While the name suggests a French origin, various iterations of French toast have been created around the world for centuries. The earliest known reference to the dish is in a collection of recipes from the Roman Empire called the Apicius, thought to have been compiled in the first century. The simple recipe, described in the Apicius as “aliter dulcia” (“another sweet dish”), involved breaking white bread into large pieces, soaking the bread in a mixture of milk and beaten eggs, frying it in oil and then covering the golden creation with honey.
Similar recipes that sought to make use of stale bread appeared in 14th century Germany as “Arme Ritter” (“poor knight”) and, around the same time, in an influential French cookbook, Le Viandier, as “tostées dorées,” or “golden toasts.” Today, the French call the dish “pain perdu” (“lost bread”), the Germans still call it “Arme Ritter” (several Nordic countries also call it “poor knights” in their languages), the Spanish call it “torrija” and the Portuguese call it “rabanadas.”
So how exactly did French toast get the name “French Toast” in the U.S.? Is there anything French about the toast? Well, nobody knows for sure. There are several origin stories and legends — according to one of them, a chef called Joseph French came up with his own version of the dish in Albany, NY, in 1724. Failing to use an apostrophe, he named his culinary invention “French toast,” rather than “French’s toast.”
A more likely scenario, however, is that the name French toast was first used in England in the 17th century (perhaps the British picked up the recipe on a trip across the channel) and then crossed the Atlantic ocean to America with the early settlers.
Whatever the name and no matter the origin of the dish we like to call French toast, making good use of stale bread continues to produce delicious results: a sweet, eggy, golden dish fit for a fancy brunch or last-minute breakfast for the kids.
If you’re craving this breakfast of champions or would like to to celebrate National French Toast Day (Nov. 28) in style, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite spots for digging into this dish.
Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know in the comments!
Crepevine, Santa Rosa, French Toast La Suisse ($11.50): Homemade French white bread dipped in a yogurt-vanilla egg batter and served with cinnamon and powdered sugar. Also great: French Toast Parisienne ($11.95): Cinnamon raisin bread dipped in a yogurt-vanilla egg batter served with cinnamon and powdered sugar. 740 Farmers Lane, Santa Rosa, crepevine.com
Dierk’s Parkside Cafe, Santa Rosa, French Bread French Toast ($9.95): Four slices of baguette dipped in an egg and cinnamon batter. Also great: Pumpkin Cinnamon Roll French Toast ($17) topped with berries, raspberry sauce and whipped cream; comes with two eggs and choice of meat. 404 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa, 707-573-5955, dierksparkside.com
Jeffrey’s Hillside Cafe, Santa Rosa, Sticky Bun French Toast ($11.95): Topped with pecans, brown sugar and cream and served with fresh fruit. 2901 4th St., Santa Rosa, 707-546-6317, jeffreyshillsidecafe.com. (Sven R./Yelp)
Omelette Express, Santa Rosa and Windsor, French Toast ($11.25): Deliciously griddled French toast topped with cinnamon. 112 4th St., Santa Rosa, 707-525-1690; 150 Windsor River Rd., Windsor 707-838-6920, omeletteexpress.com
Piner Cafe, Santa Rosa, Stuffed French Toast ($13.45): Four half slices of French toast stuffed with seasonal berries and dusted with powdered sugar. Also great: Walnut Cinnamon French Toast ($13.45) and Raisin Bread French Toast ($11.60). 975 Piner Rd, Santa Rosa, pinercafe.com
Pepper’s Cafe, Rohnert Park, Cinnamon French Toast ($10.95): Thick slices of French toast grilled to a golden brown and served with whipped butter and syrup. Also great: Banana Caramel French Toast ($12.50): Decadent caramel-coated French toast topped with whipped cream and syrup on the side. 1451 Southwest Blvd. Suite 123, Rohnert Park, 707-664-5601.
The Twins Restaurant, Cotati, French Toast ($11): Three pieces of Texas toast topped with brandy sauce and fresh blueberries. 572 E. Cotati Ave., Cotati, 707-242-3075, thetwinsrestaurant.com
Cafe Bellini, Petaluma, Creme Brûlée French Toast ($12): Thick sliced French bread with mascarpone cheese, powdered sugar, berries and maple syrup. 100 S. McDowell Blvd., Petaluma, 707-774-6160, thecafebellini.com
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Pub Republic, Petaluma, Crispy Fried Chicken & French Toast ($18): Egg-battered Texas toast, buttermilk-fried chicken breast, crispy bacon and bourbon maple syrup. Take note that the French toast is a weekend brunch treat served on Saturdays and Sundays only. 3120 Lakeville Highway, Petaluma, 707-782-9090, pubrepublicusa.com
Sax’s Joint, Petaluma, TT’s Famous French Toast ($11): Sourdough French bread dipped in egg batter and fried in cinnamon and sugar, then topped with marionberry cream cheese. Also great: French Toast ($11): Extra thick slices of locally-made Cinnamon Challah bread; and Little P (aka Patricia’s favorite; $7): Sourdough French Toast with two eggs, bacon or sausage. The portions are huge, so bring an appetite. 317 Petaluma Blvd S, Petaluma, 707-559-3021, saxsjoint.com.
Skillets Cafe, Windsor, Jumbo French Toast ($10.99): Thick slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar. Also great: Cinnamon French Toast Special ($12.99): Cinnamon-laced French toast with two eggs and choice of sausage or bacon. 8776 Lakewood Dr., Windsor, 707-657-7599, facebook.com/skilletscafewindsor
Costeaux French Bakery & Cafe, Healdsburg, Pain Perdu ($14): Thick slices of house-made cinnamon walnut bread topped with strawberries and pure Vermont maple syrup. 417 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-1913, costeaux.com
The Parish Cafe, Healdsburg, Bananas Foster Pain Perdu ($13): Served with fresh bananas, pecans and maple bourbon sauce. 60 Mill St., Healdsburg, 707-431-8474, theparishcafe.com
Basque Boulangerie Cafe, Sonoma, French Toast ($10.50): Served with strawberry compote, whipped cream and toasted almonds. 460 1st St. E., Sonoma, 707-935-7687, basqueboulangerie.com
Creekside Cafe, Sonoma, French Toast ($9.95): Crispy sourdough French toast coated in cornflakes. 239 Boyes Blvd, Sonoma, 707-996-8062.
Willow Wood Market Cafe, Graton, Challah French Toast ($14.50): Challah French toast with Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream butter, toasted pecans, pure maple syrup, fresh fruit garnish and powdered sugar. 9020 Graton Rd., Graton, 707-823-0233, willowwoodgraton.com
Fork Roadhouse, Sebastopol, French Toast of the Day ($13): House-baked bread pudding of the day griddled and served with organic maple syrup. 9890 Bodega Highway, Sebastopol, 707-634-7575, forkcatering.com
Gypsy Cafe, Sebastopol, Salted Caramel French Toast ($13.50): Three slices of sourdough French toast with a salted caramel sauce, whipped cream and toasted pecans. 162 N Main St., Sebastopol, 707-861-3825, gypsy-cafe.com
Sebastopol Sunshine Cafe, Sebastopol, Texas Style Thick-Cut French Toast, $10.99: Topped with whipped cream and comes with choice of bananas, strawberries or blueberries. Also great: Texas Style Coconut French Toast ($9.49): Topped with whipped cream and coconut flakes. 124 S. Main St., Sebastopol, 707-827-3935, sebastopolsunshinecafe.com
Russian River Pub, Forestville, Homemade Bread Pudding French Toast ($11.95): A weekend brunch special, this French toast is topped with fresh fruit compote, powdered sugar and maple syrup. 11829 River Road, Forestville, 707-887-7932, russianriverpub.com
Howard Station Cafe, Occidental, French Toast ($10): Texas toast in a special egg batter, mixed with vanilla and a pinch of orange zest, grilled to a golden brown and topped with powdered sugar. 3611 Bohemian Highway, Occidental, 707-874-2838, howardstationcafe.com
Northwood Restaurant at the Golf Club, Monte Rio, Stuffed Pumpkin French Toast ($13.45): Post-golf fuel topped with berries. Also great: Sourdough French Toast ($11.95) and Raisin Bread French Toast ($10.85), 19400 CA-116, Monte Rio, 707-865-2454, northwoodgolf.com
Cape Fear Cafe, Duncans Mills, Panhandle French Toast ($11.95): Classic French toast with cinnamon, vanilla, powdered sugar and maple butter. 25191 Main St., Duncans Mills, 707-865-9246, capefearcafe.net
Estero Cafe, Valley Ford, Sourdough French Toast ($15): Thick-cut slices of Red Bird Bakery pullman loaf soaked in rich custard and topped with fresh whipped cream, seasonal fruit and homemade vanilla cider maple syrup. 14450 CA-1, Valley Ford, 707-876-3333, esterocafe.com
Drakes Sonoma Coast, Bodega Bay, James Beard’s French Toast ($14): Seasoned buttermilk batter with a crunchy cornflake crust, maple syrup and berry compote. 103 Coast Highway 1, Bodega Bay, 707-917-0567, drakesbodegabay.com