A Toast to pub fare
By Patty Kruszewski, Citizen Managing Editor 02/28/13
Toast’s billing as a gastropub intrigued me almost as much as its “New American” menu, so I enjoyed reading up on the expression’s origins. As it turns out, some pub owners in London coined the term in 1991, as part of an effort to introduce more refinement to the menu. It wasn’t long before the British restaurant-pub hybrids caught on in the States, spawning a new genre and even a spin-off: the gastrolounge, which emphasizes wine and spirits over beer selection.
Toast’s interior struck me as the perfect embodiment of the concept of taking pubs a notch up: a pleasing balance of rustic casual and upscale, modern industrial styling. Most of the seating consists of cozy booths with dark wood finishes, and the vintage light fixtures, exposed ceiling, and warm atmosphere made it easy to forget I was in a strip mall overlooking a parking lot.
On my first visit, we were cheerily greeted and promptly seated; after seeing how quickly the adjacent booths filled up, I was glad we had come before noon. Our server was most efficient and helpful as we struggled to choose from so many appealing offerings. I passed up the popular meat loaf ($13) for the Toast Burger ($10); but once I saw my companion’s turkey wrap ($9), I had second thoughts. She pronounced her wrap a perfect blend of sweet and savory, mingling currant jelly and goat cheese with the spiciness of arugula and crispness of cucumbers.
My burger, served on a brioche, also featured some unique flavor combinations: toppings of thin, crispy fried onions and applewood bacon, and served with barbeque aioli. (I preferred another of the homemade sauces, one that hinted of pumpkin and cinnamon). The side of sweet potato tots, a Toast specialty, were flavorful and a nice consistency – crispy on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth on the inside – but a bit too sweet for my tastes. (I have heard the same overly-sweet complaint about Toast’s homemade ketchup.)
We also ordered the shrimp and crab nachos ($12) for an appetizer – and wish we’d had time to finish more of them before our entrees arrived. The nachos were less satisfying than our sandwiches – mostly because the thick, excessively-toasted chips overpowered the delicate flavors of the seafood and avocado, and I had to extract most of them to enjoy the topping.
I left wanting to try more menu items and give the place another shot during dinner hour. But my return a few evenings later with another friend was less rewarding. To be fair, perhaps we should have chosen the dining room and not expected stellar service at the bar. But I couldn’t pass up the experience of sitting at that vintage, saloon-
like slab; I half expected Gunsmoke’s Miss Kitty to prance down the stairs and cowboys to swagger through the doors.
We got our drinks promptly enough (good selection of craft beers at happy hour prices; I had an O’Connor Black IPA), but sat for 20 minutes without being asked for our food order, even though we had requested a menu.
Although I was fine with my crab mac and cheese ($15), and my companion enjoyed her pot roast (beautifully presented with ale gravy glazing the carrots, onions and chunks of beef), she removed the dollops of cheese-curd topping and noted that their consistency reminded her of Silly Putty.
At 7 p.m., long after we’d started on our meals, we watched an employee post a list of specials that featured two favorite dishes we would certainly have ordered, had we only known of them. The bartender was helpful enough when questioned; but it seemed to us that he could have volunteered at least a mention of the specials. If nothing else, it would have been nice to see specials posted before the dinner hour was half gone.
We were happier after splitting our dessert, a decadent trifle with peanut butter mousse and bacon brittle, served in a glass jar. The fried doughnuts, Toast’s most popular dessert, would have to wait for another day.
And we will be back for another day, despite the overall uneven experience. There are just too many unique combinations of ingredients yet to try – not to mention a brunch that has won raves. Sure, there were disappointments; but the ambience, “Miss Kitty’s” bar, and the flashes of brilliance in the menu make it worth a return trip.
Toast New American Gastropub
7007 Three Chopt Road
Henrico, VA 23229
Soups, appetizers and salads: $5-$14
Sun: 9:30am – 11pm
Mon-Thu: 11am – 11pm
Fri: 11am – 12am
Sat: 9:30am – 12am
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