My latest review on Carpe Durham!
Some of you might remember an unemployment-induced red velvet cake binge session I mentioned in my review of Parker and Otis. Well, good news gentle readers! I got a job! Even better: I got a job in downtown Durham, which is exciting as I do not live in Durham and now have the opportunity to eat in Durham far more often. And one of the places I was and still am most excited about frequenting is Toast, in Five Points in downtown Durham.
I really cannot fully express my love for Toast. I first ate here last winter, when I was urged by a friend who worked there (there’s your disclaimer, but I’d love it even if she hadn’t worked there) to try the restaurant because, as she said, it was “cramazing” (her word for crazy-amazing). Since then I haven’t returned as often as I would like, but now that I work nearby I can return all the time.
Toast is a paninoteca, which is Italian for “We do delicious things with bread and really high-quality ingredients.” Actually it is Italian for sandwich shop, but what can you do. The menu is divided into panini (hot pressed sandwiches), tramezzini (cold sandwiches), bruschetta (like a grilled, open-faced sandwich), and crostini (little bite-sized crunchy pieces of joy). Every day brings new soup specials and at least one non-bread related special, and a dessert special. Other available sides are salads and marinated olives. Sandwiches are six dollars, and you can add a soup or salad for two more dollars. For the quantity and especially the quality of food served at Toast, this is a real bargain. Juice, soda, wine, and what looks like high-quality bottled beers (I, alas, am not a drinker of beer so I cannot judge) are also available.
Toast has a bright and homey interior with cheerful turquoise walls and decal stickers that define the word “toast” along one side of the wall. The menu is above the counter, specials to the side. You place your order at the counter, are given a number, take a seat at an available table inside or outside, and wait for the magic to commence. If you are lucky you will place your order with the welcoming and friendly Kelli Cotter, who owns the restaurant with her husband Billy.
I took my foodie boyfriend there on a Friday night and he, too, loved Toast. I ordered my usual crostini plate: three crostini choices and a soup or salad for eight dollars. I alternate between soup and salad. The salad at toast is a simple green salad, dressed lightly with herbs and a tangy, flavorful vinaigrette and slices of parmigiano reggiano. This particular dinner I opted for soup, which you really cannot go wrong with, as every soup I have had at Toast is incredible. The foodie boyfriend ordered a panini and another soup special.
I am a big fan of the crostini mix and match as I love trying many different flavors and foods. My favorite crostini are the chicken liver, pancetta, and pickled fennel, the herb pesto, mozzarella, and roasted tomato, the garlicky mushrooms, thyme, and gorgonzola, and the warm goat cheese, local honey, cracked black pepper crostini. Last night I opted for the chicken liver, the tomato and mozzarella, and the mushrooms, with a bowl of butternut squash soup mixed with gooey parmigiano reggiano.
All the food at Toast is chock full of flavor, and what I love about my favorite group of crostini is the lack of subtlety. The chicken liver is full-bodied and flavorful, I have no idea what actually goes into it but I am sure it is full of garlic and onions and other delicious goodies. The pancetta on top adds a nice bit of contrasting texture. I like fennel but I feel that the chicken liver overrides the fennel taste–not that this is a bad thing, as the chicken liver is fantastic. The garlic mushrooms are expertly cooked, incredibly garlicky (the more garlic the better in my opinion) and the gorgonzola on top adds just the right amount of funky flavor. The roasted tomato and mozzarella is probably the most classical option but even that is full bodied and full flavored. The tomato is warm and oozes flavor when you bite into it, and I love the afterbite of the pesto and the mellow texture of the mozzarella on top. The soup I ordered on the side was, as always, a revelation: perfect butternut squash soup that tasted as though there was cream involved but, evidently, no cream whatsoever. Just expert pureeing and a lovely addition of cheese to add grace notes to the natural sweetness of the butternut squash. Also, no cinnamon-y pumpkin pie taste here! Butternut squash all the way.
The foodie boyfriend ordered a panini with mortadella, provolone, pickled red onion, aioli and a side of lentil and spicy sausage soup. He, too, expressed great love of his food.
High quality meat! High quality cheese! A crunchy texture from the onions and extra flavor from the aioli! Foodie boyfriend was extremely happy, and was equality pleased with the lentil soup.
We were too full for dessert, but the special that evening was a lovely looking pound cake dressed with blueberries and fresh whipped cream. I watched a number of these beauties fly by my table. You also cannot go wrong with the non-sandwich special listed on the board. The special the night we went was a poached North Carolina mackerel, but I have tried other to-die-for specials such as short ribs over polenta cake. Seriously folks, Toast is a gem. Take a date or some friends there and make it a night by going next door to the fabulous Whiskey for a post-dinner drink.
Foodie boyfriend is already plotting his next return to Toast. I am glad to have created another fan for this wonderful little establishment run by friendly people who believe in the simple preparation of high-quality ingredients.
345 W. Main Street
Durham, NC 27701