“It isn’t only fictional heroes to whom toast means home and comfort. It is related of the Duke of Wellington — I believe by Lord Ellesmere — that when he landed at Dover in 1814, after six years’ absence from England, the first order he gave at the Ship Inn was for an unlimited supply of buttered toast.”
— Elizabeth David, English Bread and Yeast Cookery
Toast has to be the easiest food to prepare, having but two ingredients, at its simplest, and requiring nothing fancier than a hardware store toaster or some other source of dry heat to brown it. Yet one rarely ever has a truly satisfying piece of toast at a restaurant — at least not during breakfast.
Breakfast toast inevitably arrives either cold and dry or flat and soggy — or some terrible place in between with a frozen pat of butter that tears the bread asunder when you attempt to spread it. This sort of toast is an afterthought; you can’t let it get you down.
You’re better off holding out for dinner toast, the kind that floats urbanely in a saffron broth. It is often prepared on the griddle and comes to the table warm, perfectly crisp, and uniformly coated in butter or oil. It is part of the dish and, as such, has received its due.
Of course, every now and then, you get unbelievably lucky and dinner toast shows up for breakfast, and that’s exactly what happened when we ordered the Pile of Toast ($4) at Grand Café in Minneapolis.
It was evenly browned; it was crisp on the outside, soft on the inside; and it was warm. It was super delicious.
First, the bread. “We make one basic white bread for our toast and sandwiches,” says Executive Chef Jon Radle. “We have a three-year-old starter that we just keep feeding, and that’s the basis for it.”
The bread is baked in the 1946 Baker Boy oven that presides over the dining room, an eccentric character as Radle tells it. “It hasn’t needed much beyond basic maintenance, but it has its creaks and squeaks,” he says. “It ranges in temperature from side to side — the left side is cooler than the right. But it’s a very forgiving oven, so if you happen to wander off and forget something you’ll probably be OK, and it’s great for confit-ing and creme brulée.”
It’s also great, apparently, for pleasantly dense loaves of pre-toast, which are cut into relatively thick slices, swabbed with butter, and cooked on the griddle until they are golden brown.
Our Pile of Toast came with a slightly tart mixed berry jam, which is made in house. It was tasty, but we preferred to eat our toast plain and enjoy the fundamental flavors of the bread, butter, and salt. The Duke of Wellington would have found it very comforting.
There is much to like about brunch at the Grand Cafe. If you cannot satiate yourself with toast, you might try the Huevos Rancheros ($13), which combines a pork confit and mole to good effect. We also enjoyed the Eggs Benedict ($14) — made with gravlax, which was fresh and delicate under the Hollandaise.