START THE INSANITY Nearly everything at the Friendly Toast is a bit odd, but its namesake — and the rest of the menu — delivers.
There was some in-office debate about reviewing the Friendly Toast in our "On the Cheap" column. After all, its menu of diner favorites, retro-'50s filler-uppers, and contemporary vegetarian options are pretty inexpensive. And their motto is "Great Food. Cheap." (The original Friendly Toast in Portsmouth was a hangout for UNH students and woulda-beens; the new one is primed for MIT students and the overflow of the Kendall Cinema. So that's a budget-minded crowd, right?)
|The Friendly Toast | One Kendall Square, Cambridge | 617.621.1200 | Open Monday–Thursday, 8 am–10 pm; FRIDAY and Saturday, 8 am–1 am; and Sunday, 8 am–9 pm | AE, DC, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | ramped access to restaurant | bathrooms down full flight of stairs|
But while the Friendly Toast may seem like a gimmicky interloper with a limited number of offerings, it is actually a divine all-day eatery with five cartoon-filled pages of impossibly tempting fare.
I knew what I was getting into, having done research at the other location, in New Hampshire, and tasted the astoundingly delicious raisin-bread French toast ($4.50/one piece; $6.50/two; $8/three). Which is why I argued successfully that this was no mere student dive decorated with campy old advertising signs, but in fact a worked-out postmodern conceptual dining experience. I mentioned that the sweet-potato fries ($5.50) are the best I have ever had. I even promised to trade back some significant pupuserias and a Nepali joint. (The things one has to do in order to get the scoop on a mojito milkshake ($5).)
As you may have gathered, Friendly Toast is kind of wacky. The cuisine stretches the envelope of "comfort food" between sinfully rich and over-the-top bonkers. The décor is stuff the art director of Pee-wee's Playhouse rejected as being too arch for kids. ("Arch" is really an issue, as they have collected quite a few promotional objects relating to brands of shoes from the 1930s, such as Goodrich Sports Shoes and Red Goose, whose tagline on display is "half the fun of having feet." What's the other half, "Hokey Pokey" time?) Foundation garments are represented well, as are signage from long-gone local bakeries and bachelor-pad objets d'art.
It would be difficult to do food as jumbled as the décor, so the owners apparently just transcribed years of stoners' munchies ideas and put it all out there. (See, this is the kind of post-structuralist deconstruction you just don't get in most restaurant columns.) But jumble is a style, and it's a moment.
So there you are, seated on sticky reproduction plastic banquettes at a replica Formica table, maybe the orange boomerangs, maybe the even-more typical carmine marble pattern. And you have this hyper-cheerful Good Morning, Vietnam–style menu full of incredibly tempting goodies. Which ones do you have?
Well, let's talk about French toast. You can get it with six kinds of house-made bread. I favor the cinnamon raisin, as I said, though the annadama has its devotees. The main thing is that it's really soaked in eggs, so even with an inch-thick slice it's like eating custard-like bread pudding.
Of the more than a dozen side orders, the bacon ($3.50) wins fans for being impossibly meaty. Omar's home fries ($3) are also popular, so much so that they have been worked into an entire meal ($8.25) with broccoli, corn, peas, and toast on the side. I had them on an off-day, when the red potatoes weren't quite done in the middle.
The Friendly Toast also features numerous waffles, including the Hansel & Gretel ($8): a mild gingerbread mix with pomegranate molasses and real whipped cream. For another two dollars you get all kinds of berries and fruit on it, too.
For real food, the hamburger ($9) is impeccable. (Remember the hamburger safari we had last summer? This would have been right up there). Add fries ($1) and they are excellent. But the sweet-potato fries ($1.50 as a burger add-on) are uncanny. The classic problem is that sweet potatoes are too moist to get really crisp. Here, they've been cut thinner and fried well, with the flavor still intact.
In the vicinity of breakfast is Solomon's Salmon Sandwich ($10.50), which wisely divides the bagel in two with heaps of smoked salmon and a cilantro-caper sauce that just doesn't quit. The falafel ($9.25) is more like a burrito than the classic Middle Eastern wrap, with four large, soft patties and plenty of spice.
Drinks include the full run of alcoholic beverages, best enjoyed next to the THINK. DON'T DRINK sign of the Missouri Christian Association, circa 1948. The real danger here is sugar. Smoothies ($5) in any combination of six fruits are so rich you don't really need anything else for lunch. The mojito milkshake ($5) — listed as a "frappe" so you know you are in Boston — combines lime (mostly) and mint (a little) flavors into an entirely seductive zillion-calorie liquid. Only the fresh lemonade ($3.50) is convincingly sour. It's also smaller than other drinks.