Quentin and I were extremely fortunate to take a little *~staycation~*—a vacation where you stay in your own city, if you’re not familiar with this particular silly portmanteau—this past weekend. Depending on how you look at it, we were either very belatedly celebrating our first wedding anniversary, which was in April of 2020, so obviously didn’t get much of a commemoration, or a few weeks early on honoring our second one, which will fall right around the time we make our trek back to New York. Either way, we were elated to find a relatively COVID-safe way to mark both occasions and booked a room at the lovely South Congress Hotel here in Austin.
Like many, we’ve been eating most our meals at home for the past year, but booked a few outdoor reservations (if you’re in Austin, Soto, Suerte, and Odd Duck were all wonderful and had true, non-tented, outdoor dining setups), had a couple drinks al fresco at the lounge at Hotel San José and enjoyed in-room dining from the hotel’s on-site restaurant, Cafe No Sé, for breakfast. We’re still not comfortable eating inside, but it was a joy to eat food I hadn’t prepared myself, see a bit of Austin, and support some local spots.
All this dining out in such a concentrated period of time sparked thoughts about the small things restaurants do to make our experiences there feel extra special. A lot of what I’m thinking of is hospitality related—an upbeat hello here, a sake on the house there. But of course, we go to restaurants to be delighted by food, and there are infinite tricks of the trade restaurant chefs employ that take a seemingly basic dish from good to very, very great. One such example: toast. I must admit I’ve made my fare share of toast that was perfectly crunchy on one side, but fell prey to its own condensation on the other, creating the dreaded soggy bottom. But I’ve rarely experienced this in a restaurant and wasn’t sure what I was doing wrong! That was, until I learned…
To keep toast crisp on both sides, build a tent.
Credit for this tip goes to my brother-in-law, who’s the first person I ever saw tenting toast. But it came to him via a restaurant. While carbohydrate architecture seems like a perfectly acceptable idiosyncratic interest, Joel is an admirably practical person, so I knew there must be logical rationale for the structure he’d created with his breakfast. When I inquired, he explained that he once saw a cook standing toast up while it cooled in a restaurant, tried it himself, and realized that it kept both sides gloriously crisp.
Toast two slices of bread to your liking. I’m a medium-well kinda gal myself.
Lean the two slices against each other, creating a little toast tent situation. Setting each piece of the toast down flat on your plate, as I had been doing for my entire toast making career, traps condensation and leads to a bottom sog. Standing it up allows both sides to let off steam into open air and remain crisp.
Wait for the toast to cool to your liking, spread your toppings, or build your sandwich and enjoy.
My little ode to eating out in the form of a toast tip wouldn’t be complete without a reminder that the people who are working in restaurants right now are literally risking their lives to bring us the joy of a not-home-cooked meal. If you do choose to eat out, remember to tip extremely well. And if you’re not quite comfortable dining out yet, there are a number of ways to support your favorite spots: many have created very fun merch, or offer gift cards for purchase. Alright, that’s it for this week.
With love and a tip of my chef’s hat,