren't cheap (typically $10 and up). So, here's argument No. 1 for Toast Bar: It's a low-commitment way to sample Dan the Baker's wares.
Argument No. 2: The setting. The order-at-the-counter 10-seater is clearly off the beaten path, hidden in the back on the Grandview Commerce Center and not visible from the road. It's a small space made welcoming by the decor: baby blue walls, bright yellow stools around a communal table, antique pieces displaying stacks of fresh pastries and cookbooks from Tartine and Momofuku Milk Bar. It's an intimate spot to enjoy a cup of Intelligentsia or One Line coffee. And, of course, some toast.
Which leads me to argument No. 3-it's just plain tasty. First-timers should start with the Toast Flight for $5.50 (bring a friend who's willing to share and you can try all of the day's fresh bread offerings and spreads for $11). Here's how it works: Choose three slices of toast and three accompanying toppers. Still-warm toasted half slices-with crunchy crusts and soft, almost creamy interiors-come spread out on a wooden cutting board with silver cups full of toppers, meaning you can mix and match to find the right combination.
My three favorites thus far are the Country Sour (this and the sourdough from Eleni-Christina are as close to San Francisco sour as I've had in town), earthy Sunflower Flax and the slightly sweet and buttery Pain au Lait. Available toppers include jams from Sweet Thing Gourmet, chocolate hazelnut spread, crunchy almond butter, savory mushroom duxelles and cultured butter. Whatever you do, don't skip the latter. Butter is whipped fresh in house from Snowville Creamery cream. It's rich and light, and is served at that perfect spreadable temperature.
On my second stop, I ventured into the other half of the menu, which features suggested toast and spread combinations for $3. The Sunflower Flax topped with a healthy dose of almond butter and clumpy sprinkling of maple sugar shot me immediately back to childhood, sitting at the breakfast table and crunching on slightly sweet Life cereal. (I boycotted milk in my cereal until my teens. Don't ask me why.)
Just added to the menu is sourdough topped with Cloverton-a cream cheese-like spread from nearby Laurel Valley Creamery-and smooth and tart lemon curd made fresh by the pastry chef (who is also responsible for the case full of fresh pastries like croissants, palmiers and vanilla bean shortbread cookies). It was a savory-sweet combination I'd order again in a heartbeat.