While our diets are quite different, Dana and I share a love of food that borders on obsessive. Pittsburgh may not be the greatest city in the world for a foodie, but there are a lot of restaurants worth trying. To prove it, we decided that as much as we love our favorites (looking at you, Nicky’s Thai Kitchen), we should really start making an effort to try the long list of places we haven’t been yet, and documenting our experiences here. I bought some City Dining Cards to aid us in this quest.
Toast! isn’t participating in that program, but a friend recommended it to us a few months back and we’d wanted to try it ever since. We actually tried to go back in March, but since it was Friday night and we had foolishly not made a reservation, the wait proved prohibitive. This time around, I made sure to book a table in advance.
I liked the atmosphere immediately. Dana makes fun of me for this all the time, but one of my biggest pet peeves is if a restaurant is too noisy. I shouldn’t have to shout to be heard over the music by the people sitting right next to me unless I’m at a bar. On the other hand, if you can hear a pin drop, that’s not really ideal either. Toast! did well here – there was music playing, but it wasn’t intrusive. I also enjoyed the decor, which was tasteful without being stuffy or pretentious, and the large windows let in plenty of natural light. The service was likewise attentive without being overbearing.
Of course, all of that is of secondary importance to the food, so let’s get to the real attraction.
Dana and I ordered the tomato and mozzarella flatbread for an appetizer. The flatbread was light and crisp, and the mozzarella was perfect – as Dana pointed out, eating fresh mooz really makes you wonder why anyone bothers with that shredded nonsense. The tomato sauce was a bit thin for my tastes, but the flavor was on point: hints of roasted garlic accentuated nicely by fresh basil. Dana asked why we don’t put fresh basil on all of our homemade pizzas, which is a good question. If our plans for an herb garden come to fruition, we’ll have no excuse.
For my entree, I decided it was time for me to finally experience the culinary nirvana of chicken and waffles, and friends, I have seen the light…albeit with some partly cloudy skies.
The chicken was tender and juicy without being overly greasy, and adding cumin to the waffle was an inspired touch. I also liked the restraint the kitchen showed with the molasses butter; rather than drenching the plate, they opted for a light drizzle, with a ramekin for dipping. The collard greens, while not the best I’ve ever had, helped temper the sweetness of the dish. However, serving the chicken atop the waffle made the waffle unpleasantly soggy, and as much as I liked the molasses butter, I needed more heat from the chicken to balance out the plate – the hot sauce marinade was a little too understated. Overall, I enjoyed the dish quite a bit, but felt that it fell short of chicken and waffles’ magical flavor profile potential.
Dana’s dinner: I ordered the sweet potato falafel, and I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I had the unique experience of getting a dish that I had no idea how to eat! At first, I was a little disappointed because the falafel seemed a bit dry. My opinion changed when I gave up trying to be a lady about it and ripped the flatbread into chunks so I could eat all the parts of the dish together. It was also served with a barley salad (which tasted a lot like something I’ve made at home before, and I mean that in a positive way) that balanced out the sweetness of the falafel nicely.
For dessert, we went with fried dough over creme brulee, a decision I came to regret, and which I can totally pin on Dana’s aversion to lactose. Again, I loved the idea of the dish, but the execution fell just a bit flat. The combination of cinnamon sugar and ginger syrup was really interesting, but the dough was dry and bland. A little more butter, or a bit less time in the oven, would have gone a long way. Dana enjoyed it more than I did, but that’s mostly because she’s ginger-crazed.