milque toast in st. louis city photo by mabel suen

Milque Toast offers experimental comfort food in Benton Park

Colleen Clawson, the chef behind Milque Toast, has moved up a few notches from her 430-square-foot restaurant on Jefferson Avenue to a 5,400-square-foot space inside the old California Do-Nut Co. building at 2924 Jefferson Ave. She now has seats for 40 people, as well as a bar and patio. It’s already clear that this has enabled Clawson to expand operations significantly and push beyond the bounds of the toast-centric concept of her previous digs. “There’s room to move about,” she said.

Personally, I’m all about the toast: beans on toast, marmalade on toast, Marmite on toast; and, when I’m feeling devil-may-care, cold butter on toast, slabbed as thick as a 1970s heel. I don’t love toast any less when it’s burnt. I may not eat it with quite the same lust, but the rasp of knife against stiff, black bread is morning’s music; an awakening song in my ears. Bread still plays a supporting role in many of Clawson's dishes, but not always.

Like Clawson’s former restaurant, the new Milque Toast Bar is all about “hygge” (the Danish concept of comforting, cozy ambiance. Inside, it’s sweet, soothing and Scandi, with pale woods and curtains which – to my undiscerning eye – could pass for IKEA. They’re not IKEA. Not even close. Clawson had fabric custom-printed with a friend’s artwork. “You should feel them,” she said, as though the look of the drapes and their ability to block out light (or dark) is only part of their point. Which is interesting, because Clawson’s food is similarly multidimensional: she is acutely concerned for all its properties.


milque toast chef-owner colleen clawson // photo by mabel suen


“There’s a lot going on in there,” Clawson said when I mentioned how much I adored her potato gnocchi. The thick, dark, almost medieval-looking soup isn’t the prettiest dish in the world, but it’s complex and rich. I suspect it’s the copious amounts of wine and butter that make the difference, as well as the big flaps of oyster mushroom, the toothy shiitake stalks. And then there are the gnocchi themselves, which step out of character in a delightful way. Clawson explained it’s because they’re gluten-free, with no flour to make them “tough.” Consequently, each of Milque Toast’s gnocco is a little ephemeral bite, so light they melt away.


a selection of dishes from milque toast // photo by mabel suen


This food cannot be neatly pegged. It sallies across borders, marrying the flavors of disparate lands, from the Middle East to Norway and North Africa to Mexico. You are surprised by the chorizo which has, among other things, allspice in its mix. You are charmed by her American burger, griddled to a crust, served with chipotle mayo and charred onions, and then topped with an Indian-ish mint and cucumber dressing. It tastes like the best homemade burger you ever had. And, you think to yourself, why didn’t you think to pop to Afghan Market on South Grand Boulevard to pick up some flatbread and top it with turnip greens and seeds, and creamy Bulgarian blue cheese?

Why, in other words, can’t I have this knack for bringing flavors together, for twisting and weaving ingredients until they become the food equivalent of a warm, wooly sweater? And how lovely might life taste if I actually abandoned – in my own cooking – the boring old concerns about sugar and salt and fat? Because when dishes rich with those kinds of things are coming off Clawson’s stove, you just don’t care. You salute them, from first to last bite. 

It’s very clear that this chef, who blows the doors off traditional definitions of comfort food, is happy to be where she is. That fact is writ large across a menu which is an ever-changing, ever-evolving testament to her artistry. “I just want to play around,” she said.

2924 Jefferson Ave., St. Louis, 314.833.0085, @milquetoastbar