the main event

I ask you: What is it that is just so darn satisfying about toast?

Let's consider.

Toast is typically a back of the menu item, listed under Sides or Extras among offerings like "one egg, any style" and "half a grapefruit." Or, toast is relegated to the small, italicized subtitles tacked beneath loftier headings like Omelettes: "Served with hashbrowns and choice of toast." ("Substitute fruit cup - $1.00." ) Ah toast, even in your greasy spoon incarnation, perfectly square, cut diagonally across, served pre-buttered with a couple of plastic, foil-sealed packages of grape jelly, you are lovely, if under appreciated. Given your obvious charm, why is it so rare to find an eatery that features you as the main event?

Enter, Hi-Rise Bakery.

This place is my favorite local spot for all things baked, both sweet and savory. Right alongside heftier items like oatmeal with toasted pecans and dried cherries, pressed egg sandwiches, and yogurt with homemade granola, there it is on the breakfast menu: Toast. With a capital "T." Toast. Listed as its own boldfaced menu item on a hand-written page taped to the glass. I sometimes feel a little defiant marching up to the counter and declaring, "I'll have Toast, please." I hear my Grandmother Marion's disapproving voice in my head: "Toast is not a meal." Oh, but it is Grandma. And here at Hi-Rise, it is not only a meal, but an indulgent one. From the loaves of bread available that day, you choose two slices. I usually go for one slice of corn bread and one slice of something whole wheat-y. Then, you find a seat upstairs or outside and await the arrival of your capital Toast. The two hearty slices are served in a paper-lined basket with not-too-sweet preserves, and a whopping triangle of fresh, slightly softened butter. Thick, lightly browned and crispy on the outside, soft and springy on the inside, still warm from the toaster, this bread practically begs you to dig in with your hands, to tear off a little piece, slather with butter and preserves, chew, swallow, and repeat, as necessary.

And so, imagine my dismay to learn that Hi-Rise on Brattle St. -- the one just two blocks from my home -- will be closed until January 26. No explanations cited. Only a note stating the cold, hard truth. Fortunately, the always bustling Concord St. Hi-Rise -- the original bakery location -- is a mere twenty minute jaunt down the street, so I'm covered in case of emergency. Also fortunate is that a transcendent Toast experience is possible without leaving home. This morning, I popped a couple of slices of sourdough bread into the oven, despite the fact that I am not typically a sourdough fan. With apricot preserves, the sour twinge mellowed, and tasted, surprisingly, just right.

I don't know if it was the scrape-ity-scrape of butter dragging along the crisp, cratery surface, the glimmer of preserves in the bit of sunshine that managed to squeeze through the winter clouds, or the delightful crunch of the first bite that was so perfectly pleasing this morning. In the words of Heywood Banks, all I can say is, "Yeah, Toast!!"

I've included a toasty picture, above. You will surely notice that, as little as I know about blogging, I know even less about photography. Yes, Sweet Amandine will be a learning experience for me in more ways than one.

And with that, I raise my crumb-strewn empty plate to the end of this second post, to future posts, to trial and error and, of course, to you, sweet reader, if you're out there, that is.

[this post is dedicated to julia, fellow Toast lover and Toast eater extraordinaire]


Elishag said...

I love that you are writing this blog! And I have been fantasizing about going to Hi-Rise on Concord Street for over a year now and Sam and I just decided last night that this Sunday we're finally going to do it! Hope that doesn't sound too uncouth for this blog.
That is a beautiful picture of toast, and I recognize the radiator in the background : )

joel said...

i love toast too, but i'm probably with grandma on this one ;)

great photo, ms. jessica. look out nan goldin!

jess said...

Hi, Elisha
Happy to hear of your delicious plans for this Sunday. Even if you are going for breakfast, be sure to pick up an almond macaroon for later on in the day. They're something special.

And Joel,
Grandma always did love you best of all my little friends...

megan said...

Aghhhhhhh - I am indulging in my favorite meal as we speak: Bread and Butter. If that was all I got for eternity, I might not mind...

Anonymous said...

If you want a truly memorable breakfast/brunch experience, make your way to Scups in the Harbor (www.scupsintheharbor.com). Tucked in East Boston harbor, it is worth the short jaunt from the city or wherever you happen to be. Make it an experience by taking the water taxi from the ICA to the docks at the harbor.

Baked eggs with spinach and a crunchy, cheesy topping with TOAST is an outstanding offering as are the scones, scrambled egg and potato chip entree with TOAST and pretty much anything on the menu. The bread for the toast is made by a local East Boston baker…delicious!!

If you were a fan of the original Emma's Pizza, you'll recognize Wendy and Dave here at their new venture. Subscribe to their e-mails to get the latest news; you'll be glad you did!

pugsy said...

I totally agree with the person who wrote in about Scup's in the Harbor. They have amazing food, simple yet done perfectly. You can tell they love food just by the way they prepare their dishes.

Talk about toast... they have all kinds of yummmy breads that they serve their sandwiches and specials on.

The place is small but they make it so comfortable and welcoming for everyone. I have always left there happy.

jess said...

Thanks "Anonymous" and Pugsy for the tip about Scup's in the Harbor. I'll definitely check it out!

Pugsy said...

I forgot to mention that Scup's is open during the week also (except Monday. They have amazing breakfast sandwiches and great blue plate specials. I had the best Tuna Melt in my life, not to mention the winter BLT. It is worth it just for those two sandwiches.

Diane said...

hi cousin david and wendy..just heard that you were up and running in east boston. next time we are in the area we will stop by for some toast etc...all well here in ormond beach fl. love di

Jess said...

Hi, Diane
Thanks for your note. But I think you have the wrong blog. I'm Jess, the writer of this here blog, Sweet Amandine. I do hope that you'll come visit this site again, but as for your cousins, David and Wendy, I'm afraid I don't know who they are! Perhaps they are the authors of another Boston-area food blog?

mkoplow said...

Jessica, just heard about your blog over the weekend and am enjoying it immensely. I think the single thing that I miss most about Cambridge is the toast basket at the Concord St. Hi-Rise, which Tovah and I used to get almost every Sunday morning. Hope all is well with you and Eli.

Jess said...

Michael! How fun to hear from you in this space. You're very kind to take a look at what I've been up to over here at Sweet Amandine. I am so with you on the glory of the Hi-Rise toast basket. It is really something. Hugs to you and Tovah. Cambridge misses you.

kathy said...

My mother made bread every week of my life. I think I was maybe ten when they got a freezer so she made even more... She belongs to a cooking group that still makes hundreds or loaves a month as a fund raiser....and she's 81 and now has graduated to two freezers about ten years ago. One for garden stuff (I wonder sometimes what's in the bottom of both) and the other for baking stuff. I grew up on milky coffee and two slices of toast every morning during my highschool years. The only thing that varied was the homemade raspberry huckleberry or apricot jam smeared on it. I'm still a toast for breakfast person