Few foods remind us of our childhood as much as fluffy, thick french toast. On Saturday mornings when we'd been especially good lately, Mom would soak some leftover bread in thick, eggy batter and serve french toast piping hot with cinnamon sugar or maple syrup, depending on our mood. It was wonderful.
This week, we tested the french toast at two East Valley breakfast spots to see if either version comes close to Mom's.
In One Corner: Bacon
4175 N. Goldwater Blvd.
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
The cute little piggie on a Paul Frank bicycle sitting outside of this Scottsdale breakfast joint give you a good idea what their most popular foodstuff is: bacon. And sausage and ham and any other pork product. Inside, the place is part coffee bar and part dive-y diner, with a touch
of Cracker Barrel tossed in. Large half-round diner booths with checkered tablecloths are perched between homey country kitchen tables and modern high-tops with the most uncomfortable metal chairs we've sat in (seriously, avoid them if you can).
Sparely placed wooden geese and toy farm trucks add whimsy to the decor without being too kitschy, and the huge chalkboard near the open kitchen is always decorated with some fun tribute to the restaurant's food. Nothing says "VEGANS BEWARE" like a chalk drawing of a chicken, pig and cow tanning on the beach until they become fried eggs, bacon and steak, respectively.
Our french toast arrived in four super-thick triangles dusted with powdered sugar and served with a side of the pig product of our choice (we picked ham). A drizzle of raspberry compote completed the dish. As we bit into the bread, childhood memories came flooding back.
This is exactly how Mom used to make it. The toast was perfectly browned, with a sweet, rich taste and hints of vanilla and cinnamon. You couldn't taste the egg, which is how we prefer a sweet dish.
"Personally, I think it could use more cinnamon," said our dining companion. "But I like the raspberry compote. It's better than syrup."
We agreed. The cinnamon was so light that you could barely taste its presence. The inside of the french toast was overly dry, a common problem with thick french toast. The raspberry compote added a sweet, tangy zing, but wasn't enough to moisten the thick bread. It was either use the syrup or chase each mouthful with a drink (perhaps the restaurant's signature Bacon Bloody Mary?).
In the Other Corner: Crackers & Co. Cafe
1285 W. Elliot Rd.
Tempe, AZ 85284
Crackers started in the '80s as a mom-and-pop shop owned by Steve and Veronika Luko, and expended to two other eastside locations over the years. The Tempe restaurant, perched in the cursed space that housed a myriad of other eateries including a Guamanian joint, is clean and airy, with several dining rooms and a separate bar area with counter stools.
Walls are painted a rustic yellow-brown with a ragged finish. The decor is best described as "Sparse Italian Country," with chandeliers and a few paintings of a generic European countryside currently covered by Christmas kitsch.
We'd been to Crackers & Co. once before, but had never looked at the breakfast menu. We have to admit, the menu description alone of their Cinnamon Swirl French Toast was mouthwatering: "Three slices of thick cut cinnamon swirl bread, hand dipped in our vanilla custard batter, grilled and then sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and topped with honey butter."
A huge platter of french toast triangles arrived covered in a snowy haze of powdered sugar, with a mini ice cream scoop of butter on top. The bread was a thinner than Bacon's -- just slightly thicker than regular white bread -- but with a thick ribbon of cinnamon parading through it. As we cut off a bite, the bread started to fall apart. Turns out the bread was like a real cinnamon roll; long strips of dough brushed with cinnamon glaze before being rolled up and baked in a loaf.
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"It's like the egg-dipped version of pull-apart cinnamon rolls," remarked my dining companion. "The cinnamon is everywhere!"
Well, we did say we wanted more cinnamon. The toast was heavy and rich, the cinnamon permeating into every mouthful. There were also more subtle hints of sugar and vanilla. It wasn't Cinnabon sweet, even with the addition of the honey butter (which tasted more like a sweet plain butter), or gooey. But it definitely was moist. We daresay this french toast was an improvement on Mom's recipe....but shh, don't tell.
The Winner: Crackers & Co.