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Toast serves gastro- pub fare like chicken and waffles Photo by Isaac Harrell
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Homemade doughnuts at Toast Photo by Isaac Harrell
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Shutter hang from the ceiling to absorb sound Photo by Isaac Harrell
Gastropubs, whatever food they serve, are hot.
Toast, billed as a "new American gastropub," opened in the Village Shopping Center in August 2012. Many serve cuisine with a nose-to-tail sensibility: You'll find chicken livers on toast, and headcheese alongside burgers and hand-cut fries. Using this definition then Toast is more of a gastro-bypass. West Enders should bypass chain eateries and hit up wallet-friendly Toast instead. They won't find bone marrow on the menu, but they will find burgers with applewood-smoked bacon, crispy sweet potato tots and suds-friendly dinner specials. Toast serves up an affordable oxymoron: adventurous comfort food, priced a little above drive-thru fare.
Toast runs the same menu for lunch and dinner, and the lines between starter and main courses are blurred. We start with fluffy, battered veggie polenta corn dogs with barbecue aïoli. It's a two-dog serving that also comes in a carnivore version, with homemade ketchup for a quick, nostalgic dip. We wish for less spiced ketchup, but hoover the honeyed aïoli. Cheesy seafood nachos with piles of crab and shrimp are a satisfying bar nibble. Flaky fish and chips with creamy Creole tartar complete our riff on upscale school lunch fare.
The restaurant's design, as well as its menu, accommodates a wide range of ages and tastes. Late night, the bar caters to the cocktail set. A rocking happy hour features discounted wine-on-tap and canned craft beer. One of the first restaurants in Richmond to jump on the wine-on-tap trend, Toast splashes Gotham Project wines into glasses or carafes from regulated kegs, guaranteeing a fresh pour served at the proper temperature.
At lunch, spacious booths are filled with diners of all ages nibbling on big salads or mackerel BLTs, discussing grandchildren or business deals or both. The room is lighter and brighter than during its stint as City Limit restaurant and has a repurposed vibe. Shutters are hung from the ceiling as sound absorbers, specials are handwritten on butcher paper by the host stand, and booths are a burled ash color, equally comfortable for singles seeking private conversation or for families jockeying car seats. Most days, the dining room is full, but the staff is adept at turning tables quickly without rushing guests. In fact, the service is the No. 1 reason that I'll go back.
No. 2 is a baby-friendly brunch.
At brunch, I count 10 children under the age of 2 in the dining room. Before singles decide that brunch at Toast is a no-go, they should be aware that they are the 10 best-behaved babies who ever brunched. Supplied with crayons by wait staff and accompanied by parents who'd rather eat at Toast than Shoney's, these kids are taken outside to calm down at the first whimper. I no longer feel apologetic for bringing my little one to a place where more guests are enjoying mimosas than straight-up orange juice in a sippy cup.
The best of our three dishes is the Chicken and the Egg, a heart-pounding platter of sausage gravy ladled over a fried chicken biscuit and a perfectly cooked, sunny-side-up egg. The Sunflower Seed Waffles are prettily drizzled with warm strawberries, but tough. Huevos Rancheros are tasty, but cold by the time they hit our table. Our server is fast and cheery, as is the entire staff, and the well-choreographed team service warms us.
We finish up with molten, honeyed, just-out-of-the-fryer doughnuts and a homey lemon mascarpone icebox cake and bask in the afterglow of a good coffee buzz. Sometimes rerouting via an inviting bypass is all that's needed to make the road less weary. Toast is a comfort station after an alternative route around fine dining and fast food. Culinary travelers know that inexpensive dining in a fun atmosphere makes for frequent fill-ups.
7007 Three Chopt Road, 525-4525, toastrva.com
Prices: Lunch and dinner $7 to $13; brunch $6 to $11
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday; 9:30 a.m. to midnight Saturday; 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.