Curious Toast Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Curious Toast, a Unique New Concept in Albuquerque’s Downtown

Toasting makes me uncomfortable, but toast I love.
Never start the day without a good piece of toast.
In fact, let’s toast to toast.”
~George Costanza

You might think that only a short, stocky, slow witted bald man would live a life so mundane as to even consider making a toast to a good piece of toast.  That may have been the case even just a few years ago when many of us languished under the covers until the very last second then wolfed down a dry and uninspiring piece of toast while gulping a scalding cup of coffee.  With crumbs cascading down our chins and onto our button-down shirts, we rushed to our appointed rounds, destined to arrive at work two minutes after our designated start time.  Toast hadn’t sated our appetites and worse, contributed to our heartburn.

Since Eater designated 2015 as “the year of the avocado toast,” “gourmet toast” has been in an ascendency that’s finally caught up with Albuquerque.   It’s an idea whose time has come.  No longer should diners be satisfied with a cold pat of butter or cream cheese on no personality bread that’s already cool by the time it gets to your table.  We should be throwing open our windows and shouting “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more.”  Avocado toast showed that toasted bread can be tabula rasa, a blank slate upon which inventive chefs can showcase ingredients, flavors, textures and forms.  As a canvas, toast should be limited only by the chef’s imagination.

One of Curious Toast’s Unique “Dining Rooms”

But,” you might point out, “Army cooks have been preparing toast in a unique manner for years.”  Yes, but there’s a reason chipped beef on toast is universally reviled as “SOS” or “$hit on a shingle.”  No, my friends.  By gourmet toast, I’m talking premium ingredients, mashups of flavors that complement one another, spreads and toppings which make you wonder “why hasn’t this been done before.”  Could it be it hasn’t been done before in Albuquerque because we tend to be a bit behind the times when it comes to culinary trends?

Actually, the reason it hasn’t been done before in the Duke City is because all trends require a star-alignment convergence of timing, people and place.  The time is now.  The people are co-owners Victoria Van Dame and Chef David Ruiz.  The place is the Curious Toast Cafe, situated in a charming, nearly 120-year-old building on 718 Central, S.W. in Downtown Albuquerque.   The building stands out like a flower among weeds as one of the few stand-alone edifices in an area perpetually wrangling with revitalization.

Walls Festooned with Unique Art

Because both Victoria and Chef Ruiz are proud Downtown dwellers, they’ve got more than a vested business interest in seeing the area thrive culturally and economically.  Victoria is the “ring master” (executive director) of the New Mexican based non-profit OT Circus Art Gallery & Creative Space.  She also manages the S.H. Kress building in Downtown which operated as one of many S.H. Kress & Co. five-and-dime stores scattered across the country until the mid 20th Century.

Chef David Ruiz is as accomplished as any chef in the Land of Enchantment.  As you’ll read in a 2021 profile in Spiceology, a chef-owned spice company, Chef Ruiz is indefatigable, a whirling dervish of talent.  Not only did he recently open Curious Toast Cafe, the 2018 winner of the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project is  building out a new dining program at Vara Winery. The revealing Spiceology interview portrays a man dedicated to his craft, a perfectionist who climbed the ladder rung-by-rung to become one of the state’s best chefs. 

The Curious Toast Menu

As we sautered toward the stately building which houses the Curious Toast Cafe, we were greeted by Victoria who introduced herself and cooed over our deboair dachshund The Dude.  She told us she’s got a long-haired dachshund at home who could be The Dude’s twin (obviously a very handsome little guy).  She welcomed us to “the best cafe in New Mexico” and told us there’s “something for the dogs” on the menu.  That made The Dude very happy.

At first, second and third glance, the Curious Toast doesn’t look like your run-of-the-mill cafe.  If anything, it more closely resembles the converted home slash art space it is.  Curious Toast occupies only the first floor of the building and doesn’t have a conventional dining room.  You’ll place your order in the hallway bisecting the first floor then find a cozy, comfortable seat.  You’ll be surrounded by unique art and bric-a-brac.  We found a space next to a coffee table sporting a football from the 1999 NFL Pro Bowl.

The Elote on Country Bread

The current menu (Chef Ruiz already plans on revamping it with newly imagined creations) may well be the self-actualization of toast…toast being all it can be.  That menu is segmented into “Mornings” and “After Mornings” although items on both sections would be good at any time of day or night.  In addition to the ten toast items on those sections, the menu has a “sweet toast & things” section that features two “dessert” toasts.  A nice variety of coffees and teas are also available as is a refreshing and lip-pursing tart drink called the Sucker Punch.  It’s actually a dragon fruit lemonade, emphasis on the tart.

The special of the day during our inaugural visit was an Elote (my spellechecker insists the correct spelling is actually “elite” and this toast may well be that) toast.  It’s got virtually everything the street food version of elote has save for the messiness of eating it while you walk.  Atop a thick slice of fabulous toasted country bread procured from the nearby Downtown Growers Marker, you’ll find giant niblets of sweet corn, cotija cheese, lime juice and chile powder.  It’s better (and not nearly as messy) than having an elote on the cob.

The Van Dame on Mushroom

Victoria walked by as we were perusing the menu so I asked her to recommend something.  Without any hint of vanity or self-aggrandizement she recommended a toast named for her–the Van Dame (seasonal wild mushrooms, pickled tomatoes, lemon aioli, arugula on a baguette).  It was an outstanding choice.  If you’re as fond of fleshy fungi as your humble blogger is, you’ll appreciate this sophisticated toast.  Earthy and umami-rich, the mushrooms were swoon-worthy.  The pickled cherry tomatoes also stood out for their fresh, juicy texture.  

My Kim and I shared a dessert-like toast called the Fancy Face (whipped ricotta, poached strawberries, honey and mint).  So many good things piled atop a lightly toasted slab of the staff of life.   So many diverse flavor profiles: the creamy, slightly sour ricotta; the sweet and tart poached strawberries; the floral, exotic honey; and the sweet mint with its lingering coolness.  So much deliciousness atop one piece of toast.

Fancy Face

A lot of restaurants claim to be “dog-friendly.”  Typically that means you and your four-legged fur baby can sit out on the (often sun-drenched) patio where the noisy din and choking exhaust of the traffic detracts from your experience.  Not so at Curious Toast where your canine children can enjoy the dining room, too.  As welcome guests, they’re also not excluded from the menu where you’ll discover toast isn’t just a people treat.  Your best friend can enjoy a repast of Pup Toast (wheat bread, almond butter, blueberries).   The Dude certainly did. 

My thanks to photographer extraordinaire Bruce Terzes for having recommended the Curious Toast.  Like my Kim, Bruce is from Chicago where full Midwest breakfasts are standard fare.  He wasn’t sure toast would fully sate him, but in the short time Curious Toast has been open, he’s already made four visits.  His seating preference is on the front porch where you’ve got an unobstructed view of Route 66 just before the round-about.

Pup Toast

Toast–It’s not for breakfast anymore.  The Curious Toast Cafe has made it fashionable to enjoy toast for lunch and brunch, too.  With an inventive menu sure to broaden the appeal of what was once a boring way to start off the day, Curious Toast just may be the best part of waking up…even if it’s at 1PM.

Curious Toast Cafe
718 Central Avenue, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 737-7817
Facebook Page | Website
LATEST VISIT: 8 August 2021
COST: $$
BEST BET: The Elote, Vandame on Mushroom, Fancy Face, Pup Toast, Sucker Punch
REVIEW #1227

17 thoughts on “Curious Toast Cafe – Albuquerque, New Mexico

  1. Oh for crying out loud people. There are a couple of you that need to get a grip on it with respect to this review and some of the feedback.

    First of all, this is Gil’s blog where he reviews restaurants based on his opinion and taste. If he doesn’t like the food, believe me, it never makes the blog. If he’s willing to part with his money for a particular dish or type of food, that’s his business.

    By the same token, Gil accepts comments unless they’re just plain not socially acceptable. That means he gets it when some of us may not agree with his assessment of an eatery or its food.

    With respect to the feedback that some of us gave: We are not maligning the capability of Chef Ruiz. As a matter of fact, some of our comments acknowledged his accomplishments. With that said, we don’t have to love everything that any chef creates regardless of his or her credentials. In this case, our commentary is focused on the PRICE of the menu items based upon our own perceptions and opinions of the value of the product delivered and what we’re willing to spend. And yes, we’re all entitled to our own opinions. If we feel the pricing is too high, or we are just simply not enticed by the menu, then we’re not obligated to visit the restaurant before commenting based upon that criteria. Discerning readers will likely be able to figure that out for themselves.

    And here’s another takeaway: We’re not clones of Gil and he doesn’t expect anyone to fall in line with his personal opinions. We are, however, his good friends and we do enjoy the opportunity to disagree with him – and to needle him on occasion – without personally insulting him. It’s all in good humor and Gil gets that, too.

    1. Yes, this! I can’t believe the insults and controversy over an earnest review of an interesting space offering toast-based dishes. This town is losing its mind. Don’t we have bigger fish to fry right now… perhaps presented with a lemon-and-herb crema with asparagus over toast? Hold the bullets.

  2. How do you like it now Mr balding, stocky, slow witted Knowitall. Even your clone friends Becky and Thomas are slamming you on this review.

  3. Disclaimer: I am a fan of Curious Toast co-owner & chef – David. He has done some wonderful things, not just for the dining scene in Albuquerque but also for the community. I admire what he has accomplished and know that whatever the venue, whether as an Owner, Executive Chef or as a Consultant – he is putting in 1000% effort in the design and execution of his craft.

    Disclaimer 2: I am a fan of Gil, the New Mexico Gastronome. I’ve been following his blog and provided occasionally my own 2 cents worth since I arrived in New Mexico in 1995. I trust his objectivity and his opinions, and am entertained by his prose. I’ve not always agreed with some of his numeric ratings – but rarely have I been critical of a specific review and never have I made a negative comment about an establishment before making a visit or 2 myself.

    I’m a bit disappointed in the early comments to this review. As of this writing, only 2 of the people commenting (unless others did not disclose) have actually walked into the restaurant and tried the product.

    I suggest you do yourself a favor, and actually visit Curious Toast and sample the offerings before lamenting in a public forum that this is just overpriced toast and not worth the cost or effort to give them a chance.

    We are all entitled to our opinions – however these days I have a greater respect for informed opinions. We should all do our homework!

    Some of you might be surprised – as I was – at how satisfying an experience this is.

    At a minimum – be curious, go there to just soak in the ambiance of the space. You may not like the food or the prices – but you may just appreciate what Victoria and David are doing to make the downtown experience just a little bit better for all of us.

  4. I’ve hated toast ever since we had to evacuate RR5 at Intel because of burning toast at the bottom of a toaster and it was raining (the only rain all month and we were out standing in it). The fire alarm must have thought the burning toast was one of those offensive chemicals Corrales people are always whining about.

  5. I was stuck in traffic on Central the other day (certainly something I miss from last spring/summer/fall is there was WAAAY lighter traffic – too bad there was this thing called COVID going on at the same time, but I digress) and this allowed me to see this restaurant.

    I had to do a double take, to read that it indeed was called Curious Toast Cafe. I thought to myself, that’s a weird/dumb name for a restaurant. It NEVER occurred to me they would be specializing it TOAST! 🙂

    Looks interesting, and I do love me a good piece of toast (as I mentioned, a simple whole wheat with butter and I am good), but I’m not sure I could swallow (pun intended) paying $6 for toast…especially if I can get a burger for $8…or a fried chicken plate for $10…that being said, you never know when the mood will strike!

    1. Hah! This is pretty funny. Gil can be a bit stubborn (sorry, my friend!) and he wouldn’t admit it even if he was still hungry after eating his toast. I gave him some abuse when he told me he was going there. Truth be told, I think he might have a bit of a man crush on Chef Ruiz who, by all accounts, really is accomplished. But how else could you account for Gil’s willingness to shell out so much money for what is mostly “composed” food? I suppose they use quality ingredients but there’s not a lot of real cooking involved here. Most anyone could pretty much copy the menu with a quick trip to a decent supermarket for provisions.

      It’s nice that avocado toast finally made it to Albuquerque. It first appeared in the 1990s and became trendy around 2010, peaking in popularity in 2017. It’s no longer considered “cool” in most parts of the country – except at Dunkin Donuts where it wasn’t added to the menu until Spring 2021. Apparently, a few late bloomers have decided to capitalize on the concept and take it a bit further – which is fine but prices should be commensurate with the product. We’re talking toast here – even if it is a fancy pants version. It’s definitely not regular guy food but those prices are pretty challenging.

      1. Becky: I raise a toast to your analytical insight! It does appear to be a tad expensive for “composed food.” But I’m not sure a 2-for-1 promo would be mojo enough for me to seek decorated toast.

        Ruiz has done nice things at Vara Winery and Distillery and the last time I visited I enjoyed his tapa-inspired Sunday Brunch. That was before Covid and I’m wondering if he still directs food service there. Gil, do you know?

        I applaud creativity and taking risks but it would seem that decorated toast is the perfect culinary solution to no known culinary problem.

        1. Hi Tom: I love the “decorated toast” term! And I’m with you – I don’t think this is a long-awaited culinary breakthrough whose time has come – in Albuquerque or anywhere else.

          I heard that you finally tracked down rib tips. It’s too bad you had to go all the way to North Carolina to sate your craving. Maybe they’ll become available in the Albuquerque metro area by the time you get home. Now that would be a truly worthy accomplishment for some enterprising ‘que chef!

    1. I certainly won’t judge…I love a good piece of whole wheat with butter…that’s it. Can eat two slices no problem…four and I’ll call that breakfast…

  6. Alas, per the “benefit” of having married a California Girl [of Hermosa Beach], I had the pleasure of indulging in …way back in the last century of ABQ…the “Basic, Little Black Dress”[BLBD] of Avocado Toast…schmears of squished avocado on light (Sourdough) toast prepped with melted buttah, albeit the BLBD was often ‘quietly’ highlighted with ‘the simple strand of pearls’ ala Holly Golightly, i.e. crispy bacon! Hmm…must experiment with a sprinkle of Tajin next time!
    – “Obviously”, albeit per my quirks, ya can’t refer to toast without it bringing to mind how toasting adds to the flavor of a PB&J sandwich…cut on the diagonal…and with my required addition of Marshmallow Fluff.
    – Ooo Oooh! a reader misses out if s/he doesn’t go to the linkage for Bruce Terzes!
    – So nice to see the house, next to the former Capo’s, being so repurposed! 

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