You know an ingredient has made it into the food firmament when you can buy cute storage devices for it in the supermarket.
I’m talking about those green avocado keepers that you put your avocado half in to keep it from going (too) brown. It’s shaped like an avocado, has room for the giant seed inside and even has a little strap to tuck it in.
And you know a dish has made it into food folklore when it can simultaneously spark debate, divide opinion, manifest fondness and small children know what it is.
I’m talking about smashed avocado on toast.
This dish, now capable of raising cultural warfare over millennial indulgences, baby boomer bias and housing affordability, meant something very different when it appeared on menus back in the 1990s. Largely credited to restaurateur and chef Bill Granger for first selling the dish, avocado and toast has now become a classic. Like bacon and eggs.
Whether it’s served with crumbled feta, drizzled with balsamic, chopped up with fresh herbs or flying solo with a sprinkle of salt, Newcastle’s cafes are happily on the smashed avocado breakfast bandwagon. And it’s because diners love it.
“It’s super popular,” says Graham Sincock, co-owner (with Shane Brunt) and chef at Moor in Newcastle East, where they serve it with Burraduc Buffalo feta, eggs from Just Been Laid and Baked Uprising sourdough. “It’s probably our most popular dish for breakfast. I reckon of what I’ve sold today, 40 per cent was avocado on toast.”
That’s because avo on toast is fresh and fun. Back in the ‘90s it represented a new wave of dining. Going out for breakfast wasn’t hugely embraced before Granger smooshed the green stuff on toast - power lunches and dinner dates were the bread and butter of the food industry. But the cafe scene got smart, realising that people drink coffee and it made good business sense to serve food with those morning caffeine hits.
Eating breakfast out began to represent an economy with cash to spare (rebounding after the hardships of the 1987 crash), a society with the inclination to indulge, and a rising awareness of nutrition.
Just like your grandmother told you, breakfast became the most important meal of the day all over again. Avocado on toast was a seen as a healthy, well-rounded option.
“It’s a great breakfast. You can’t deny it’s appeal,” Sincock says. “The richness of the egg, the toast and then the avocado carries the lot of it.”
Enter the breakfast zeitgeist - truly established by the 2000s - and now you’ll rarely find a morning menu without avocado and toast in some form. It’s been embraced by celebrity and chef alike: Nigella copped derision when she included it as a ‘recipe’ in one of her cooking shows.
Gwyneth Paltrow can’t sing its praises enough as her “go-to” healthy hunger fix. They are power pods of what’s classed as “good” fat, of vitamins C and E and have been shown to be good for your heart. They are the smart alternative for spreading on toast or for churning into guacamole for a snack. Heck, you can even use it as a substitute to make chocolate mousse.
The Australian avocado industry took form in the 1960s (although the first avocado seed was planted in Sydney in 1840). Due to our diverse climate, homegrown avocados are available year round.
Australians have grown to love this Central American berry in epic proportions with consumption rising rapidly over the past decade. I’m not sure when the smashing began – it’s a textural thing and it allows the avocado to better fuse with the toast, rather than “draping” it on with risk of it sliding off when you take a bite.
Have we had peak smashed avo? Probably yes. The hype has died down, leaving the way for it to become something comfortable, something that’s part of the Australian Way.
“It’s going to be around for a while. That’s because it’s good … it’s more than phase,” Sincock says.
Although the NSW North Coast is well known for avocados, you don’t have to drive that far to get fresh avocado – they are grown in the Hunter. Sincock says the Sandy Hills Avocado Farm season - where they source their avocados from - is in full swing and will probably run for another four months.
“We love avocado. It’s so versatile. We try to use it whenever we can. Now is when it sings as it’s in season,” he said.
To see how our cafes were embracing smashed avo on toast, I ate my way around as many local menus as I could in search of the best renditions. And while this list is not exhaustive (even I can’t eat that much avocado without getting smash fatigue), the eateries included are there because they have been genuine to their kitchen style, as well as the dish itself, but have presented it with flair and care.
Five of the best
HuBro, Bar Beach, $12. While this Bar Beach hangout seems more popular with takeaways and its serious focus on coffee, there is good food to be had too. The avocado is technically sliced, then smashed, but it’s avocado on toast and it’s delicious. Hot, thick, nutty sourdough, plenty of avocado and delicate crumbles of salty feta are loaded onto each piece of toast. The point of difference here is the sprinkling of dried oregano and drizzles of honey - the sweetness really works. You get a lot for your buck with two big pieces. If you prefer savoury all the way, there’s always the lemon and paprika option, but seriously, choose the honey version. So very pretty and very tasty at a great price.
Moor, Newcastle East, $19. Starting with a bang this is a great adaptation served with two pieces of toast and two poached eggs. The whole plate is sprinkled with dukkah, baby coriander, crumbles of creamy, salty Burraduc feta, with a wedge of lemon on the side. The local avocado is well smooshed. The overall effect is luscious, but with nice contrasts from the dukkah and feta. The presentation is pretty and the toast is a winner as it doesn’t hurt my mouth with a crust that’s too crusty. You can taste the sourness of the sourdough and the eggs are cooked with the requisite goo. I love that Moor keeps its African flavours with the dukkah and coriander. A big plate with big flavours.
The Locale, New Lambton , $16.50. A more traditional version, but hey, if it ain’t broke? Add some Black Forest bacon, smoked salmon or a poached egg if you wish, but there’s no need to improve when the original is so good. A lovely chewy piece of sourdough toast has loads of creamy ‘cado on top. Perfectly placed cherry tomatoes and feta adorn, with pretty sprinkles of mixed seeds. Curly snow pea tendrils act as a crown with drizzles of balsamic glaze for sparkle. A well-rounded contender.
One Penny Black, Newcastle Mall, $18. Featuring two big pieces of chewy sourdough which aren’t too harsh on the palate, there is plenty of avocado to smother both slices. The toast comes with creamy Binnorie feta, which isn’t super salty - it’s gentle to match the star ingredient. Dressed greens and cherry tomatoes add colour and freshness. A generous drizzle of balsamic glaze is sticky and sweet. You can add an egg or salmon or anything else. A great combination of classic elements presented in proportion, this one is hard to beat.
Seraphine Café @ MRAG, Maitland, $18. Technically this is on the menu as crushed avocado on muffins, but tomayto-tomato. Though the piles of perfectly ripe avocado is the star attraction, this version has taken the dish into new territory. Feta, sweet plump semi-dried tomatoes and salty crispy kale are delicious co-stars. With an array of seeds for texture and flavour, this is as artistic as it is yummy. It’s smashed avocado nouveau.
Cirque, Newcastle, $15.90. The individual touch here is the Vegemite. The butter has melted nicely on the toast, with a solid smear of Vegemite to counterbalance the creamy avocado. This is No Frills smashed avo - no sprinkles, spices, no micro herbs.
Wickham Boat Shed, Wickham, $18.90. Two large pieces of toast and lots of smashed avocado - what more do you want? How about sweet bursting cherry tomato halves, drizzles of balsamic vinegar and lots of nuts and seeds, along with torn creamy mozzarella. Add a chopped spring onion and poppy seeds. It’s pretty, bright and light.
Corner House Cafe, Cooks Hill, $12.50. Start with two great pieces of toast - not too thin, not too thick, warm but maintaining crunch, the right amount of chew and a nutty flavour. There is plenty of avocado smooshed on top with chunks of creamy marinated goat’s feta that doesn’t overpower; little red veined sorrel leaves and black sesame seeds are sprinkled, a pile of rocket and lemon wedge accompanies. The thoughtful touch is the dried chilli flakes - served to the side so you can heat to your liking. A good size for the price too.
Rolador, Hamilton, $14.50. Rolador’s take on the smash takes it to the outer limits. Chunky pumpkin, spinach and polenta loaf is toasted and topped with mushed avocado and served with fresh tomato salsa full of capsicum, onion and herbs. A swirl of balsamic glaze adds sweetness. It’s been on the menu here for years and rightly so.
Three Monkeys, Darby Street, $19. Two massive elliptical pieces of sourdough are served with ample avo that is spread right to the edges. Punchy crumbles of feta add that hit of salt. Good gooey poachies turn this into a big meal, easily big enough for two. Wilted spinach and grilled lime to squeeze over the lot is a nice touch. A blob of beetroot hummus adds colour and sweetness. You just want to pick this up and scoff.
(Note: these dishes were on the menu at the time of my visit. They may have been altered since.)