There’s been a lot of talk about the toast(s) of this town.
San Francisco’s been abuzz over “four dollar toast”: blocks of artisan bread, warmed to a crisp, slathered in fancy toppings, and priced at a premium. Many welcome the trend with open arms, digging into its heartfelt history and seeking to replicate its careful craft. Still, others point their fingers and condemn the carbohydrates as gentrification incarnate. It’s an understandably polarizing topic with valid arguments on either side. Obviously, I had to taste test these toasts before coming to any conclusions.
I first stopped at The Mill for its incredibly soothing atmosphere and its insanely popular slice. The space is a collaboration between Four Barrel Coffee and Josey Baker, whose namesake bakery has risen to meteoric heights of fame on the San Francisco food scene. The tattooed, exuberant former teacher poured his heart and soul into a baking project (as documented at his adorable blog), and his passion has paid off enormously: new cookbook, new in-house flour mill, new adoring fan-base. Count me as one of those wooed by his warmth and magical way with wheat.
It makes sense that Josey has been singled out as a spokesperson for the city’s four dollar toast phenomenon, especially being that he offers a dedicated, daily menu. I chose the butter and honey toast on rosemary polenta bread — with a side of the housemade “Nutella,” just to be safe. The worker prepped my order studiously, popping a freshly sliced wedge of bread into one of the many stainless-steel toasters at the counter. It emerged gorgeously brown (even a tiny bit black with char), receiving a thick swipe of butter, drizzle of honey, and sprinkle of coarse sea salt before being served.
As might be expected, it was excellent: perfectly crisp exterior, tender center, salty-sweet spreads, a savory, herb-scented base. I, of course, adored the housemade Nutella spread, which tasted more intensely of bittersweet chocolate and hazelnut than its sugary inspiration. I decided that I’d happily fork over four bucks for such a special snack — but then again, I’m the kind of person who indulges in $8 desserts.
My research could not be complete without visiting the origin of the whole trend: Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club, an outpost located in the foggy Sunset district. Several years ago, troubled soul Giulietta Carrelli found solace by converting a garage space into a tiny shop. She built a community around a counter, selling only coffee, coconuts, and toast: items that sustained her through dark times and have now paved the way for peace and prosperity.
When I arrived on a weekday afternoon, the cafe was temporarily “shut” for spur-of-the-moment cleaning. That’s another thing — Trouble Coffee is not your traditional business. Giulietta and her family of workers hold the space sacred, operating on their own terms. I waited about ten minutes until the doors re-opened and walked into the intimate space; no photographs are permitted, though you can get a glimpse of the shop’s character through Yelp. Like The Mill, Trouble has sidewalk seating, but, instead of polished tables and chairs, theirs is fittingly outfitted with wildly beautiful tree trunks and unfinished wood.
There’s no menu, but the cashier kindly listed my options upon request and pointed me towards the cinnamon and butter toast. A few moments later, my bread was ready (bready?). The thick, pillowy slice, sourced from Just For You Cafe, was moderately crisp and wonderfully chewy, though I’ll admit I prefer Josey Baker’s more specialized loaves. In any case, I definitely enjoyed the treat — especially with its liberal dusting of cinnamon sugar, which melted seductively into the generous layer of butter. I might not necessarily spring for Trouble Coffee’s toast on a regular basis, but I certainly appreciated it.
… And so, my short-lived toast taste-testing adventures came to an end. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t yield any schema-shifting realizations. I’ve got nothing to say about four dollar toast and its meaning in the grander scheme of things. It’s bread. I liked it. I’d probably have it again. My true take-away? It’s worth a try, if only for the people, the stories, and the thought behind each slice.
736 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA 94117
Trouble Coffee and Coconut Club
4033 Judah St
San Francisco, CA 94122