Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cambridge: Friendly Toast Review

The first meal of the day can set the tone for how the rest of the day is going to go. Too often, brunch (or breakfast) offerings are as sleepy as we are when we walk in the door. Almost always there'll be the usual french toast, basic pancakes and some variation on eggs, potatoes and/or meat. What we really need is something to actually bring us to our senses — an abundance of flavor wrapped in the familiar dishes, the smell of more than just grease, things that make our eyes bigger than our stomachs. The Friendly Toast in Cambridge, Mass., knows just how to do that.

This eclectic diner is a sister branch to the original in Portsmouth, N.H., and has quickly become popular, with long waits for weekend brunch. All the standards are there, but the menu quickly moves into crazier territory: Pancakes are infiltrated by Heath bar crumbles and Raisinets, and waffles invaded by gingerbread and pomegranate molasses.

On my visit — in the midst of my pumpkin obsession — I ordered the pumpkin pancakes, described on the menu as "just like pumpkin pie, with Raisinettes inside & real whipped cream on top." With an option for one or two pancakes, I went for one and complemented it with even more carbs in the form of irresistible-sounding "homemade bread." I chose the cayenne-cheddar toast (though I was intrigued by the rotating special, a vague "spinach or something like that" description from the kitchen).

The pancake was huge and hefty. The exterior was deceptive; the Raisinets emerged as soon as I cut into it. At first they struck me as an odd combination, but on further thought I realized that pumpkin is often combined with chocolate or raisins, so why not both at once? And I generally don't waste calories on whipped cream, but I dipped into this one and couldn't help but dip in a few more times. It was homemade and creamy, not artificially sweet. The flavors of the pancake were good, but rich, and I have to admit that, though I came close to defeating it, this single pancake edged me out with the help of the toast. The toast was thick and gently crispy with a cumulative fieriness.

My dining companion made a hard choice from the long list of appetizing egg dishes with quirky names and chose the Costa Rican: "black beans & plum tomatoes under melted smoked provolone; with sunny eggs and sour cream on top (with homefries and homemade toast)." She chose anadama toast, clarified on the menu for non-New Englanders as "a New England classic, made with cornmeal and molasses." As shown here, the treasure was hidden underneath the beautiful eggs. The beans were bold and robust in flavor, not watery as black beans sometimes are, with a kick to them. It was a great delicious mess of a dish to dig through.

As the Boston Globe review notes, at a place like this, it's probably best to stick with the morning foods. The Friendly Toast was well worth my visit, probably more so because I chose not to endure a long weekend wait and instead came during a calm weekday morning. The service was friendly and the setting fun, and I hope to return for a hearty start to another day.

1 comment:

  1. In addition to the breakfast foods, I can vouch for the sangria, which hit the spot late one night!