Steven Woodburn

The toastie hits the comfort food trifecta with its crisp slices of bread, melted cheese centre, and overall nostalgic vibe. But while you may think of it as a childhood treat or the ideal late-night snack, the toastie is far from just a meal to indulge in at home.

More venues, in particular small bars, are adding toasties — or jaffles — to the menu. The uptake can be attributed to the ease of preparation, the lack of kitchen equipment (a chopping board and a frypan will do), and of course, the limitless options when it comes to the fillings chefs can experiment with.

Whether it’s a standalone order or an addition to another dish, the toastie is in the midst of a revival. Hospitality speaks to Alexis Georgiou from Lil Sis, Aaron Rothe from Bar Messenger, and Kieran Ferris from Bad Frankie to find out more.

Lil Sis in Sydney’s The Abercrombie has been serving toasties since the venue opened late last year. Head Chef Alexis Georgiou says the decision to add toasties to the menu came about due to convenience as well as the element of familiarity.

“We are limited with kitchen space, so it’s an ideal option,” he says. “Guests typically start with sliced meats and cheeses and the toastie works really well once they’ve had a couple of wines.”

The nostalgia that comes with toasties has inspired the range of fillings the chef has decided to run. “We look back and think of the flavours we enjoyed as kids and hope it brings up the same warm memories for our guests,” says Georgiou. Lil Sis toasties include Heinz spaghetti with cheddar (the most popular order); triple cheese; and pastrami on rye with Swiss cheese, pickles, and Russian dressing.

The Lil Sis team uses two different types of bread for the toasties. “The first is a sourdough tin, which is like a classic sliced white with a bit more flavour and it’s better quality,” says Georgiou. “The second is a rye tin, which is the best for the pastrami toastie.”

The bread is buttered on one side and placed in a jaffle maker butter-side down before slices of cheese and fillings are added. “We use good-quality cheddar and Swiss cheese,” says Georgiou. “On our triple-cheese toastie, we also use Taleggio because it has a strong and distinctive taste and complements the Italian-inspired menu.” The second piece of bread is then placed on top butter-side up and cooked for about three and a half to five minutes until it has turned golden brown in colour.

Toasties are also a fixture on the menu at Bar Messenger in Sydney. According to Venue Manager Aaron Rothe, toasties fall in line with the bar’s approachable concept. “We wanted our menu to be full of comfort foods and snacks,” he explains. “Easy bites while catching up with friends over an incredible bottle of wine.”

The toasties are one of the more substantial options on the menu, which also lists small share plates, salumi, and a selection of cheeses. “The toasties are more filling than say some olives or taramasalata,” says Rothe. “It’s also our only hot menu item.”

The practicality that comes with making toasties is also a plus for the small venue. “Toasties are great because they are easy to make and require very little equipment,” says Rothe. Being housed in the heritage-listed Transport House building also means a big kitchen was never an option. “Trying to add a kitchen is so difficult, so toasties allow us to improve our offering and add depth to the menu.”

Bar Messenger has created options with familiar flavour combinations including a classic grilled cheese with Gruyère, ricotta, and pecorino; mortadella with Gruyère and truffle mustard aioli; and Black Forest ham with Gruyère and caramelised onion.

“We look at the classics and what works well,” says Rothe. “We like to put our own quirks on them but keep them as comfort food.” Each toastie is served with house-made pickles and roasted garlic aioli on the plate.

Bread-wise, Rothe and his team opt for brioche from Sonoma Bakery. “It is soft and melts in your mouth and has a beautiful richness from the high butter content,” he says. The brioche is hand-sliced before being coated in ricotta on both sides and filled. “We use ricotta, pecorino, and Gruyère in our toasties. We use ricotta as it adds richness and creaminess while the Gruyère and the pecorino add sharpness and umami.” The toasties are then cooked on an eight-slice toaster until golden brown and the cheese is melted.

Over in Melbourne, Bad Frankie is known for its inventive and unique toasties they refer to as jaffles. Bad Frankie’s Kieran Ferris says the jaffle offering came about after the team was looking for something localised to add to the menu.

“We found there are limited offerings that are truly Australian, so while many countries have toasties, the jaffle is truly Australian.” Ferris says the versatility of the dish made it the perfect accompaniment to the venue’s wide selection of drinks. “Toasties are an anytime food and they are filling … but not so filling you won’t be able to finish it. I like that they can be shared and that you can have a hot, toasted jaffle within minutes of ordering.”

The Bad Frankie team takes inspiration from main meals rather than sticking with known filling combinations. “We draw on classic meals you would find at home or at the pub,” says Ferris. “[Meals] such as lasagne, snags with caramelised onions, or a vegan butter chicken.”

The Bad Frankie offering changes regularly, but the most Australian option has to be the jaffle version of a sausage sandwich which sees sausages teamed with honey caramelised onions, cheddar, tomato, and mustard. There’s also the Golden Katsu Kween with Japanese golden curry mix, and the Gimme Layers which is essentially lasagne in a jaffle.

Ferris says the Shroom jaffle has been a longstanding favourite with patrons, with garlic, red wine, and thyme mushrooms paired with Australian feta and mozzarella. The venue also releases special jaffles as part of the distillery of the month promotion and has a range of dessert-style jaffles, too.

While the Bad Frankie jaffle method is a trade secret, Ferris says chefs should never be shy with the butter. The venue’s jaffles are usually made with plain white bread or gluten-free bread for those with allergies, but sweeter options use brioche. On the cheese front, a combination of mozzarella, cheddar, and dairy-free options are the go- to.

“We use mozzarella cheese for its stretch and texture, cheddar where we want the sharpness and flavour it offers other fillings, and a vegan cheddar for our non-dairy patrons,” says Ferris.

Whether you go down the route of creativity or stick with nostalgic classics for fillings, toasties embody a sense of comfort that will see them remain a staple in the ever changing culinary landscape.