Food

Try These Five Unexpected New Takes on Toast

Chandra Ram

Octopus toast

Dustin Clark, Besaw's, Portland, Ore.

If the challenge with savory toasts is to make sure they can work for any meal, then the charred octopus toast at Besaw’s in Portland, Ore., is the answer. Dustin Clark toasts a levain-style bread with garlic oil, then tops it with green garlic mayonnaise, chunks of octopus that have been braised in red wine before being seared, arugula and piquillo peppers. It’s a hefty dish, garlicky and salty and bright with lemon—the kind of toast that can be an entrée at lunch, a savory starter at dinner or a satisfying snack anytime.

New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp and burrata toast

$17, Kelly Fields, Willa Jean, New Orleans.

If you’ve ever eaten New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp, you know the buttery Worcestershire sauce essential to the dish is gold. So Kelly Fields’ decision to serve it on toast at her New Orleans restaurant, Willa Jean, makes perfect sense. “New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp is a classic dish here,” she acknowledges. “Since it comes with bread to dip in sauce, we thought we’d make the bread the focus. Willa Jean started as a bakery; we didn’t realize until after we opened that we were actually more of a restaurant. So everything on the savory menu starts with the bakery.” Fields adds a scoop of burrata to up the creaminess on an already decadent plate. “The burrata adds a creamy aspect to the sauce; it changes the texture. You get the crispy bits, the gooey bits, the creaminess,” she says, adding with a laugh, “we call this ‘the big nasty’ in the kitchen.”

Uni toast

$14, Nate Henssler, Portsmith, Chicago.

“Half of the people who come in for brunch want avocado toast, but we wanted to do something different to go along with it,” says Nate Henssler at Chicago’s Portsmith of the conundrum he faced when creating a brunch menu for his seafood restaurant. The answer was found in repurposing luxe ingredients from the dinner menu for his brunch toasts, like the foie gras torchon toast with homemade jam and basil, and his standout uni toast. For the latter, he tops housemade sourdough bread with a schmear of uni butter, then garnishes it with Asian pears marinated in sake and yuzu juice, roasted shiitake mushrooms, uni, steelhead caviar, mustard sprouts and flower blossoms. “Uni has an ocean-y flavor, and the yuzu and pear flavors go well with it,” Henssler says of the dish. “It’s a seafood brunch item that works.”

Broccoli toast with labneh, pumpkin seeds and citrus

$15, Sarah Hymanson and Sara Kramer, Kismet, Los Angeles.

Any concerns that a toast plate can’t satisfy as a meal go out the window when you sit down in front of the broccoli toast at Kismet, Sarah Hymanson and Sara Kramer’s Middle Eastern-inspired café in Los Angeles. Thick slices of whole-wheat toast are the base for this entrée-sized toast plate. The bread is slathered with tangy labneh and topped with blanched broccoli florets. Segments of stone fruit (while in season) or grapefruit, blood orange and other citrus add brightness, while a scattering of ground, toasted pumpkin seeds tossed with grated garlic and Aleppo pepper brings both crunchy texture and a welcome hit of heat.

Avocado toast, $7.75, Megan and Dave Miller, Baker Miller Bakery & Millhouse, Chicago. Photo: cassidyphoto.com

Avocado toast

$7.75, Megan and Dave Miller, Baker Miller Bakery & Millhouse, Chicago.

OK, so it may feel like you can’t escape from avocado toast, but once you get away from the clichés, you remember that it’s pretty damn delicious. And when presented as more than just green stuff on bread, it’s also pretty damn striking. At Chicago’s Baker Miller Bakery & Millhouse, Dave and Megan Miller demonstrate that with the right ingredients, something we’ve seen a million times can still be memorable. They use a slice of housemade seeded sunflower bread as a base for a healthy schmear of mashed avocado seasoned with salsa verde and cilantro leaves. Sliced watermelon radishes are fanned out into a rose on top, adding color and crunch and serving as a base for the optional soft-boiled egg. Avocado toast might be trendy, but in the Millers’ hands, it’s also pretty timeless.

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