In early February I went to Los Angeles. Los Angeles can be a lot of fun if you don’t have to live there (sorry, Los Angeles). There is the ocean, fresh seafood, lots of sun, beautiful people making movies, and there is a seemingly unending amount of good food to be had.
There is also a buttload of traffic. I dragged my poor sister along with me and we spent four days in it in an effort to cross off as many bucket list restaurants as humanely possible.
It’s not possible in four teeny tiny days.
You’ll have to excuse my somewhat limited experience with food in Los Angeles which I read a lot about but don’t get to experience as often as I would like. You’ll find plenty of east-coastvs westcoast discussion and I’m furthest from being an expert, but I spent four days battling rush-hour traffic in order to eat breakfast in Santa Monica, lunch in Watts, and dinner in downtown, so I feel I have a little bit of say-so.
I love the food scene in Los Angeles, mostly, because of its diversity. If you’re a body-sculpting health guru who only partakes in organic and sustainable, there’s a place for you. If you’re a subscriber to long-standing institutions like Langer’s Delicatessen, Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, or Nancy Silverton’s Mozza empire, welcome to your nirvana. If you’re after the best Asian cuisine or the best street tacos north of the Mexican border, LA is your stomping grounds.
While LA is diverse, it’s clear that a lot of stuff trickles south from trend-setting San Francisco, the city that doesn’t show any signs of letting slip its crown of Western cuisine. Blame it on the tech industry and the rise of the hipster/hippie if you must, but I rather like being on the upswing of a food trend. It doesn’t happen to me often – once I recall being in New Orleans for work and leaving my friends and the city behind one afternoon in search of a Vietnamese bakery that also served up pho and bun. I was tickled pink when that same bakery was featured in a food magazine, offering outside-the-box suggestions for those who needed a break from Étouffée and Jambalaya.
Food trends sometimes introduce new techniques and/or ingredients, but more often they’re a rehashing of an old standard or classic, breathed back to life by someone who felt it could do with an upgrade.
Which brings me to toast.
I first read about the toast trend back in 2014 in the Pacific Standard, a publication devoted to West Coast culture, in which the author, John Gravois, comes upon the growing phenomenon of folks willingly shelling out $4 for a slice of toast in San Francisco. It’s a great piece that unearths the origins of the trend and I remembered thinking (as I’m sure most of John’s readers were thinking) why someone would order something out that they could easily make at home. I adore toast and make it quite often. How special could these bakeries in SF be that they were getting press over toast?
Apparently, pretty damn special.
San Francisco is quite a long way from my tiny town, but in researching my trip to LA, nearly all of my bucket-list breakfast locations had a special toast menu. I was finally going to discover what all the fuss was about.
My sister and I stopped in for breakfast at Superba Food + Bread, an airy, California-chic café and bakery in Venice filled with sunlight that bounced off heavy wooden beams lining the ceiling. People sat in groups chatting or solo with their mac books - ear buds dangling, fingers typing away as they all sipped on nitro cold brewed coffe and nibbled on toast.
Superba offers a hefty breakfast menu ranging from the eggs and bacon to whole grain pancakes and even a lobster roll (flaky pastry, truffle braised mushrooms, fava beans gremolata and a slow cooked egg). I wanted to sample it all, but we were there for the toast.
We ordered two savories – kale toast for her; french butter/ avocado/ braised kale/ sunny side up eggs/ chili oil and cheesy soft scrambled egg toast for me with scallions and white cheddar. And who could resist a sweeter toast served with ricotta and the jam of the day, which we shared. Toast with artisanal toppings and fancy-pants coffee. I was elbows deep in a West Coast food trend and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so complete.
Because it’s not really about the toast, is it? It’s about enjoying something that is simple and satisfying, and if we’re lucky, brings back happy memories from yesterday or twenty years ago.
Lots of folks freaked out about the $4 toast phenomenon back in 2014. They’re still freaking out about it today, and some new food trend will freak them tomorrow. “Why spend $4 on something so simple I can make at home?” Because you’re not spending $4 on toast, sweetheart. You’re spending $4 to meet up with a dear friend at a beautiful location so you can catch up on the latest while someone else – not you – brings you a delicious piece of toast slathered with housemade ricotta and rhubarb/strawberry jam. And don’t forget to tip, darling. That fancy pants coffee didn’t make itself.