Cambridge/Somerville is the AL East of New England brunch. There are titans like East Coast Grill (maybe the greatest brunch ever), the Neighborhood, the Blue Room, City Girl Cafe, Henrietta’s Table, and on and on. Not to mention the mediocre-yet-popular S&S, its jazzy sidekick, Ryles, and Brookline Lunch.
Now an expansion team has been thrown into the mix – beloved Portsmouth, NH, diner The Friendly Toast [official site, Yelp] has opened a new Cambridge location in Kendall Square. For these young upstarts, the future is uncertain – will they achieve near-instant success, or wallow for years in a constant state of epic fail? On Sunday, I went with Sophie – senior TLOS food critic / high quality baked goods expert – to find out.
The Friendly Toast has 150 seats and a full bar. Its retro-1950s-diner-meets-Spencer’s-Gifts decor (Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew book covers + Garbage Pail Kids-style novelty ads) is bit much, but it gives you plenty to look at. A sign on the door urged patience as they trained 37 new employees at once. The staff did look kind of frazzled – the place was packed and buzzing with a new restaurant hysteria. There was a 45 minute wait, so we ordered coffees and drank them outside before snatching up two seats in the first come first serve bar area.
The menu stated only two-thirds of the usual items were featured due to training issues, but we weren’t short on options. I ordered the Costa Rican (“black beans & plum tomatoes under melted smoked provolone; 2 sunny eggs and sour cream on top with homefries and homemade toast”). It was tasty, but nothing soul-shattering. The best part, unsurprisingly, was the wheat toast – two obscenely thick slices, crisp on the outside and warm on the inside. Sophie had the Belgian waffle; it was delicious, but pretty much standard fare. We had a few critiques – my eggs came sunny side up when I had specifically ordered over medium!! and the strawberries on the waffle were half frozen – but no deal breakers.
The Verdict: The Friendly Toast has no control over how biased I am, brunch-wise, towards East Coast Grill and City Girl Cafe. But non-IHOP diners serving breakfast all day are something that Boston – hell, the world – could always use more of. While we weren’t exactly blown away last Sunday, TLOS thinks the Friendly Toast has a quirky charm (and a perfect location), and that once they work out the kinks, they’ll be a player in Cambridge/Somerville breakfast scene for years to come.
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