Eating L.A. Before It Eats Itself: Between avocado and jam, a toast to LA’s best toasts

Dariel Fillomeno | Daily Trojan

Despite whatever carb-fearing reputation Los Angeles may have formed, the city’s affinity for things on toast stands in stark opposition. L.A. might not be the birthplace of toast, nor the master of toast, but there is a citywide obsession with creating — and consuming — a perfectly composed piece of bread. What was once a mere side dish has transformed across breakfast joints into a filling, relatively cheap breakfast, an outlet for creativity and flavor experimentation.

While there is an abundance of great toast in Los Angeles, four have carved their way into the fabric of the city, each becoming icons in their own way: the avocado toast from Dinette, the crunchy french toast from Blu Jam Cafe, the chicken liver toast from Animal and, of course, the ricotta toast from Sqirl.

Dinette fits into a distinct genre of cafe with its modern design, selection of brunch fare and glass partition showcasing a near-erotic display of baked goods. A similar restaurant concept is employed all across Los Angeles, often without consideration for the surrounding neighborhood — a gentrification machine. However, what Dinette lacks in uniqueness it makes up for in toast.

The avocado toast at Dinette is a painting of greens and whites, a balance of creamy and crispy, a dance between sharp and smooth. Chunky avocados rest on a fresh slice of sourdough bread, garnished with radishes, salt, cilantro and various spices. Each bite feels like a piece of destruction — this one of those dishes that is too beautiful to eat.

Dinette’s avocado toast may not be a singularity across restaurant menus, but it’s certainly one of, if not the greatest avocado toasts in the City of Angels.

On Melrose Avenue, people are waiting in line outside a completely different type of storefront. The line for Blu Jam Cafe is always immense, probably due to an intersection of hungry shoppers trying to find a good place to eat and people coming for the french toast. Blu Jam has a rustic atmosphere, with wood paneling and soft lighting, but its menu is filled with familiar breakfast items.

The best breakfast in L.A. is home to by far the crunchiest french toast, presented on a long rectangular plate and dusted with powdered sugar. Brioche is battered in corn flakes and cooked until crispy, topped with fruit and a runny vanilla sauce. Beneath its crusty shell, the french toast is soft and flavorful, amplified by the vanilla and not too rich to fill up on before finishing. It is the perfect midday break from shopping, and one of the best brunch options in the city.

Animal is the furthest place from a typical toast cafe, but that’s because Animal’s offering isn’t typical toast. For years now, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo’s meat-centric restaurant has rocked the L.A. dining scene, shattering the rest of the country’s expectations of Angeleno cuisine. The menu ranges from tamer selections like turkey legs and pork belly sandwiches to pig ears and chicken hearts — all mouth watery. Toast, without a perfectly balanced meat, would perish on this menu of extremes. But thankfully, it has that in the chicken liver toast.

The fattiness of the chicken liver mousse bursts across the tongue, cut by a tangy shallot jam and punctuated by the subtle char of the toast. In a way, it feels like an avocado toast with its balance of creamy, salty and crunchy — but the chicken liver outshines any seasoned avocado. The chicken liver toast at Animal laughs in the face of all other toasts, not only because it is one of the best toasts in the city, but also because it turns chicken liver something into something worthy of craving.

But in the end, there is only one best toast. The toast to rule them all. A toast symbolic of breakfast in Los Angeles, of everything loved and loathed in the city. It could only be the ricotta toast from Sqirl. Slathered in a layer of fresh ricotta and painted with a smattering of house-made jam, a thick piece of brioche toast smirks from its plate. It knows it’s good — so good that people will wait an hour in line to try it. Sqirl is a perfect example of Angelino cuisine: gourmet but casual, packed but irresistible. And its toast shines across SilverLake.

Of course, L.A. took the humble toast and transformed it into something grandiose. It gave toast the celebrity treatment and groomed it into a beautiful, unattainable icon. No reasonable person will strategically place radishes across a piece of avocado toast at home — that’s why Dinette does it. Fancy toast is a representation of the American Dream, the result of a slow and steady climb up to fame and popularity. Toasts at the restaurant République cost anywhere from $11 to $21 now. If that’s not a rags-to-riches tale, I don’t know what is.

In a time of stress and change, toast is a comfort, built off a foundation of unchanging bread, despite its bells and whistles. There are times when even a cutthroat city like Los Angeles seeks comfort in sturdy dishes like the simple toast. Thankfully, there are plenty of places to get it.

Christina Tiber is a junior majoring in psychology. Her column, “Eating L.A. Before It Eats Itself,” ran every other Thursday