“The Toast” is a Portsmouth institution, a bold and boisterous hangout, known for its kitschy, funky decor, come-as-you-are, laid-back vibe, and unique, satisfying food. In 2013, when new owners Eric Goodwin and Scott Pulver took over, locals were wary. Would they change it too much, get rid of its wacky but beloved atmosphere?
Turn it into an oh-so-sleek, up-to-date, dime-a-dozen restaurant? The verdict is in. The changes—new ﬂoors, new paint, a new back counter, spruced-up bathrooms, and a much-needed general cleaning and culling—were perfect. The wacky vibe is intact: think neon signs, a giant fake sea horse hanging from the ceiling, an old Borden’s Ice Cream clock, and walls ﬁlled with 1950s and ’60s promotional signs and somewhat tacky advertising prints and paintings. Somehow it all works.
Come for breakfast on a weekend and you may have to wait an hour or more to get in. But locals and savvy visitors know that lunch, on a day when you’re good and hungry, is the best time to hit the Toast. Yes, it’s midday but why not start with one of their cocktails, such as the Build Your Own Bloody or Make Your Own Mimosa, followed by breakfast? It’s served morning, noon, or night and includes some of the most popular dishes on the menu. There’s the usual lineup of omelets and scrambles, pancakes and wafﬂes. Toast devotees wax eloquent about the saucer-size Orchard Cakes with sliced apples inside and warm apple compote. But we go straight to their specialty items, such as the Babe on a Biscuit, a decadent pile of herb-crusted pulled pork sitting on a homemade biscuit, topped with two poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. The Ole Miss is a seriously strange combination of sausage, mashed chipotle sweet potatoes, scrambled eggs, and mango sour cream, resting on a slice of spicy cayenne-cheddar toast; it’s a ﬂavor explosion and a longstanding favorite.
If you’re craving heat and carbs, order the Mexican Mashed Meal, a big bowl of spicy mashed potatoes with chunks of chorizo, fried eggs, and chipotle sauce. Of course, you could be good to yourself and order the Peasant, ﬁled under the menu’s Fit and Friendly heading. It comes with two piles of food: black beans, spinach, and feta sitting alongside a heap of scrambled egg whites, dirty rice, and corn. Kate’s Tofu Scramble, which manager Bobbie Perez says is one of the most popular breakfast dishes, comes with vegetarian sausage, mushrooms, roasted corn salsa, and feta and provolone cheeses. The Fab Five, has been recently added, a breakfast sandwich on gluten-free bread with turkey bacon, spinach, and egg whites.
Most dishes are accompanied with a choice of the Toast’s famous homemade breads, including whole wheat, cinnamon-raisin, oatmeal, anadama, and cayenne-cheddar. When it’s busy, the restaurant can go through 70 or more loaves of bread a day, with the New England–style anadama, made with cornmeal and molasses, as the leading favorite.
Keep reading the menu and you’ll get to appetizers and soups. To start, split the Poutine on the Ritz, a crazy but satisfying concoction of crispy sweet potato fries doused with chorizo corn gravy and melted feta. Or, opt for the creamy and comforting Tomato & Feta Bisque, paired with the D.G.G.C., the damn-good grilled cheese. Thick chunks of cheddar and American cheese (you can substitute other cheeses if you like) are melted between grilled cayenne-cheddar bread and smeared with an olive-garlic spread. The strawberry habanero sauce adds a spicy-sweet touch.
The lineup of burgers includes the Vegetarian Burger made with roasted mushrooms and bulgur wheat, but the Toast does its best with the specialty sandwiches. The Vegan Valhalla features baked Asian-sesame tofu, mushrooms, brown rice, scallions, spinach, and tahini dressing stuffed into a tortilla. If you’re craving meat, go for the Red’s Redux, a sandwich piled high with pork, nicely seasoned and served with spinach, grilled apples, and a hearty mustard for a satisfying combination of tastes and textures. The Georgia Reuben is a modern take on an old classic, featuring smoked turkey, coleslaw, and melted Swiss cheese.
The dessert menu is limited to frappes and ice cream. No wonder, the portions here are hefty, and most customers leave with doggie bags. But if you still have room, order the Toast’s Caribbean Wafﬂe, a ﬂuffy Belgian round topped with caramelized bananas and crushed pecans.
Before you leave, pick up a loaf of anadama bread to go; you’ll be craving it later.
The Friendly Toast
113 Congress Street