Basic fare: toast

Toast wasn’t really new on restaurant menus around 1914 but it was beginning to enjoy a bigger vogue. The soda fountain, often located in drug or department stores, was expanding into a lunch counter and as it did it added electric toasters to its battery of equipment. Most Americans still lacked electricity in their homes at this time so toast was something of a treat to them. By 1923 a new type of sandwich place, the luncheonette, had caught on. At the Tasty Toasty Luncheonette in New Haven a diner could almost certainly order a toasted cheese sandwich, an item once found only in English-style chop houses way before the Civil War.

Considering that restaurants in the early 19th century laboriously toasted bread by turning it slowly over an open fire, it is surprising that it was offered at all in those days. And yet Mrs. Poppleton, a versatile New York restaurateur, pastry cook, and confectioner, advertised in 1815 that she would provide refreshments such as savory patties, mock turtle soup, and anchovy toasts between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. each day. Beyond being an accompaniment to eggs, toast also did service in many an eating place as an edible prop for such foods as quail, creamed chicken, or asparagus. Buttered toast floated in oyster stews and bowls of milk (“milk toast”). World War I put a temporary end to its sidekick role when the Food Administration ordered restaurants to conserve wheat by not using bread as a garniture.

After the war toasters stayed perpetually busy in luncheonettes. The R and C Sandwich Shops boasted in 1925 that “Our big double-deck special toast sandwiches are the talk of Chicago.” The novelty of toast wore off over time until the cheap steakhouses that sprang up in the early 1960s revived it. Their dinners of sirloin steak, tossed salad, and baked potato came with garlic toast (called Texas toast when made of double thick bread), all for the magic price of $1.19. Today toast can still be found filling all its historical restaurant roles, with the exception of milk toast which has been replaced with milk and cereal. But its leading role is perhaps in the club sandwich. As a 1960 restaurant trade magazine observed: “The dry, crispy consistency of toasted breads improves flavor and appearance, and also makes the customer feel he is getting a more exclusive product.” This, the article noted, allows toasted sandwiches to be priced a bit higher than plain ones.

© Jan Whitaker, 2008

3 Comments

Filed under food

3 responses to “Basic fare: toast

  1. George mitchell

    Jan the reise brothers did not buy long champs Larry Ellman did
    And started beefsteak Charlie’s ,la orangiere cattle baron auto pub
    Downbeat he was the greatest in his time

  2. Meredith

    Hi, Jan,
    I haven’t thought of my worst restaurant experience yet. Maybe it was in the deep south when these people were changing their baby’s diaper on their table.
    They were white people who looked like white trash. There were some black people at another table who looked like college professors. They asked the waitress for water. The white guy pipes up real loud for all to hear: “Do you know why COONS (he always said that word extra loud) need so much water? COONS don’t have no salivary (his word) glands. That’s why COONS need so much water.”

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