By Jonathan Shikes
By Alex Brown
By Cafe Society
By Samantha Alviani
By Lori Midson
By Mark Antonation
By Loren Lorenzo
By Nate Hemmert
There's almost nothing in the world I love as much as a plate of pancakes. My wife, a good book, that first cigarette in the morning, and driving fast on desert highways with no cops in sight -- they all edge out pancakes, but not by much. Pancakes are definitely in my top five.
And why not? A tall stack of flapjacks is basically an American excuse to eat cake for breakfast. As a kid, I'd get a furtive thrill whenever my folks took me to the diner in the morning and told me to order whatever I wanted. I'd ask for pancakes, of course -- beautiful, warm, perfectly round pancakes, lacy and crisp at the edges, slathered in butter and drizzled with warm syrup from a sticky jug -- and eat them quickly, shoveling them down like I was getting away with something, like at any moment my dad might glance up from his coffee, look at me, then at my mom and ask, "Cindy, what are we doing letting the boy eat cake for breakfast?"
They say that the memories we make when we're young are the most affecting, and that food memories -- with the way they involve all the senses and better humors -- are the most powerful of all. And now that I am (ostensibly) a grown man, my mania for pancakes has only deepened. They still seem slightly illicit, always exotic. Everywhere I go, the pancakes taste a little different. From Jewish deli latkes to sweet French crepes, from the heavy monsters I ate down South with cane syrup or black molasses to the brilliant gingerbread version served in a little hippie breakfast bar in Austin, as long as pancakes are made with care and pride, I love them all. Like bacon, barbecue, meatloaf and cassoulet, pancakes hold a special place of honor in the pantheon of my edible memories.
2700 W. Bowles Ave.
Littleton, CO 80120
Region: Southwest Denver Suburbs
Eggs Benedict: $9
Tenderloin Benedict: $11
Tenderloin Benedict going Oscar: $15
Plain pancakes: $7
Signature pancakes: $9
Pancake flight: $11
Kids' Fruity Pebbles pancakes: $3
Chicken wrap: $9
Apple and brie sandwich: $8
Turkey club: $9
Because of my admittedly unhealthy and slightly absurd fascination with the humble flapjack, I have spent many years searching for the best -- always refining my definition of what "best" might mean, always on the lookout for new adaptations of a common theme. I'm not a traditionalist in this respect; I'm a slut. I'll take a pancake any way I can get it. And anytime someone comes up with a new iteration -- a new batter, a new topping, a new syrup -- I get all hot and bothered and have to try it.
My obsession extends not just to product, but to place. For as long as I have cared about food -- which, like as not, started the moment I scarfed my first short stack -- I have also been looking for the perfect environment for consuming that food. The diner, dive or breakfast bar of my dreams.
And now I'm pretty sure I've found it: Toast. In Littleton, of all places.
Toast is small, seating maybe forty on the floor, and so new it squeaks. Comfortable, brightly lit, with colorful breakfast-themed art on the walls and decorative toasters lurking in odd corners, it's cute but not too cute, hip but not too hip, striking that ideal balance of being welcoming the minute you walk through the door for the first time and completely forgettable forever after. The atmosphere could be partly nitrous oxide: a couple deep breaths and suddenly everything is Day-Glo, and an hour evaporates in five minutes. Service operates on a fast-casual model, with orders taken at the counter, a numbered plastic card issued and the plates brought to your table quickly, though never in a rush. All of the servers are efficient, occasionally confused by the constant rollover of tables and plates going this way and that, but quick to fix mistakes. Everyone smiles a lot. There's no attitude, no coffeehouse political subtext, no bistro pretension, no affectation. It's just breakfast. And at the counter, the answer to every question is yes.
On a Saturday morning, with a menu in hand and knowing exactly what I want, I walk in and change my mind about everything. I'd been thinking green tea, maybe some nice eggs and bacon or a prosciutto omelet with Havarti. But as I watch plates coming out of the kitchen, I'm swayed, tempted to follow each waitress to her table and ask its occupants if I can just have a taste of what they're having.
Laura holds me back, makes me focus. We order a crabcake Benedict; grilled, peppered chicken with queso añejo, smoked chile cream and salsa in a tortilla wrap; pancakes (of course); bacon; eggs over easy; coffee and orange juice. That's where she makes me stop, but when she isn't looking, I run back up to the counter and add a breakfast burrito to go. There isn't room on our table for all the food. I'm so happy.
Toast offers five kinds of eggs Benny, and they're all good. The crab Benedict is luxurious, the tenderloin Benny the best way to handle a breakfast steak short of turning it into souvlaki (and even better than souvlaki when you go the extra mile and order it Oscar-style, topped with lump crabmeat and asparagus), the classic a wonderful excuse to inject more pig into your diet, substituting cured prosciutto for the traditional smoked ham.