Wednesday, February 4, 2015

let's talk about toast.

Everyone has an all-time favorite food. It’s hard to narrow it down out of all the amazing things one eats over a lifetime, but when you think about it, there’s probably one food that stands above the rest.

For me? It’s toast.

You may be thinking that toast is an awfully lame favorite food. And you might be right. There are certainly foods I’d pick before toast if offered the two side-by-side: Nick’s hamburgers, Café du Monde beignets, arts festival cheese curds. But toast has been with me the longest. I have been eating toast for most of my life, and I still love it. You can’t say that about just anything.

My earliest toasty memories are from when I couldn’t have been much older than three. Mom and Dad would make me cinnamon and sugar toast – to this day, cinnamon and sugar is one of my favorite toast toppings. As the refined three-year-old that I was, I got a huge kick of trying to get as much cinnamon and sugar on my face as possible.

My grandma Sheila is famous for her homemade cinnamon bread, and she has been for as long as I can remember. She makes loaves and loaves, especially around the holidays, and we were lucky recipients. It’s delicious on its own, but it’s at its best when toasted. This cinnamon bread is smaller than a regular loaf of bread, so you have to be careful not to get the tiny slices stuck in the toaster. But you haven’t lived until you’ve had a piece of Grandma Sheila’s buttered toasted cinnamon bread.

English muffin toasting bread will forever remind me of my grandma Lorraine. Whenever I’d spend the day in Brookings with Grandma Lorraine and Grandpa Harvey, Mom would drop me off early – before she went to work. I’d be ready for breakfast, and Grandma would make me buttered slices of English Muffin toasting bread with red plum jelly. Nobody could butter toast like Grandma Lorraine.

Because of those days with Grandma Lorraine, English muffin toasting bread with butter and red plum jam became my default. I’d come home from school and have toast. I’d get up on a Saturday morning and have toast. Always with red plum jam. It wasn’t until I started listening to Simon and Garfunkel that I switched up my jam routine. In a bizarre song called “Punky’s Delight,” Paul Simon sings about how he “prefers boysenberry more than any ordinary jam.” So of course, I had to try it. I don’t know if it was my deep and abiding love for all things Simon and Garfunkel or if I truly liked it, but boysenberry replaced red plum as the top dog in my jam repertoire.

I consumed loaves and LOAVES of English muffin toasting bread during my school years, only eating regular toast when we were out of English muffin (horrors!) or when my breakfast order at a restaurant came with plain old white or wheat. However, when I began working at the Dairy Mart as a high school senior, I was introduced to the world of Texas toast. The Dairy Mart would throw in a side of Texas toast with their chicken strip baskets, and this toast was simply delightful. It was impressively thick, and all it needed was butter. When we Dairy Mart employees got hungry on slow nights, you can bet that we headed right for the toaster.

My dad listened to the Bob and Tom radio show from time to time, and our neighbor lent him a collection of Bob and Tom CDs one day. Dad was a bit hesitant to listen to them with the whole family around – if you’ve ever listened to Bob and Tom, you know that they’re not the most family-friendly radio personalities. However, we did catch one of their songs – “Yeah Toast!” When I first heard it, I felt like I had kindred spirits in Bob and Tom. The song goes:

All around the country and coast
People always say, “What do you like most?”
I don’t wanna brag, I don’t wanna boast.
I always tell ‘em I like toast.

Seriously, it could be my theme song.

Keep in mind, all these great toast milestones occurred before I went off to college. My friends, I didn’t truly know what toast was – the absolute grandeur and delicious magic of what toast could be. I lived without knowing… until I went to Don’s.

Don’s is a little café in Morris, Minnesota – where I went to college. I arrived for orientation in August, and one of the first things we (and all incoming freshman) were told was that toast at Don’s was an absolute must. Being the obedient freshman that I was, I gathered up my floormates (who had heard the same thing about this mythical toast) and went to Don’s.

Oh joy. Oh rapture!

I had never had anything like Don’s toast, and I doubt I ever will. They make their own bread and cut it into these incredibly thick slices. It’s toasted, saturated with butter, and delivered piping-hot to your table with your choice of jam. (Strawberry jam on Don’s toast was always my favorite.)
Toast circa 2006.
I couldn’t count how many times I’ve had Don’s toast over the years, but it will never be enough. I’ve gone back to Morris a few times since graduating – mainly so that I can get toast at Don’s. They even sell shirts that say “I got toasted at Don’s!” – a shirt that my sister Darrah got in trouble for wearing when she was still in high school.
That's the one.
If you’re lucky and get to Don’s early enough, you can buy an entire loaf of Don’s bread to take home with you and toast at your leisure. The thing is the size of a newborn and weighs about as much. I’ve missed out on the loaves for the last few times I’ve been to Don’s – as you can imagine, they’re in high demand. That just leaves me to dream of Don’s toast and plot my next pilgrimage. I can never go too long in between Don’s visits.

While it in no way compares to Don’s, the other toast-friendly restaurant that I frequent is Raising Cane’s. It’s a chicken finger restaurant that I first experienced in New Orleans, and it is simply fantastic. The chicken fingers are crispy and never frozen, and the Cane’s sauce is a secret blend of deliciousness. However, the toast is almost – ALMOST – my favorite part of the meal. Raising Cane’s puts their toast right on the grill, and it’s so dense and wonderful with its sesame seeds and crunchy butteriness on the outside. When I lived in New Orleans and was incredibly poor, I would go to Raising Cane’s and order a couple of pieces of toast. And that magical toast would make me forget – just for a moment – how poor I was.

Luckily for me, Raising Cane’s isn’t just in the south. There are a couple of locations in the cities and a couple more in Omaha. Alas, it’s still a three-plus hour drive either way. But I have hooked a number of people on Raising Cane’s – James included – so it’s not hard to convince him to stop there whenever we take a trip.

So that’s why toast is my favorite food. I’ve loved it in so many different forms and in so many different times and places. Toast has carried me through nearly three decades of life (yeesh), and I’m always looking forward to my next serving of toast.

Especially if it’s from Don’s. Oh please let it be from Don’s.

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