Choosing a restaurant in the French Quarter can be tricky – there are all too many places geared to the tourist trade that overcharge and underdeliver. Give thanks, therefore, for French Toast – the latest outpost in a mini-chain of breakfast eateries across the city offering creative and compelling compositions at reasonable prices.
Owner Cara Benson fell in love with the space, located in the Hotel Provincial, following a walk-through with the broker. At the time it was an underutilized conference room. She recognized its possibilities however, despite the long curtains and carpet, then brought designer and woodworker Matthew Holdren (who also designed Benson’s Gentilly location) down to get his eyes on the project. “Matthew thought it could be really cool,” Benson said. “He wanted to redo it with old French Quarter charm kind of feel.” The end result is a light-filled, contemporary diner warmed by custom millwork and anchored with a full-color mural.
The menu fits on one page but is packed with an impressive core of breakfast and brunch staples. There is an array of elevated Toast selections which come loaded with various options, such as prosciutto, honey and ricotta. There is a French Toast dish that echoes King Cake, featuring cinnamon cream cheese and Mardi Gras-colored sprinkles as well as that southern darling chicken and waffles, which comes served with maple syrup and cayenne butter.
Like crepes? You’ll find both savory and sweet. A simple choice of gruyere and herbs is recommended, as is an omelet featuring the same.
“The menu is similar to our other locations but each one has a few twists to make it unique,” Benson said. Dishes here that set French Toast apart include an entrée of catfish and grits, served with eggs and tarragon aioli. Also a Toast option loaded with fried oysters, corn maque choux, avocado, eggs and Sriracha aioli. “The oyster dish and the King Cake French toast are the top movers at the French Quarter location,” Benson said.
Benson’s background is in pastry, and an aspect that underpins all her restaurants are her wonderful breads and baked products. At any one time diners can find multigrain, brioche, sourdough and biscuits on the menu, as well as breakfast pastries and more. More includes Aebelskivers, a Danish variant on pancakes that has served as a keystone signifier that sets her menus apart from the pack. Baked in a dimpled pan using a batter lightened with egg whites, these delicate puffs come served with a choice of sauce including Nutella and a house-made lemon curd. They make for a satisfying standalone breakfast or – better – as an option to share with your friends. Feeling French? There is also a hanger steak entrée option with Lyonnaise potatoes and a Croque Madam with a light salad alongside. And, as this is the French Quarter, diners can enjoy a full bar to accompany their brunch. Think Irish coffee, Bloody Marys and pomegranate mimosas.
French Toast is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. If the menu above sounds tempting but you don’t want to tackle the Quarter, there are two other locations of Toast around town – one in Gentilly near the Fair Grounds and another on Laurel Street Uptown. Any of these three choices will nail that breakfast-craving soft-spot that lurks inside us all.
MEET THE CHEF
Owners Cara and Evan Benson met while they were both culinary students in New York. They moved to New Orleans in 2004, where Cara worked as Muriel’s Pastry Chef before leaving to open Tartine, her first restaurant, in 2010. Evan worked at Joel’s Catering and helped to grow the fledgling business. After the first Toast opened Uptown in 2014, the company swiftly grew and now they both work full-time together on their clutch of restaurants which span the city. Tartine maintains a stand-alone, French bakery identity whereas the three Toast locations are geared toward breakfast and brunch fare.
French Toast, 1035 Decatur St., French Quarter, 300-5518. B, L Daily, Toastneworleans.com
Surrey’s Café and Juice Bar has two locations – one Uptown and the other in the Lower Garden District. Both are on Magazine Street and both offer creative fresh-squeezed juice menus to accompany their breakfast and brunch staples. The menu takes a Latin turn with dishes like Huevos Rancheros and Cuban Sandwiches, helping to set it apart.