To no one's surprise, Italians have a way with dough. The world would be a dark, dingy place were it not for their pizzas and pastas, but while most associate doughy Italian delicacies with dinnertime, their brunch offerings should not be overlooked. I can think of no better breakfast of champions than a heaping platter of cornetti followed by an egg-adorned pizza and a bombolini (or several). Such trappings can be had at Bar Toma, Tony Mantuano's mod Italian temple doing masterful, innovative things with dough at the brunch hour.
We need to talk about cornetti. First off, I am going to make the comparison between these croissant-like creations to cronuts, because I plan on referencing cronuts until Dominique Ansel rues the day he invented them. For the layperson, cornetti are Italy's answer to the croissant. They look similar in shape, but they're denser and breadier. They're firm enough to hold up to bold flavor infusions, such as chocolate, lemony ricotta, and cinnamon, a trifecta offered as part of a cornetti assortment ($5). God damn were these revelatory, especially when smeared with some of the adjoining Calabrian licorice butter, smoother and far less abrasive than most licorice we come to recognize and not at all like the Twizzler-flavored compound butter I feared it would be. For folks who desire a denser croissant minus the incessant, agonizing hype of a cronut, this is likely your next best bet. I'm just waiting and willing someone to chop them up and mix them with gelato.
Speaking of gelato, it makes a damn fine breakfast, especially when it's melting atop a plate of Nutella-filled crepes, aka crespelle con Nutella ($8). The crepes themselves are a sugar bomb of a dish, with the capacity to send you rolling out of the restaurant and directly into a food coma. Surprisingly, the smoked banana gelato has a counteracting effect and manages to temper some of that sweetness. The flavor is pretty astounding, as if someone roasted a piece of banana bread over a campfire and infused it into gelato.
You don't go to Bar Toma without ordering a pizza. I don't care what time of day it is. That would be tantamount to visiting Venice and not riding a gondola. The pizza uova e funghi ($16) is the perfect excuse to start your day with pizza. There's an egg oozing all over the top of it, so it's basically breakfast 101, with the added bonus of a killer pizza crust. At once doughy, chewy, and light, Bar Toma's pizza is made for brunching, an ideal foil for eggs, mushrooms, and mozzarella.
Likely the zaniest item on the brunch menu is Bar Toma's rendition of biscuits and gravy ($12). A far cry from your Americana biscuits and gravy, this beast veers in wild directions at every turn, from the substantial polenta biscuits to the espresso gravy studded with slider-sized chunks of Calabrese sausage. There's a fried egg in there somewhere too, but I hardly noticed it buried under all that heady gravy. Although the dish was approximately as heavy as an anvil, it has its merits. I applaud the efforts to put such a unique Italian spin on an American standby, and each element in and of itself is well-executed and thoughtful. Glad I can check "eat espresso gravy" off my bucket list.
Since it's best to finish a doughy brunch on a sweet note, bow out with a plate of doughnuts and coffee ($6). Sounds pedestrian, but rather than your cookie-cutter breakfast spread, these are assorted bombolini with a side of espresso sauce. The deep-fried rings possess a crackly exterior crust and a slim but airy interior. The espresso sauce was more like a white chocolate mocha latte sauce, but absurdly delicious nonetheless.
Whether they're baking pastries that could rival a cronut, infusing gelato with smoke, or vivifying a plate of polenta biscuits with espresso-laced gravy, Bar Toma deftly proves that Italy is not to be underestimated when it comes to crafty brunch fare.
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