Most recent food crazes take old favorites like burgers and donuts and give them a modern, innovative twist. (Ramen burgers and cronuts, anyone?) Another food craze spreading across the US, however, may not feel quite so inventive.
It's toast, plain and simple. But it might cost you $4 or more.
Pacific Standard magazine writer John Gravois recently embarked on a journey across northern California to uncover what's behind the area's emerging toast craze. He notes that many small cafes in San Francisco and beyond have started selling pricey "artisanal toast" slathered with a variety of spreads:
There, between the two iPads that served as cash registers, was a small chalkboard that listed the day's toast menu. Everywhere the offerings were more or less the same: thick slices of good bread, square-shaped, topped with things like small-batch almond butter or apricot marmalade or sea salt.
The toast craze has attracted some criticism. Last summer a VentureBeat writer complained how $4 toast fad is symbolic of how wealthy "tech folks" are ruining the city.
Gravois, however, does a more serious and touching investigation of how toast suddenly became so trendy.
After trying several high-end toast eateries like The Mill, Gravois finally lands at what several San Francisco toast chefs consider the inspiration of the city's toast craze - a small coffee shop in San Francisco's Outer Sunset neighborhood called the Trouble Coffee & Coconut Club. The café has a few varieties of toast, such as honey and peanut butter toast. But its specialty is cinnamon toast, made with just bread, butter, cinnamon and sugar.
There, he meets 34-year-old owner Giulietta Carrelli, who explains how starting her own business and serving toast saved her life. Suffering from schizoaffective disorder - a brain disorder with features of both schizophrenia and bipolar disease - Carrelli needed something to ground her and give her life meaning.
She started Trouble with a $1,000 loan from a friend in 2007. Besides the coffee, Carrelli decided to focus her menu around coconuts, which she said is a great food for striking up conversations with strangers, and toast, which reminds her of growing up with her family in Cleveland. "We never had pie," Carrelli says. "Our American comfort food was cinnamon toast."
Opening up her popular café helped Carrelli clean up her life and stay grounded and focused, she told Pacific Standard.
Gravois predicts that the toast craze will spread to places like Brooklyn, Chicago and Los Angeles. But it appears it already has: New York Magazine's Grub Street points out that two New York restaurants - the Shakespeare and Bergen Hill-already have dedicated "toast menus."