Lake Norman Magazine

Cooking with Brian Burchill

Strawberry Cream Cheese French Toast.
Strawberry Cream Cheese French Toast. T.Ortega Gaines

Some traditional Valentine’s rituals can seem a little silly. (Well, except that part about diamonds. Nothing silly there, honey.) But a romantic breakfast? Great idea. February may be about warm hearts, but it’s still one of the coldest months of the year. Brian Burchill is a man who seriously loves breakfast. After a restaurant career that took him all over New York, including running restaurants for Eli Zabar, Burchill headed south when he was ready to open his own place. And he embraced breakfast with his Toast Café restaurants in Davidson and Huntersville. “I love breakfast, every minute of the day,” he says. He likes breakfast in the morning, late at night, even for dinner. “To me, there’s nothing better than a great omelet with cheese and a glass of wine.” At the start of the day, Burchill thinks breakfast is the meal that sets you up for everything that follows. “You need something that’s fresh and not processed.”But when we asked him about how to pick a romantic breakfast, his first suggestion is get indulgent. “Skip the healthy stuff,” he says. “Go straight for the stuffed French toast. Or crepes.” Although Burchill does cook himself — he particularly likes to make blueberry pancakes with pure maple syrup — he gives the credit for Toast’s popularity to his kitchen staff: Matt Lynch and Kevin George in Davidson, and especially Julio Hares, who heads the kitchen at the Huntersville location. Hares and Burchill have worked together for years. “We’re like an old married couple,” he says. “He kicks me out of the kitchen.”Toast Café:

Strawberry & Cream Cheese-Stuffed French ToastFrom Brian Burchill, Toast Café. Serves 2.

2 thick slices of firm white bread1/2 cup cream cheese, softened2 tablespoons sugar2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and chopped, divided2 eggs1 cup half-and-half1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon1/4 teaspoon ground cloves1/4 teaspoon ground allspiceButter for skilletConfectioner’s sugar and maple syrup for serving

Using a sharp knife, cut a deep horizontal pocket in the side of each slice of bread, not cutting through to the other side. Combine cream cheese, sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 cup chopped strawberries and beat by hand until well-combined. Spoon half of mixture into pocket in each slice of bread, distributing evenly, and press the pocket closed. Whisk together eggs, half-and-half, spices and remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla in a wide bowl. Carefully place each slice of bread in the batter and turn to coat both sides. Melt butter in a skillet and cook each bread slice about 2 minutes per side or until golden brown, turning carefully to keep in the filling. Sprinkle hot toast with confectioner’s sugar and serve topped with remaining 1/2 cup chopped strawberries and maple syrup.