Since the summer of 1999, Toast has provided Columbia students with a hip restaurant and bar alternative to the usual Heights and West End scene. So why don't more Columbia undergraduates know about it?
"It has to do partly with our location," said Tsuru Goto, the general manager of Toast, referring to the restaurant's uptown status. Located on Broadway between Tiemann Place and La Salle Street (think 125th Street if 125th didn't bank uptown west of Amsterdam), Toast is about a 15-minute walk from dorms like Watt and East Campus. This has given Toast a pretty specific clientele. "We have a lot of undergrads from the Manhattan School of Music and graduate students from Columbia, since they tend to live further uptown," Goto said.
Undergraduates shouldn't let the daunting possibility of walking more than five blocks away from the watchful gaze of Alma Mater keep them from checking out Toast. As a restaurant first, and a bar second, the place is never too rowdy to prevent you from hearing your dining partner's conversation, and you can still get a stiff drink or bottled beer to help wind down the evening.
Dishes range from traditional American choices, such as buffalo wings and cheeseburgers, to more eclectic options, like grilled chicken breast pasta and burgers topped with fried eggs and bacon. Vegetarians, have no fear. There are plenty of meat-free dishes, such as the portabello, eggplant, roasted peppers, and pesto sandwich served with fries or a salad, and a veggie burger served with chipotle mayo.
Goto weighed in on which dishes are favored by the regulars: "Burgers are always popular, but people always find their favorites at Toast. It's really weird, but usually the first thing you have here is the thing you get hooked on." Hooked? "You'll be in Staten Island and find yourself craving a turkey burger from Toast," Goto says. "People come from all over for the food here."
Toast has more in its favor than good food and a far-from-the-maddening-crowd locale. The simple decor is interesting yet not distracting. And depending on which direction you face, you can watch either the controlled chaos of the kitchen or the sunset out the window. And, with the bevy of Manhattan School of Music regulars, it's refreshing to mingle with students from the other schools that share Morningside Heights, which is so often thought of as exclusively Lions' territory.
"Not a lot of Columbia or Barnard students know about it. It's quiet," said Ashley Pope, BC '07. She said it gets busier on weekends but that there's usually a free table or spot at the bar.
The homey feel and square tables make Toast a better pick for groups of friends looking to relax than for couples wanting a romantic night on the town. However, pairs of lovebirds tend to drift in as the evening advances and the majority of diners are replaced by drinkers.
If you're worried about your safety when walking home from Toast, be sure to walk with a friend. Also, keep in mind that crimes tend to occur in desolate places like Morningside Park rather than on Broadway, which is well-lit and lined with stores and people. If nothing else, think of your evening stroll as a way to help burn off that grilled vegetable and goat cheese sandwich.
Tom Faure contributed to this article.