WATERVILLE, Maine — In central Maine and beyond, the sandwiches at Big G’s Deli in Winslow are legendary, featuring what seems like an endless variety of toppings on pieces of homemade bread so large that one sandwich can easily provide two hearty meals.
Last year, the owners of Big G’s decided to take some of those huge, freshly baked loaves of bread across the river to Waterville and turn them into the focal point of a brand-new eatery — Toast Xpress, located in Railroad Square.
“The bread has built itself into a bread legend in the area,” Gerry Michaud, the co-owner and namesake of Big G’s Deli, said this week. “And I love anything that’s new and gets people talking — it’s fun.”
Locally, some buzz has been spreading about the new Waterville restaurant, which is open 6 a.m.-2 p.m. daily, with an all-day menu featuring breakfast options, open-face sandwiches and more. In October, Colby College student newspaper the Colby Echo ran a short, appreciative article about Toast Xpress, quoting one Colby junior who liked the eatery so much after his first breakfast there he came back the same day for lunch.
Although that kind of loyalty doesn’t surprise the owners of Toast Xpress, who said they already have attracted a number of regulars, that amount of appetite might.
“You don’t go away hungry,” Cindy Scott, co-owner and manager of the restaurant, said of their offerings, which include such mainstays as French toast, bruschetta and avocado toast.
The menu also includes more creative fare including The King’s Toast, named for Elvis Presley. It features peanut butter, bacon, bananas and honey. Even a more usual offering like Toast the Dawn, with egg, cheese and meat, has its own twist. The eggs are hardboiled and chopped, not scrambled, and the cheese is a housemade spread based on a Big G’s recipe that includes cream cheese, cheddar, parmesan and mayonnaise, and is incorporated into several of the menu items. Served golden brown and piping hot from a quick trip under the conveyor broiler, even a half portion of Toast the Daw” is filling, satisfying and delicious.
“I think sometimes people are hesitant to try [something] different,” Scott said. “But a lot of times, once they try it, it’s like ‘Wow.’”
Nationally, a recent trend for artisanal toast has inspired enthusiasm — but also criticism for being too expensive, too pretentious and too popular among hipsters. Toast Xpress may be Maine’s first dedicated toast restaurant, but there’s nothing expensive or pretentious about it. Scott said the most expensive menu item is the $7.49 full Reuben, which includes corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing. In general, prices for a half portion of toast with a drink are about $5 and prices for a full toast portion with a drink are about $8.
“We’re trying to keep prices low enough that people can afford to come in,” she said.
Scott said that the menu is continuing to evolve as the owners figure out what works and what doesn’t. Originally, they only offered toast, but they’ve more recently added wraps and subs because their customers have said they want those things, too.
According to Michaud, Toast Xpress is in Waterville for the long haul. The co-owners spent upwards of $100,000 to fix up the former Glass Express building to their specifications. Big windows let in lots of natural light and the space is immaculate and comfortable, but still takes a back seat to the food.
“This is a whole new adventure,” Scott said of opening the restaurant. “We’re still working at it and still learning. It gets a little bit better each week.”