An Australian real estate tycoon set the internet ablaze in May when he suggested that more millennials could afford to buy homes if they gave up their pricey smashed avocado toast.
Like chocolate, cheese, and coffee before it, toast has turned into an artisanal product. In San Francisco, you can find thick-cut slices of doughey goodness slathered in locally-sourced butters, jams, and yes, avocado. At a price of $US4 to $US8, depending on toppings, this decadence doesn’t come cheap.
The trend kicked off in San Francisco in 2014, after a highly publicized profile on Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club — considered the original proprietors of artisanal toast — aired on NPR’s “This American Life.” The city’s obsession with glorified bread shows no sign of slowing.
These days, you can find cafés serving overpriced toast in almost every major city nationwide.
We visited San Francisco’s The Mill to see why toast is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
The Mill, based in San Francisco's Alamo Square neighbourhood, did not invent artisanal toast. But it spread the gospel with its widely popular take on the trend.
Josey Baker, The Mill's co-owner and toastmaster, got his start baking breads in his San Francisco apartment. He delivered loaves to bakeries, pizzerias, and grocers on his bike.
In summer 2011, Baker got an invitation from the founder of a local coffee chain, Four Barrel Coffee, to collaborate on a café near Alamo Square. The Mill was born.
While the café was under construction, Baker ran a pop-up location on site. He wanted to offer customers something to eat with their coffee, but since Baker didn't make cookies, croissants, or muffins, he brought his toaster from home and started selling his homemade bread.
'At that point, it wasn't, like, 'We're going to become known for our toast.' It was my way to eat bread, and people responded strongly to it,' Baker told Business Insider in 2015.
The toast became popular thanks in part to Baker's simple combinations of toppings. 'Growing up, I would eat toast with butter and cinnamon sugar,' Baker said. 'It's actually not very creative, but it did seem to strike a chord with people.'
Country-style bread, which uses a blend of bread flour and whole wheat, sourdough culture, and sea salt, topped with butter and cinnamon sugar became The Mill's first runaway hit.
The Mill serves about 400 slices of toast on the average weekend day, with as many as six four-slice toasters going at once. The menu has four toasts and a weekly special.
Customers can mix and match spreads, which include smashed avocado, almond butter, strawberry and blackberry jams, cream cheese, and a house-made version of Nutella.
A beautiful birchwood mill grinds about 300 pounds of whole grains into flour every day.
The Mill uses more water in its recipe that most bakeries, because a moister dough makes for a moister bread. It does make it more difficult to shape the loaf by hand, however.
Breads bake in the oven between 30 and 120 minutes depending on the size and type.
They emerge crispy on the outside, with burnt ends adding texture and flavour, and soft and chewy on the inside. Finished loaves never sit out more than a day and a half.
While whole loaves are The Mill's bestsellers, it's the toast that draws people in.
The popular $5 Dark Mountain Rye uses bread that's full of sea salt as well as sesame, sunflower, and flax seeds. It's topped with cream cheese, salt, and fresh ground pepper.
Named one of the best toasts in San Francisco by Eater SF, the Whole Wheat Everything combines smashed avocado, black pepper, and sea salt. It's the most expensive toast on the menu at $8.
One bite of the Whole Wheat Raisin, topped with almond butter, butter, and sea salt, will send your nostalgia into overdrive. It costs $6.
I ordered the Whole Wheat bread with melted butter and strawberry jam, which cost $6. My mouth watered watching my order come together at the toast bar.
The toasters looked like they would belong on my kitchen counter -- nothing fancy. My piece of toast went in for about a minute before being flipped and cooked an additional minute.
It was difficult to cut the crust with a butter knife. But the crispness added a contrasting texture to the bread's spongy, still warm center, and made for a perfect combination.
The toast reminded me of the quintessential whole wheat -- nutty, brown, and malty -- but it was a far cry from the factory-made multigrain bread I buy at the grocery store.
It tasted whole and unprocessed, bursting with the natural flavours of millet and sunflower seeds. With each bite, I sopped up the sweet and tart strawberry jam.
I found The Mill's artisanal toast to be a worthwhile expense. It contained high-quality, locally sourced ingredients and cost less than some sugar-coated pastries at Starbucks.
'For me, toast is comforting, unintimidating, and delicious. It's the same experience for most people,' Baker said. 'We take something very simple and try to nail every aspect of it ... You've encountered (toast) a million times in your life, but this is the best you have had.'
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