In a world of fast-moving brunch fads, where the rainbow bagel is replaced by a unicorn latte in the blink of an eye, avocado toast is unique in its longevity. The dish, in all of its iterations, is a social media O.G., and for as long as I've been on Instagram, photos of avocado toast have reliably popped up on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, from friends and celebrities alike. It has become a symbol of a trendy weekend brunch done right, though that's also made it a touchstone for where brunch culture currently stands. Most recently, it became a sign of millennial excess, as one middle-aged Australian commentator argued in 2016.
So what does it mean, then, when social media influencers—the very same folks we have to thank for the birth of the avocado toast phenomenon in the first place—start to wonder about the current state of avocado toast? "I think avocado toast is over, don't you?" one such social media powerhouse, with over 30,000 followers on Instagram, asked me at a press brunch in December. The sentiment was repeated at a breakfast in January of this year, as a server placed a slice of avocado toast, topped with a perfect poached egg, on a marble tabletop. Half-dozen people still milled about, taking photos of the plate with high-end cameras and iPhones, which were soon posted to Instagram feeds.
This isn’t the first time this unpopular opinion about one of brunch’s most popular menu items has been voiced. If 2014 was the year that avocado toast saw its meteoric rise to social media fame, it also received its first backlash. Cafe Gitane’s iteration of avocado toast, served up with red chili flakes and olive oil on seven-grain bread, is widely credited with launching the trend in New York City—thanks to the supermodels, celebrities, and early food bloggers who were posting perfectly staged photos of the trendy, healthy-enough dish. Buzzfeed even penned a listicle on the subject: “17 Very Chic Cafe Gitane Avocado Toasts That Are Instagram Famous.”
The backlash was swift, though, with New York Magazine’s The Cut publishing a competing viewpoint: “Avocado Toast: The Most Annoying Food on Instagram.” "I don't necessarily have anything against avocado toast; I just struggle to understand why avocado toast," wrote Kat Stoeffel. But that didn't stop restaurants from jumping on the bandwagon and serving up the trendy dish. Pretty soon, any brunch spot in New York City had their own versions of avocado toast, as shown by this roundup of “5 Must-Try Avocado Toasts at Hot New York Restaurants” from Well+Good.
Quickly, avocado toast because a staple on both menus and Instagram feeds, and food bloggers and Instagrammers now agree that, in 2017, avocado toast is all but assumed to be available at any given brunch service. “I do believe that it is expected to be on every brunch and lunch menu because of its popularity and tastiness (when done right),” explained Ben Hon of @stuffbeneats.
But unlike the knee-jerk, negative reaction to the avocado toast trend in 2014, there are some signs that avocado toast is no longer cool for the sake of being "cool" avocado toast. We've reached a saturation point. “Honestly, I'm really burnt out from avocado toast,” said R’el Dade, who runs the Instagram account @theplaceiwastellingyouabout with her partner Marcus Lloyd. Lloyd has differing opinions—”I get excited, as trendy as it is it's not expected"—but he seems to be in the minority. “I used to get excited about it, but not anymore,” said Hon in an email. “I've had more bad avocado toasts than good ones.”
Part of that is due to the fact that chefs have been forced to up the ante in order to stay relevant, especially in this new media landscape for restauranteurs, where visually appealing dishes go viral and, in turn, drive foot traffic. As a result, the emphasis on avocado toast seems to have moved toward presentation rather than taste, and chefs are trying to keep up. "I think it's all about presentation these days," explained Hon. "Some places make a really beautiful avocado toast—with veggies, fruit, edible flowers, drizzles, etc." He brought up the example of the avocado rose, which spread like wildfire, as one such presentation-driven trend.
And when one chef makes that change, all the others must follow suit to keep up. But, as Marisel Salazar, a New York City-based writer and social media strategist who also runs the Instagram account @breadbutternyc, pointed out, that emphasis on the visual sometimes comes at the cost of the basics. "So many restaurants have lackluster avocado toasts on their menus," she said, and wondered why so many chefs struggle to use good bread. "It should be just as important (if not more so) than the perfect avocado topping it (preferably Haas)."
Salazar, however, uses the lowered bar for avocado toast as a litmus test. “To me, avocado toast is the equivalent of a salad on one's menu. If the restaurant has nailed the salad and paid as much attention to it as the entrees (not an afterthought), then I'm pretty certain the rest of the menu is going to be well executed.”
But even if it's a dish that's photographed often, it's not as exciting as it once was. Dade also chalks up the continued interest in avocado toast to the visuals, rather than the taste and admittedly "glances over it" when she sees it on menus. "I think it's popular on Instagram because most restaurants present the dish so beautifully," she said. Hon agreed. "For me, when I see it on a menu these days, I tend not to order it because I know how it will probably look and taste,” he said. “I'd rather try the other dishes on the menu that are more unfamiliar and interesting to me.”
Despite the waning interest, avocado toast isn't going to be taken off menus anytime soon. “It's not a particularly offensive or polarizing dish like eggs Benedict or quick-to-die crazes like rainbow bagels (or maybe that's just me—I despise Hollandaise sauce),” said Salazar.
"So long as it looks pretty/relatively healthy and there is social media, there will be a perpetuation of its existence," she continued. "It appeals to everyone, from the fitness/health crowd, to the posing fashionistas, the food pornographers, and the skeptical restaurant aficionados like myself." Avocado toast might not be cool anymore, but it's definitely not going anywhere, either.