Portland’s The Friendly Toast is the 10th branch for the regional mini-chain. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

I try not to compare restaurants, but since Portland’s outpost of The Friendly Toast is one of 10 (soon to be 11, once the Harvard Square location opens later this year), it’s hard to think of it as a singular entity.

My first encounter with this New England-based empire of casual, diner-esque spots was at the original location in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Technically, it’s not the true original, as that was across the water in Kittery in the early 1990s, where “the Toast” (as employees call it) kicked off with an abortive, yearlong false start before decamping for the Granite State.

I remember my visit well. It was 11:45 p.m., and I was both cranky and hungry after a cross-country drive. The Toast was the only restaurant open and was bustling with college students, a demographic that the first wave of Friendly Toasts targeted with precision, depositing franchises near universities like hotels on empty Monopoly properties.

Friendly Toasts were then, as they are now, garish. Neons and fluorescents are de rigeur, as is chrome, 1950s Formica furniture and kitschy advertising swag. The chain has always reminded me of the legendary (and sorely missed) Silly’s, with idiosyncratic sensibilities that extended from menu to interior design. Yet Silly’s seemed to come by its homespun kookiness effortlessly. The space was homey, sometimes a little grungy, a care-free extension of owner Colleen Kelley’s outsized personality.

If the current iteration of The Friendly Toast reads as more corporate, that’s because it is. In 2013, the group was purchased from its original owners and quickly began expanding in earnest – not to other college towns, but into suburbs and shopping malls. Today, all Toasts, including the one that opened last autumn on Fore Street, look similar, with their melamine dishes, retro vinyl upholstery and brand-compliant radioactive green walls.

Even the menus are standardized. For the best items, this is a bulwark against recipe drift that should be applauded. The Toast Classic Bloody ($12), for example, could be the inspiration for an entire menu of its own, with its pulpy tomato base, bracing slug of vodka and savory garnishes (green olive and pepperoncini). One sip made one of my guests purr, “Mmmm, it’s like a good gazpacho.” I wouldn’t change a thing.


Peach Perfect mimosa is made from peach liqueur, blood orange puree, agave and bubbles. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Nor would I tweak the sweet, musky peach-and-blood-orange mimosa ($13), the fair-trade Peet’s coffee ($4 for a bottomless cup) or the jumbo blueberry pancakes. At $14 for a stack of two frisbee-width, cream-enriched hotcakes, they’re not cheap, but they are well-prepared, dusted in powdered sugar and drizzled with Slopeside Vermont maple syrup – a vendor partnership that probably reads as local sourcing in some states, but like a snub in others.

I’m sure the owners and leadership of The Friendly Toast did not intend to suggest that there’s anything wrong with Maine maple syrup. I made a few attempts to contact them to ask but never received a response.

Perhaps that’s more brand compliance, as our server wasn’t big on listening and replying. Each time she visited the table long enough to take an order, she’d talk over us and at us, rarely pausing for a break.

Pride Pancakes for Pride Month at The Friendly Toast. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“Here you go! Crazy!” she bellowed as she set a towering stack in front of me. At the bottom: three funfetti-speckled pancakes topped in whipped cream and strips of sour ribbon candy. On top, a huge slice of rainbow-layered vanilla cake drooped like a creature recently washed ashore. “How’s that for Pride pancakes? Ha ha ha. Enjoy!” she added, walking away quickly as I surveyed my plate.

I had questions. I kept them to myself. I poured a little of the purple glitter maple syrup over the $17 dish and tasted the rainbow. It was OK. My guest, who ordered the blueberry pancakes, did too. “I think I like the boring ones better,” he said. “Not as sweet.” I agreed.

Appetize me, Captain! includes a sampling of several dishes. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

In keeping with the over-the-top theme that day, we also ordered a festive-sounding sampler of starters, the Appetize me, Captain! ($18). Again, I had questions. Who was the captain? Hook? Kirk? Tenille’s husband? I’d have asked the server, but she was talking at other customers.


Three menu items normally sold a la carte were part of the platter. Both the crisp, churro-style, deep-fried doughnut bites and the mammoth, cheese-filled, Sriracha-slathered tater tots were enjoyable. The tots, especially. But the rubbery egg roll stuffed to bursting with dry scrambled eggs and home fries deserves eternal banishment.

Huevos rancheros at The Friendly Toast. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Fortunately, The Friendly Toast’s slip-ups aren’t too common, and most are not conceptual but execution problems, like cooked-through yolks in the otherwise appealing Friendly Toast Benny ($15): a classic eggs Benedict dish made with New Hampshire ham, velvety Hollandaise sauce and a toasty English muffin. Or “corn flat” tortillas that soaked up so much chimichurri and pico de gallo that they turned limp and leathery as our order of huevos rancheros ($14.50) languished in the kitchen, waiting to be picked up.

And yet, despite it all, I’d go back. Yes, even for an “all day brunch” that ends at either 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon (normal brunch time, really). You can get better versions of most of The Friendly Toast’s dishes elsewhere, but there is something alluring about the restaurant’s unhinged tackiness, something goofy and nostalgic that persists, despite an ambiance that feels a touch too corporate. And with Silly’s gone for good, where else can a Portlander go for decent home fries and a side of harmless kitsch?

The Friendly Toast. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

WHERE: 211 Fore St., Portland. 207-536-1672. thefriendlytoast.com
SERVING: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday & Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers: $9-$15, Main dishes: $9-20
NOISE LEVEL: Pinball parlor
VEGETARIAN: Some dishes
RESERVATIONS: Online waiting list only
BAR: Beer, wine and cocktails

BOTTOM LINE: There’s a lot to like about The Friendly Toast in Portland, the 10th location of this quirky, retro diner-like brunch spot. Blueberry pancakes, New Hampshire ham and bacon, spicy tater tots stuffed with cheese, and a knockout bloody Mary are among this New England chain’s strongest dishes. Service and execution of some dishes are sometimes iffy, but it’s hard to argue with the visual appeal of a place that looks like the love child of Silly’s and a Johnny Rockets. Great for kids.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service, value and type of restaurant (a casual bistro will be judged as a casual bistro, an expensive upscale restaurant as such):


* Poor
** Fair
*** Good
**** Excellent
***** Extraordinary

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits each restaurant once; if the first meal was unsatisfactory, the reviewer returns for a second. The reviewer makes every attempt to dine anonymously and never accepts free food or drink.

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of five recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association.

Contact him at: andrewross.maine@gmail.com
Twitter: @AndrewRossME

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