Far from just being eggs’ sidekick or a vehicle for butter and jam, toast and grilled breads are popping up on menus everywhere as an exciting platform for flavor in all dayparts.
“The toast trend started on the sweet/breakfast side with several prominent toast-centric concepts,” says Gordon Food Service Corporate Consulting Chef Gerry Ludwig, CEC. “But now we’re seeing an entirely new category of savory toasts and grilled breads, primarily on full-service menus. One thing driving the opportunity is sharable and sharing plates.”
Of course, “things on toast” are nothing new. Beans on toast, caviar on toast points, and Welsh rabbit are classics. But gorgeous, reimagined, reinvented artisan toast is breaking new ground in the category.
Don’t dismiss it just because it’s not new, Ludwig advises. Innovative chefs have moved beyond simple avocado slices or mash and are incorporating diverse ingredients that make avocado toast a good fit for lunch, dinner, and snacking menus.
Use cured meats, pâtes, shrimp, lobster, crab, and thinly sliced cold- or hot-smoked fish, as well as meat or seafood salads. Seafood toasts, Ludwig notes, are especially popular.
“Vegetable toast is the category with the most potential, especially given the continuous rise in veg-centric cuisine,” Ludwig says.
“At Avant Garden in New York, all the toasts on the dinner menu are veg-based,” Ludwig says. “They take all the vegetables used in kitchen to create flavorful and eye-popping toasts based on some sort of vegetable stew or purée.”
The sweet spot for indulgent artisan breakfast toasts—from simple to elaborate—endures.
“Toasts are not complicated formulas, they’re more of an assembly of ingredients,” Ludwig says. “A huge aspect is the ease of preparation—some of most surprising and eye-appealing toasts require little time or labor.”
The breads. “The secret to really great toast or grilled bread is using an artisan bread,” Ludwig explains. Use black, rye, sourdough, multigrain, focaccia, and even thinly sliced bagels to add flavor and interest.
The technique. Hand-slice bread from very thin to very thick according to topping load and desired effect. “The opportunity is not only in standard thickness,” Ludwig says, “but also in taking a thick cut of an inch or more and giving it a luxurious, indulgent topping.” Toast or grill lightly or to very crunchy to vary mouthfeel. Let it cool for 30 seconds or so keep the surface from losing crispness once toppings are added. Chill avocado slices or purée before adding to toast and grilled bread. For sharing-plates applications, cut topped toast into pieces so that everyone at the table can enjoy the flavor experience.
The toppings. “Look to what’s in your larder,” Ludwig advises. “Use a variety of ingredients to create very sophisticated flavor layering. Just make sure ingredients don’t sog out the bread—you don’t want anything too liquid.” Be creative. Toasts can be as sophisticated as Chez Panisse Chef Alice Waters’ Wild-Mushroom Toast or as whimsical as Momofuku Milk Bar Chef/Owner Christina Tosi’s vibrantly orange Tang Toast—prepared with margarine and, yes, Tang.
The look. “Some of most beautiful dishes we found were sitting on a piece of toasted bread,” Ludwig says. Boost eye appeal by deploying creative garnishes. Possibilities include blistered grape tomatoes charred in oil, julienned radishes, pickled carrots, roasted beets, bias-cut green onion tips, or even a simple fennel frond. Your imagination is the limit. For example, instead of simply spreading avocado over toasted artisan bread, bring on layers of flavor and texture by adding deep-fried chickpeas, sriracha mayo, and a sprinkle of fresh cilantro leaves.
However you toast or top it, Ludwig says, “Consider artisan toast and grilled breads to continue be a big thing that can present good things for operators.”