Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Raise a glass to Toast

The place hasn't even opened yet and I'm already a bit smitten. I was instantly charmed the moment I walked in the door. Toast, a new wine bar in the Gordon Square arts district, on West 65th Street, revives a 1913 building, formerly a bakery and home, that has been empty for the past 30 years.

You enter into what was once the baker's living room. One dining area has a window seat and built-in, glass-fronted china cabinets. The original kitchen is a private tasting room complete with the old wooden cupboards. The former storefront on the lower level is now filled with long tables for communal seating and cool light fixtures have been formed by coiling metal bands from wine barrels. The bar, positioned where bread was once kneaded and cakes frosted, is made from salvaged wood topped with acid-stressed zinc. The wall behind it features wine bottles set in cement and bricks emblazoned with names of various locations throughout the city: Buckeye, Collinwood, Cleveland.

Owner Jillian Davis — an attorney, food and wine enthusiast, and now building rescuer — contacted the last baker that worked here and brought him in for a look around. The elderly man revealed that the 12-foot troughs she found on-site had been his flour bins. Now they'll become tables, filled with corks and topped with glass.

My tour guides were chefs Jennifer Plank and Joe Horvath. Partners in life, they'll run the food side of Toast together.  Energy and enthusiasm for this project was written all over their smiling faces and apparent in the description of this grand adventure they are about to undertake. The couple had left their jobs with Jonathon Sawyer at The Greenhouse Tavern and Noodlecat intending to move to the country and farm. But an introduction and a few conversations with Jillian put them on a different path. They will still be fulfilling their desire to live the aggie life. The couple plan to raise chickens and grow vegetables in a double lot across the street from the restaurant. Talk about fresh and local.

The look and the scale of the place, and stories such as these just stole my heart. I also like the the trio's intent to create an unpretentious neighborhood hangout where people can enjoy unusual wines, well made cocktails and small plates. Plank and Horvath plan to source locally and feature the best of whatever's available seasonally; do their own pickling, smoking and curing; and combine their formal, classical training with a world's worth of flavors and styles. Everything will be sized for sampling and plated to encourage swapping and sharing. Wines will be from the new world and the old and food-friendly with at least 10 available by the glass nightly. Tonic and bitters will be made in house. Expect a mix of classic cocktails, some pre-Prohibition drinks, and a few new twists on old favorites

Toast is scheduled to open next Wednesday, April 17, and I look forward to enjoying all it has to offer very soon. This venture is full of promise. Here's wishing them well.

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