Caramelized or covered in fruit, French toast has surpassed the pancake as the Valley’s favorite b-fast fare.

Exquisite Pain

Written by Marilyn Hawkes Category: Three Bites Issue: December 2016
Group Free

310 S. Mill Ave., Tempe
Even though we call toast that’s been immersed in custard and griddled “French,” it turns out our favorite guilty pleasure breakfast probably didn’t originate in France at all. Reportedly, it dates back to fourth century Rome, pioneered by chefs as a practical use for stale bread. As unglamorous as that sounds, modern French toast is anything but stale. At Ncounter, the kitchen bakes cinnamon bread loaves daily for its Bananas Foster French ($7, pictured), a sinful feast of inch-thick bread topped with honey butter, sliced bananas and a house-made sauce fashioned from brown sugar, cinnamon, caramel, butter and Triple Sec, which soaks into the cinnamon-marbled bread, rendering maple syrup an unnecessary excess. The bananas are a “healthy” addition to a splurge-worthy day starter that’s made completely from scratch, with the exception of the powdered sugar sprinkled on top. “Everybody does French toast with strawberries or fruit,” says manager Daniel Grover. “This is a little more unique.”

Fàme Caffe
4700 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
Fàme owners Ivan and Maria O’Farrill put a different spin on their “Frenchie” toast ($8.50). Instead of going the traditional soft brioche route, Ivan uses slabs of chewy Noble country bread soaked in milk and egg custard infused with cinnamon, lemon zest and butter. After steeping the slices for an hour, Ivan bakes each piece for 30 minutes and griddles the bread to order. The happy outcome is French toast that’s crusty outside, moist inside and punched up with sourdough highlights from the bread. It comes with a ramekin of 100 percent Grade A Vermont maple syrup for dipping or drenching (no judgment). Ivan only makes a limited amount each day and customers have been known to “fight” over the last available order. Get there early.

Butters Pancakes & Café
Two Scottsdale locations
To make Butters Pancakes & Café’s six varieties of French toast, the kitchen uses thick-cut brioche made daily by a Tempe artisan baker who shall remain nameless at the behest of co-owner Chris Syregelas, lest the ravenous hordes squeeze his supply of the stuff. Customer favorites include a stuffed strawberry cheesecake toast ($9.50) split down the middle and filled with creamy Italian mascarpone cheese whipped with sugar and milk and layered with sliced fresh strawberries. The stuffed bread is then dipped in vanilla-scented custard batter, grilled until golden brown and topped with a heap of fresh strawberries. And if that’s not enough berries for you, the toast comes with a side of strawberry compote. Syregelas boasts that nothing at Butters comes out of a can: “I like to think of us as Four Seasons quality at a Denny’s price. Everything is house-made.”