As temperatures drop, cravings for warm and comforting brunch foods will almost certainly be on the rise. Pain perdu, or French toast, has a long-standing reputation of warming bellies. The creamy toast dish is traditionally made with eggs, milk, cinnamon and vanilla. In other words, it’s the perfect combination of fall flavors.
Chefs across Washington have recently been paying homage to the age-old dish by turning it on its head, often in ways that call back to the flavors of their childhood and culture. So grab a scarf and head out to try one (or all) of these creative spins on French toast.
At Tiger Fork in Blagden Alley, chef Nathan Beauchamp takes classic dishes from Hong Kong and adds fun, modern touches to them. For instance, the Hong Kong French toast replaces the usual sliced bread with bite-sized toast chunks that you can easily pick up with chopsticks.
Beauchamp discovered this way of making French toast during his travels through various Hong Kong cafes: The bread is stuffed with peanut butter and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. “We knew right away that we would put it on the menu,” Beauchamp says, adding that he loved how the peanut butter flavor paired with the crispiness of the French toast. “The batter is what makes it.” 922 N St. NW. $10.
The dinner menu at this waterfront hot spot is an expression of Mexican culture and cuisine from chef Roberto Santibañez — a mix of tacos, cocktails and such mains as carne asada and a Guajillo beef burger.
Mi Vida’s brunch menu features pan frances (French toast in Spanish), with a creamy banana flavor and a dollop of whipped cream on top. Grated orange finishes the dish and adds a punch of acidity to the otherwise indulgent toast, which is large enough to feed two. 98 District Sq. SW. $16.
With two locations (in Penn Quarter and West End), the award-winning Rasika serves such popular dishes as palak chaat and tandoori lamb chops, but even regulars may be surprised to find French toast on the brunch menu at West End.
Inspired by the chicken tikka masala is the chicken tikka French toast. In this savory interpretation of the dish, diced tandoori chicken is tossed in an onion and tomato masala with butter and cream, then sandwiched between sliced brioche before being cooked on a skillet. Curried coleslaw is served on the side. 1190 New Hampshire Ave. NW. $12.
At Shaw’s Espita Mezcaleria you won’t find traditional Mexican dishes. Instead, chef Robert Aikens adds a Mid-Atlantic spin to Oaxacan flavors. Espita’s new aptly named Churros + French toast features neighboring Seylou Bakery’s “Pennol Pullman” bread, a whole-wheat variety made with hickory syrup, that’s soaked overnight in a spiced sugar custard and topped with a blackberry compote, hazelnuts and the pièce de résistance — apple cider churros.
“I will always put a fun spin on certain ingredients using something local, seasonal and fresh,” Aikens says. “We have fall fruits in season now, hence using fresh apple cider to make the churros.” 1250 Ninth St. NW. $15.
Dupont Circle’s Agora serves Mediterranean cuisine from Turkey, Lebanon and Greece. The restaurant’s bottomless brunch ($38) includes not only unlimited drinks, but also all-you-can-eat dishes for two hours upon seating — the only caveat being that all guests seated at the table must participate in the deal.
Try the Mediterranean twist on French toast: the baklava French toast. Thick challah bread holds a syrup flavored with lemon, cinnamon and cloves, plus pistachios, fresh berries and whipped cream. Pair it with a cup of made-to-order Turkish coffee or, of course, some boozy beverages from the bottomless list, such as a classic bloody mary or mimosa. 1527 17th St. NW. $7.