This is a story warning about another sign of the impending apocalypse.
Or, it’s a nice story about the comforting nature of toast.
Minneapolis will soon be getting its first toast bar. Canteen, already open in south Minneapolis and serving toast on its daily menu, will start featuring a toast bar on weekends starting July 7.
You pay a few bucks, slice yourself a thick piece, and pop it in the toaster.
There will be spreads. Locally sourced, of course. Some peanut butter, some jams, some honey, all “crafted” by passionate local artisans.
If this seems benign to you, you haven’t been paying attention to the national “toast controversy” that has floated around from San Francisco, where it began, to the pages of the New Yorker. Zagat did an online video about it. It even provoked a petition in San Francisco for affordable housing.
Only in America can you utter the words “toast controversy.”
Initially, credit for the trend was given to a Frisco restaurant called the Mill, whose introduction of the toast bar became a tipping point in the foodie world. Some loved it. Others saw the toast bar as evidence of the food world at its most absurd. One article blamed the trend on rich Silicon Valley people and suggested that it signaled the decline and gentrification of the city.
John Gravois, a writer for Pacific Standard magazine, took it further, tracking the toast craze back to another restaurant run by a former homeless woman. It was a touching story of a person overcoming adversity, but critics wanted to focus on the Mill and the symbolism of “the $4 toast” (actually, $3.75).
Even Gravois started out skeptical, calling it “twee” and the “tip of the hipster spear.”
The New Yorker sniffed: “Artisanal toast, one might posit, represents our intensifying obsession with and fetishization of food.”
Well, New Yorker readers might well posit that, but not Liz Abene, owner of Canteen.
“It’s just toast, right?” she said when contacted.
Abene said she actually had the idea for a toast bar several years ago after visiting a place with really good toast in Vancouver. She said she was “vaguely aware” that some were hating on toast.
“I don’t want to read that stuff,” she said.
The idea “was based on the fact I have no kitchen,” said Abene, who turned Urban Bean Coffee (which she managed) into Canteen at 3255 Bryant Av. S. “I didn’t set out to be the first toast bar in Minneapolis. I just wanted to make the place a little livelier in the mornings. I get a lot of students who want to study, and I thought, why not a toast bar?”
Why not, indeed?
Abene has been contacting local bread makers about using their products. She’s got a shiny new Waring toaster, a four-slotter. She’s lining up local producers of honey and peanut butter. She’s been crazy busy trying to start her first business.
What she hasn’t been doing is parsing any social, culinary or economic ramifications of simply offering perhaps the ultimate comfort food to hungry people.
“Anybody who knows me knows I’m not a pretentious person,” Abene said. “I’m not doing anything but trying to provide something good to eat.”
I love toast. So, move over, cupcakes, pickle plates, beet variations, glorified kale and foams. Scram, “deconstructed” versions of all foods. I plan to belly up to that wonderful, sadly misunderstood toast bar. Make mine a double.
Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin