Monday, June 24, 2024

Hash Quiche at The Friendly Toast in Cambridge’s Harvard Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The opening of The Friendly Toast in Harvard Square, the 11th of the chain, took a lot longer than anyone imagined. As posted, it was supposed to open in the spring, an ideal time with students in town, but instead opened this month with many people on vacation and the students off on a summer adventure or toiling away to pay for room and board. No matter, the Toast is up and serving in the spot that was the site of the original Grafton Street Pub, the cornerstone of the Grafton Group portfolio (State Street Provisions, the Hourly and Russell House) that moved to where Park (a now closed Grafton Street eatery) was on JFK Street. The layout has not changed much: The bar is off to the right where it used to be, and the tiered dining room setup remains pretty much the same. But the vibe is radically different, with signature art-deco and candy-bright, red-and-green retro decor adorned with carefully curated tchotchke art, feeling a tad like a Neverland set from a Tim Burton film. 

The servers and staff are all merry and attentive, adding to that fantasy-park-cum-old-school-dinner ambiance. This is all-day breakfast and brunch, though the Toast closes at 3 p.m. with extended hours over the weekend that still does not keep it open late. The food, as you can imagine, offers sweet and savory and about every breakfast option under the morning sun. The appetizer section has churros (an “I’m in” dinner bell for my daughter), breakfast egg rolls, jumbo tater tots and a super-size sampler called the Appetize Me, Captain. The list of the morning basics comes with a few cheeky accented twists on pancakes (Cookie Monster and caramel macchiato), waffles, omelets and eggs Benedict. There’s also a bowl section (mac and cheese, pasta, fried rice and Southwest chicken salad) as well as handhelds (breakfasts burritos, burgers and BLTs).

Many of the chicken offerings – the Cordon Bleu Benny, chicken-and-waffle plate and the Snap, Crackle, Cluck sando – come with the house special Rice Krispies batter. Other intriguing offerings are the bulgogi steak and cheese sub and Buffalo chicken grilled cheese.

The Friendly Toast, newly opened in Harvard Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

For me, I went with a Toast favorite, Hash Quiche, which was described as two hash-browns cups filled with scrambled eggs, caramelized onions, crispy bacon, peppers and jalapeño jack cheese topped with lime crema. The fresh fruit that came on the side was true to its name, perfectly ripe and juicy. About those crispy cups: I got the crema on the side and was happy I did so, as it was nice to mete and mix in as I scooped, not getting a crowning topping overwhelming the first few bites and then wondering what to do when further down. The hash-browns cups were fine, but I might have preferred a side of hash browns instead; the cups lacked the moist potato fluffiness I hoped for. But that didn’t distract too much, as the mixture of eggs and other goodness inside with some of that crema was a real palate pleaser and a come-back calling. The scramble was perfectly done, with just the right amount of bacon, onion and cheese to accent the soul-warming nosh without filling you up. I half ate those cups and was happy to have done so.

Toast also has a kids menu of “Tiny Toasts” and offers flights of bloody marys (who else does that?). For your bloody, the motif on your pint glass is a party of smiling, friendly toasts. The basic bloody I had a was a bit salty, but then again, I’m a Clamato/Beefamato kind of guy.

Overall, it’s belly-filling happiness to see the Toast return to Cambridge. The concept began in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in the mid 1990s with a second location in Kendall Square in 2009 that closed during the pandemic – and the new Cambridge locale has a more spot-on festive feel to it. But it’s been a while, and even though the location holds 160 customers and we’re in city-emptying August, the Toast usually demands a wait. It’s the perfect addition to the Square that’s sure to see lines go longer as students and vacationing residents take up roost. 

The Friendly Toast,1230 Massachusetts Ave., Harvard Square, Cambridge

Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.