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Every city has its local institutions—and small New England cities tend to be particularly devoted to their own. But hometown pride only partly explains the wild popularity of The Friendly Toast in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

There’s the décor: the bright red walls of this kitsched-out eatery are a veritable gallery of mid-century Americana, with plastic sculptures of Dick and Jane perched over the open kitchen, “Enjoy Life With Miller!” signs, and KFC-brand shades on the hanging lights. There’s the late-night schedule: open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, but 24 hours all weekend, never shutting its doors from Friday morning through Sunday night.

And then there’s the food. The Friendly Toast serves the most eclectic array of oddball diner fare I’ve ever seen (north of Shopsin’s). In true eatery style, the menu leans heavily towards breakfast and lunch offerings—thick pancakes and waffles, loaded-up omelets, unlikely egg scrambles, nine-ounce burgers, and house-made frappes (which non-New Englanders will, to the dismay of many locals, call milkshakes). And the dishes are as familiar, yet bizarre, as the knickknacks on the walls.

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Take the Green Eggs and Ham (sans box, fox, or lox). Two poached eggs are set atop a thick slice of baked ham on a base of anadama toast, and smothered with a tangy, creamy dill sauce. The cornmeal-molasses anadama, a bread unique to New England, provides a properly hearty base for the salty ham and gently oozing egg yolk.

While The Friendly Toast’s floppy Belgian waffles and chocolate-chip pancakes have their fans, some diners get much more creative—opting for Almond Joy Cakes with coconut, almonds, and chocolate chips, Elvis-inspired PB-and-chocolate pancakes with peanut butter in between, or pumpkin pancakes with embedded Raisinettes. (Whether they’re as promiscuous as Kenny Shopsin’s is an open question.)

Egg scrambles might come with jalapeno-spiked cheese, bacon, and red-chile pecans. The addictive Orleans Fries are sweet-potato specimens with brown sugar and Tabasco, served with sour cream to cool them down. Drinks include the Mojito Milkshake, with mint and lime juice (“Don’t think about it,” the menu entreats, “just try it!).

20090203toast.jpgAnd the diner’s namesake dish holds its own: whole wheat, cinnamon-raisin, anadama, and cayenne-cheddar breads are made in-house, cut into generous slices, and served warm and lightly browned, still fluffy in the middle. Whereas most toast is little more than a jelly or egg-yolk delivery service, this Friendly Toast isn’t just a side—it’s an event in itself.

The Friendly Toast

121 Congress Street, Portsmouth NH 03801 (map)
603-430-2154

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