I woke up on a recent morning, like every morning, thinking about toast. I knew that if I kept thinking about toast—not French toast, or toast points, but traditional white toast like you eat at breakfast—I would work myself up into a towering wrath. And there was nothing to be wrathful about! I had fallen asleep at the St. Cecilia hotel in Austin listening to Neil Young records, and woke up knowing that I was about to have breakfast outdoors with a grackle, one the city’s ubiquitous, crow-like carrion birds, at Jo's up the street. (I was in Texas to do the press conference for Meatopia Texas in San Antonio, and also to eat at Qui, which, by the way, is AWESOME.) Once at Jo's, I ended up with a world-class breakfast taco, which I shared with the friendly corvid. In Texas, excellent tortillas seem to take the place of toast much of the time, but I had wanted toast. And I couldn't get it. Because, in Austin as in so many great American cities, our restaurants all fail the Toast Test.
The Toast Test is a universal index, at least in my cramped and dogmatic mind, of how much restaurants care about and understand food. It’s similar to the “better than it needs to be” test, and like it, essentially a moral measure. You go into a restaurant for breakfast and you ask for buttered toast. Go ahead, try it. If they give you any guff to the effect of, “Butter comes with it,” you are in hostile territory. If they don’t say anything, but just bring the default service of dry, cold bread, barely browned, beside a little cup of butter squares the size and stiffness of Bazooka Joe gum, you know you are in the hands of the cynical or indifferent. If, on the other hand, they take the time to actually spread butter on the toast, to spread it carefully, from edge to edge, to cover it conscientiously, copiously, to actually make it good, then you can feel good, temporarily, about human nature.
You will note that I do not, like many of my fellow vulgarians, grouse churlishly over the fact that I can’t get airy, ethereal white bread, like diners serve. I get that today’s cultured eater expects more expensive alt-hoax alternatives, the kind of sham added value that hotels—though not the St. Cecilia!—use to justify trumped-up prices. I am resigned to eating chicken sausage and applewood-smoked bacon and the kind of egg dishes that are invulnerable to overcooking. I get that. But it doesn’t take much to make a good order of toast, even if it is with brown bread. I will give Austin a pass because this is a tortilla town, and I took such inordinate pleasure at Qui, and Jo’s. And really, who cares about toast? But that question—precisely and pointedly—is the essence of the Toast Test. Even the grackles know that.