Serious Eats digs into pancakes around the world.
Opening a restaurant’s second location is like making a movie sequel. It should capture the feel, the look, and the ambience of the original—faithfully recreating everything that made it a hit in the first place. But it should also bring something else to the table. Move the story along.
The Friendly Toast, just opened on Sunday (May 17) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, does so admirably. It’s hard to replicate the success of a local institution. Up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the original Friendly Toast has earned lines out the door since 1994 for its mammoth pancakes, crazy egg dishes, and over-the-top kitschy décor.
But from an airy space in Kendall Square, the owners have crafted a second Crayola-hued temple of fantastically tacky Americana—neon signs, plastic cow heads, smiling Sunbeam girls, and all. The funky diner translates well to quirky Cambridge; the spacious dining room was packed, even at 10 a.m. on opening day.
Only an hour from Portsmouth, the Friendly Toast shipped down a sizable chunk of its staff to open the second restaurant: New Hampshire cooks training their Cambridge counterparts, waiters and even busboys from the original location, and owner Jason out on the floor, running the show.
The owners recreate the Friendly Toast character with remarkable success. Portsmouth patrons will recognize the plastic straw mugs and cartoon-covered menus. A soundtrack of doo-wop jukebox hits, occasionally straying into Zeppelin territory, livens up the dining room. Friendly tattooed waiters? Check. Bottomless coffee? Check. Menu favorites like Orleans brown-sugared sweet potato fries and Green Eggs and Ham? All there.
While the full Portsmouth menu will soon be available, the current five-page edition leaves plenty to peruse. Their famous Almond Joy Cakes make an appearance, as do M&M and Heath Bar pancakes. The Heath Bar pancakes ($4.50 for one, $6.50 for two) were a sweet tooth’s dream: a thin, buttery flatcake with scattered chunks of candy, the chocolate melting into the pancake batter, the naked toffee bits staying intact for a satisfying crunch. And enormous—pat of butter shown for scale.
The Drunkard’s French Toast ($6.50 for one piece, $9 for two) came smothered in a boozy raspberry-Grand Marnier sauce. In many French toasts, the butter-fried, batter-drowned bread base almost liquefies—but the oatmeal bread in this version kept its integrity. Given the quality of Friendly Toast's homemade loaves, that’s a good thing. And the drunken sauce strikes the right balance of breakfast-sweet, raspberry-tart, and liquor-strong. In Massachusetts, it’s the strongest drink you’ll get before noon on a Sunday.
The Friendly Toast puts a wacky spin on nearly every dish it touches, and the Huevos Rancheros ($9.75) are no exception. Two poached eggs sit atop a bed of cheese-smothered anadama bread, with guacamole and salsa lending the requisite Mexican kick. Traditional? No—but it works. The hearty cornmeal-molasses anadama, under a blanket of sharp cheddar, is a gutsy base for the mountain of fresh avocado and runny poached eggs it supports. Best of all is the house-made salsa, more tangy than spicy, but fresh and piquant.
The only problem is that the slightly sweet anadama bread, my favorite part of the Friendly Toast, gets lost in the pile. Better to order another side—thick-sliced, oven-toasted, and swimming in butter ($2). It’s the kind of extra that gets finished even when no one thinks they have room.
Kitsch-covered walls, whimsical menu, top-notch food—it’s clear that the spirit of the Friendly Toast has survived the move intact. The only difference was in the crowd: grizzled small-town regulars swapped out for happy groups of twenty-somethings. That’s where the Friendly Toast’s story moves on. Though beloved in Portsmouth, the original diner is still a local establishment—whereas down in Cambridge, its offbeat enthusiasm appealing to young urbanites just as to New Hampshire locals, it can draw from a much wider crowd.
And if Sunday morning was any indication, it will. Though most diners are willing to be a bit more lenient on opening day, the Friendly Toast needed no concessions—from critics, or from anyone else. This diner hit the ground running.
The Friendly Toast
1 Kendall Square, Cambridge MA 02141 (map) 617-621-1200