There’s no reason to eat French Toast if you don’t soak the bread all the way through.
It’s a culinary dictum taught to me by my late grandfather, who would stand in the black-and-white tiled, Long Island kitchen of my childhood every Sunday, a tall silhouette of broad shoulders and gray hair. For ten, fifteen minutes he bowed with stern concentration over a bowl of eggy stuff into which he patted at thickly sliced bread bathing contentedly, awaiting its turn to warm against the melted butter hissing in a pan just beyond.
My grandfather followed this “all the way through” philosophy of French Toast-ation with the strict adherence of any other time-tested axiom—love thy neighbor or do unto others as you would have them do unto you—because for him, French Toast wasn’t just bread slathered with egg and syrup; it was a religious experience to be venerated with every bite, and so a halfway soak was an act of impalatable impiety.
I’ve since considered myself somewhat of a French Toast connoisseur, and when the opportunity presented itself to write about Fresh Toast, a second-annual brunch event put on by OC Weekly in celebration of its Eat+Drink late-February issue, I felt completely up for the task.
On Saturday, March 25, I’ll take my somewhat discerning palate to Newport Dunes in Newport Beach, CA to taste the items presented at the event as an official media partner but until then, here’s a preview of a few restaurants set to appear at Fresh Toast whose toasted, roasted, egg-soaked brunch fare I can’t wait to sample:
A&O Kitchen + Bar
Nestled amid the sumptuous scenery of the Balboa Bay Resort, A&O Kitchen + Bar is a chic yet rustic Newport Beach gastropub. Communal tables and outdoor fire pits transform the space into an inviting bruncher’s paradise, complete with haute yet homey dishes like in-house-made pretzel sticks and balsamic-glazed, bleu-cheese-stuffed bacon-wrapped dates. The O.C. hotspot is also one of eight local vendors participating in the Bloody Battle presented by Reyka Vodka, so here’s hoping the staff brings this pickle-bacon concoction along for the ride.
Set to open later this month in Laguna Niguel, Hendrix is the brainchild of Rainer Schwarz and John Nye, operators behind Driftwood Kitchen and The Deck in Laguna Beach. The 180-seat, 9,000-square-foot space is bigger than both Driftwood and The Deck combined, and will feature upscale, chef-driven plates—“American tapas,” as Schwarz explained to The OC Register—a high-end wine shop and demo kitchen. As for brunch food, think smoked salmon latkes with apple sour cream, spinach topped with an organic fried egg, toasted hazelnuts and shaved Parmesan, or don’t. If you’re at Fresh Toast, you can try a Hendrix dish for yourself.
Back Bay Bistro
Guess what? Bay Bay Bistro is located in Newport Dunes, which also happens to be the location of Fresh Toast, so that’s the first cool thing. Second cool thing: The Newport Beach mainstay is celebrating its 30th year in business and we all get to reap the epicurean benefits. Back Bay Bistro’s Sunday Champagne Brunch is practically legendary, with food stations serving fresh seafood and all varieties of pasta, along with staple brunch items and less-staple ones like poke and sushi rolls. When asked what the bistro is presenting at Fresh Toast, here’s what Chef Bruno Massuger told OC Weekly: “The Bistro Bloody Mary, mini lox and bagels, blinis with fried chicken and maple syrup.”
Bosscat Kitchen + Libations
Everything you need to know about Bosscat Kitchen + Libations in Newport Beach: They do a “boozy brunch” with Bloody Marys, mimosas and micheladas every single Sunday so yeah, these people know what they’re doing when it comes to good, ol’ brunch eats. Expect refined American comfort food from Chef Peter Petro, who arrived in California by way of Boston and continually adds East Coast grittiness to his err, grits. (Maybe. There are no grits on the Bosscat menu but the wordplay felt like it was working here so I went with it. Sorry.) With plates like barrel-aged pancakes—skillet pancake, whiskey maple syrup, duck fat fried egg, bacon—and red velvet churros, I can safely say we’ll be far from disappointed by whatever this fine establishment serves up on Saturday. P.S. They do a burger with a chocolate, rainbow-sprinkled donut for a bun. FOR A BUN.
I’ve got a warm and fuzzy place in my heart for CUCINA enoteca and I think I always will; their Irvine location is right by the apartment I first moved into when I came to California from Chicago. I remember day 5 or 6 in Cali, sheepishly asking, “Table for one?” Then mumbling something about not being from around the area, to which the maître d’ suggested a seat at the bar. The bartender, an affable guy with crazy bright teeth, smiled at me with a crazy bright smile and said he’d make something that involved crushing up a purple plant he picked while hiking some nearby mountain. Hm, OK. As the story goes, the hiking-purple-plant concoction was delicious and the entire exchange made me feel, for the first time, like California could actually be home. Not to mention the food at CUCINA enoteca was—and still is—just as charismatic and delectable. I know it’s not traditional brunch but I’m hoping they bring their stuffed fried squash blossoms with lemon ricotta and mint arugula gremolata to Fresh Toast. Although I’d also be cool with the Nutella zeppole topped with cherry marmelade.
El Mercado Modern
A modern interpretive culinary dance performed to the rhythm of classic Mexican cuisine, El Mercado Modern in Santa Ana, CA delivers full-flavored, hearty meals that are as romantic as a tounge-rolling Spanish accent and as rich as a mole sauce that’s been simmering for days. Their brunch menu includes an omelette with lamb barbacoa, wild cilantro, onion and salsa aguacante. And for the Taco Tuesday on Sunday morning enthusiasts, a breakfast taco with chorizo and eggs, fried potatoes, jocoque, avocado puree and serrano chile.
Cannery Seafood of the Pacific
The Cannery (as it is most affectionately known by locals) has one of the best-kept secret/not-so-secret happy hours on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach. Lime-infused, spicy guacamole, fresh poke bowls, delish sushi rolls for days, pitchers of expertly made Moscow Mules … this waterside dining place has everything food + drink, all enjoyed below faux-jellyfish that dangle ceremoniously from the ceiling of the upstairs lounge. On mornings, as the fog bids Newport Bay adieu, the Cannery offers a scrumptious brunch, which includes such gems as crème brûlée french toast (adorned by tropical fruit, vanilla crème anglaise, Vermont Maple syrup and apple wood smoked bacon), and huevos rancheros—two fried eggs, tostada, red chili sauce, black beans, avocado, pico de gallo, cotija cheese and a breakfast tot.
A kitchen with a purpose. OUTPOST KITCHEN prides itself on collaborations with local farms, butchers, bakers and coffee roasters to bring seasonal and sustainable items to the kitchen … and your stomach. “We wholeheartedly believe in knowing the life story of the food that we put on our plates and that you put into your body,” says the Costa Mesa-based spot on its official website. Eschewing trendiness for time-honored practicality, the team members at OUTPOST seek to nurture the palate (jealously, their words, not mine) with wholesome ingredients and a holistic approach to sourcing them. Hey, OUTPOST, you’re giving me all the farm-to-table feels. Aaand I like it.
Chef TLC’s Sidewalk Cafe
Switching it up here with a local food truck because food trucks are the bomb and I haven’t written about one yet. (Also my blog, my rules.) Chef TLC’s Sidewalk Cafe is a delectable epicuriosity on wheels known for its creative presentations and vivacious flavors. Crossing my fingers Chef TLC brings the smoked salmon bruschetta with caper aioli and lemon zest or else the bacon with spinach, egg, Parmesan cheese on a bed of brown rice drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette to the Fresh Toast festivities.