Miss Katie’s Crab Shack

I know what you’re thinking. “Hayley this does NOT sound like a place where I am going to be able to get a meal suitable for my vegematarian needs.” I get it, I do, in fact I had my own suspicions that I was in for an evening of slim pickings as I made my way through the newly renovated and gussied up Rochester Hotel, where the bright red neon sign in the shape of a crab out on the street hints at the American-style seafood party within.

But you can rest easy, fellow vegetable munchers, we are actually quite well catered to at Miss Katie’s emporium of sea scuttlers, with the menu I saw offering several veg options. The overall menu vibe is one that takes inspiration from the cuisine of predominantly America’s south, with a few New England notes particularly in terms of the seafood on offer.

But we want VEGETABLES. And the first came in the form of a basket of fries because I am an unrepentant potato monster. These were distinguished by being served with a lot of Old Bay seasoning (always a big plus in my book) was well as a pot of blue cheese dipping sauce, which between here and The Beaufort is fast becoming my favourite saucy potato accompaniment. There is also a variety of hot sauces provided on the tables if you require spicy fries. In between four pairs of grabby hands the basket emptied very quickly!

For my main, I was excited to try Katie’s version of succotash. The waitress was at pains to explain that this was not technically a traditional rendering of succotash, in that it used farro as its base instead of shelled beans. It may have been a twist dish but I was more than happy to receive a bowl filled with grains, lengths of green beans, corn kernels, tiny florets of green cauliflower, tiny cubes of zucchini and eggplant all cooked down so they were soft and melty with barely any textural bite, topped with a dusting of grated cheese and the tiniest rounds of chopped chives. A lot of elements, yet they were all taste and texture-complimentary. Very clever, and an interesting and exciting vegetarian option.

If meat is your jam, alongside many crabby delectables you can also eat TEN TON OF FRIED CHICKEN. One of my dining companions ordered the chicken and waffles and nearly cried with overwhelmed fear when a giant plate came out with five huge pieces of spiced battered bird, a fat waffle nearly the same circumference of the plate, parfait butter and maple syrup (it’s okay, if you’re intimidated by the size of the meals they’ll let you take home whatever you can’t stuff in your face).

We also shared the dessert special of the evening, which were chocolate-filled doughnuts, sugar dusted balls of sweetness. Probably a touch too sweet, to be honest; this was the only dish we weren’t raving about on the way home. Not bad, per say, but definitely not of the same calibre as the amazing savoury dishes.

As a vegie I was very happily surprised by Miss Katie’s Crab Shack; evidently one shouldn’t judge a crustacean by it’s shell.

Miss Katie’s Crab Shack

The Rochester Hotel, 202 Johnston Street, Fitzroy

Ph: 9419 0166

www.misskatiescrabshack.com

New Day Rising

There are some institutions that for what ever reason you take far too long to get to. I’ve been hearing about the small delights of New Day Rising from fellow veg*ns for years, but as I’m easily distracted by new shiny baubles I’d let it percolate away on the backburner.

Luckily for my sake Steph was rightly appalled that I’d never been and took matters into her own hands and organised an early Saturday morning brunch. I’d recommend hitting New Day Rising early if you’d like to sit about as it is A TEENY TINY SPACE. Basically a room with a few tables and bench spaces on one side and the open kitchen on the other, it’s all very informal and relaxed with the benefit of it being easy to strike up conversations with the staff as you watch them put together your coffee and breakfast.

I am always one for a bagel and there were quite a few to choose from here. I eventually settled on the ‘yolko’ (“I knew you’d go with that one as soon as I saw it,” said Steph triumphantly). Cheddar cheese, rocket, tomato relish, New Day Rising’s famous savoury smoked coconut flakes, and a runny fried egg all warmly toasted, this was a pretty supreme bagel. The smoked coconut was as fabulous as everyone had raved – don’t expect a true bacon analogue, but the interesting texture and strong caramelised smoky taste is a truly unique experience and turns a breakfast bagel into something quietly elevated.

Steph veganised the house beans, with the staff offering the replace the feta with a side of avocado (I always do like places that, when you ask for an item left out in order to veggie or veganise a dish, they offer to replace that element with something suitable, so you don’t end up with a dish that’s clearly lacking something). The hot black beans came out with toast and a fan of avocado slices and looked pretty darn inviting.

The coffee is smooth and without a bitter note, and there’s also plenty of cakes and doughnuts (some of which are vegan!) to satisfy any sweet cravings. New Day Rising is a highly satisfying laid back gem that I feel a right chump for taking so long to get wise to.

New Day Rising

221B Blyth Street, Brunswick East

New Day Rising on Facebook

Howler

HOLD UP EVERYONE, did you know that Howler do $12 burger deals on a Wednesday night? It is TRUE and it is GLORIOUS, and I needed to share it with you as soon as was humanly.

Okay so here is the deal. Howler have seven different burgers on their menu, and if you go and order on a Wednesday for your $12 you not only get a burger, but you get a side of fat chips with it, and a pot of Monteiths beer or cider. IS THAT THE BEST BURGER DEAL IN TOWN? I RECKON.

I’d been to Howler a couple of times to either see bands or films and I’m a little bit in awe of the space they have set up there. In the front beer garden you can hole away in booths to drink and eat or surround the ping pong tables and have a game in between pints. Out the back is the band room/cinema/whatever they are doing in what is a versatile space.

ON TO BURGERS. Now there are two vegie burgers, one of which is vegan, to choose from if you need vegetables. The vegan has a quinoa, wild rice, almonds and beetroot patty with beanshoots, pickled ginger, Asian herbs and vegan wasabi mayo, while for vegie you can have the saganaki burger with cucumber, tomato, basil, house relish and chipotle aioli, If you all know me well enough you all know that I definitely went with the SALTY DELICIOUS CHEESE BURGER.

It’s a damn generous slab of cheese too, thick and fat and poking out very generously from under the eaves of the floury bun. Really all the ancillary vegies and sauces are just there to provide empty vitamins that will be instantly snuffed out by unadulterated saganaki. And how can there be anything better than that? Well, the chips do come close, crispy and crunchy, with winsome fluff within. Teamed with a cider, and I was terribly content. What a deal, what a deal.

Howler

7-11 Dawson Street, Brunswick

Ph: 9077 5572

www.h-w-l-r.com

Mr Burger

It actually surprised me to realise that I’ve never profiled a food truck on this here blog, especially considering you can’t really miss them around Melbourne these days. I’m often partaking of their wares as an easy lunch or dinner – having to walk to a truck’s location from my house is a good way of convincing myself that I am working for my burger (of course no one need work for a burger, may we all have forty thousand burgers a day, burgers love you don’t forget).

Out of the two burger peddling trucks that normally haunt my suburb, I lean towards Mr Burger over Beatbox Kitchen these days – not because Beatbox Kitchen’s burgers aren’t good, oh no, you should definitely get one of their mushroom burgers into your face as soon as you can – but because while burgers are fab the real race for food supremacy is with chips, and Mr Burger’s chips are so good I have legit DREAMT about them.

I suppose I should give some concession to the burgers and at least describe them to you. While I love a good mushroom burger (as evidenced above), I’ve noticed a lot of burger joints overly lean on them, especially when they just have the one vegie option available, so unless they’re truly a top-notch construction they can get a little samey. Mr Burger goes somewhere a little different, with a felafel patty for their vegie option, complete with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, tomato sauce, mayo and mustard to make their Mr Veg burger. Now it might sound weird to have a felafel patty in a bun with all those more traditional burger accompaniments, but trust me, IT WORKS and is delicious to boot. Keep in mind, however, that these are also rather hefty burgers – I am an unrepentant glutton and put away obscene amounts of food, but I often find these particular burgers are a little too much for for me and I have to leave a bit for Mrs Manners. But that also may be because I can’t help but eat a stupid amount of chips alongside them, because THESE CHIPS, OH MAN.

Honestly I don’t think they do terribly much special to these chips beyond sprinkling some spiced salt mix on them, but they are always fat and golden, and have a very good ratio between fluffy insides and crunchy outsides, and are just ultimately SATISFYING in a very simple yet gleeful way.

The best thing about Mr Burger is apart from their trucks they also have two permanent locations, so if you can’t be bothered to chase down a truck you can head to either Fitzroy or South Yarra and have your burger longings sated. Which you should do, right now, go.

Mr Burger

300 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

364 Chapel Street, South Yarra

For daily truck locations, check Twitter

mrburger.com.au

Blintz on Tour: Gnome, Sydney

The second most noteworthy Sydney foodie place I got to visit with Chris and Nicole on my weekend trip was teeny Surry Hills cafe Gnome. We were on a serious mission for food, as night-before shenanigans meant that it was 3pm on a Sunday, and we hadn’t eaten. IT WAS A FOOD EMERGENCY.

It was very lucky indeed then that we chanced upon Gnome and slipped into a corner table in the tiny space. It is a tight room, but comfortable – the large windows open out so a breeze comes through to cut through the humidity, the staff are cheery and the room’s white walls are brightened up with art like colourful ceramic animal heads.

I very much needed fortifying with vitamins, so before anything solid hit the table I had a Gnome breakfast juice, which consisted of whizzed up kale, watermelon, apple and ginger. Thankfully Gnome followed the green juices rule of if you’re going to put leafy greens in a juice you need to make sure they comprise 40% or less of the total otherwise it will taste like a glass of iron-rich sludge. This juice properly woke me up with its sizable ginger kick, yet with a really pleasant undercurrent of sweetness from the watermelon and apple.

On to BUSINESS. The day clearly required hollandaise, so all three of us decided to tuck into the mini egg benny roll – poached egg, hollandaise sauce and ham (kindly omitted for me) on a brioche roll. Chris added mushrooms to his because he knows what’s what. This was just what the doctor ordered, a hot handful of recovery in a bun. I want one now, someone send a plane.

Because this was our first meal of the day at a time when we should have had two already, we had absolutely no compunction in ordering seconds, because why would you even if you’d already had five meals? While Nicole and Chris went a second round on the benny rolls, I switched to sweet with the toasted banana bread served with cinnamon butter, and honey and lime mascarpone. This was A VERY GOOD CHOICE. The banana bread was this sweet, spicy scented warm slab, which once slathered with the cinnamon butter (which melted immediately OH SO DECADENTLY) and the citric tang of the mascarpone, just erupted one’s mouth with sweet comfort.

Gnome is a little place doing a little array of things but doing them ever so right, in a way that isn’t going to empty your pockets either. If you can squeeze in, it’s well worth the time.

Gnome

536 Crown Street, Surry Hills, Sydney

Ph: (02) 9332 3191

www.brewtownnewtown.com

Blintz on Tour: Fika Swedish Kitchen, Sydney

I recently popped up for a weekend in Sydney to spend time with the most excellent Chris and Nicole, passionate film lovers after my own heart. They also happen to be keen foodies, and were very open to my suggestions as to cafes and restaurants that I was was jumping to visit. While I initially did heaps of research, in the end there was only one place that I absolutely INSISTED that we make the effort to try, and that was Fika’s Swedish Kitchen in Manly.

The January I spent in Sweden five years ago is one of my most cherished memories, so any time I get the chance to tuck into some Swedish food (which is generally few and far between here in Oz) is enormously treasured. I was also interested to see how Fika’s Swedish food would translate to such a hot, beachy location as Manly. Very well, as it turns out.

After jumping a ferry at Circular Quay and letting Chris have enough time to acclimatise to Manly’s shores – despite being a native Sydneysider this was only his second visit ever to Manly (“Farken, it’s Bondi Two!”) – we crisscrossed the main drag in order to find Fika hidden up a sidestreet across from the library.

Fika is freaking ADORABLE, let me just put that out there first. Lots of Scandi blond wood (BUT OF COURSE) and blue and yellow touches, from signage to crockery. There are also proper Swedes serving you with big smiles and brandished menus, and the menu is very wide-ranging and filled with everything your little Scandinavian-longing heart could desire.

It was hard to tear my eyes away from the desserts (the Swedes take their cakes and baking VERY SERIOUSLY), but come on Hayley, being on holiday doesn’t mean avoiding vegetables. So I got the barley salad with asparagus, crispy apple, thick halves of fig heavy from having been poached in red wine, roasted almonds and Danish feta. This was a very good idea, rarely do you get a salad where all the ingredients have distinctly different flavours and textures and yet none work against each other. Everything was contributing to a complimentary circle of flavour building that resulted in DELICIOUSNESS. Coupled with an iced lingonberry drink and further on some cheeky cider, this was a very fresh and zingy lunch choice.

Both Chris and Nicole had the Gothenberg hot dog – beef and pork frankfurter with mash, roasted onion and house gherkin mayo in a bread roll, and served with a jar of some fermented prawn salad goodness. This was an impressively large hot dog (inches poking out the ends of the bun, make your wang jokes right here) and was very clever in taking a borders-crossing dish and making it firmly Swedish.

With savouries out of the way, it was finally time to attack the object of my long game: the pastries cabinet.  I fell in love quite fiercely with sweets such as semla and kanelbullar on my trip, and unless one makes them oneself, Swedish baked treats are hard to come by here. So I was so so pleased to take into my hands a kardemummabullar, or cardamom scroll, dotted with stark white sugar crystals and thick, dark seams of spices curling around in aromatic whorls. This was everything. If I could have a bun like this every day of my life and die from acute carbs arrest, I would.

Fika is very much worth the ferry ride, or indeed the plane trip, I took to get to it. If you reside in or are visiting the harbour city, make great haste there by whichever transportation means are necessary.

Fika Swedish Kitchen

5B Market Lane, Manly

Ph: (02) 9976 5099

www.fikaswedishkitchen.com.au

The Kettle Black

It is BUSY at The Kettle Black. Seemingly all the time. It makes sense – in this particular part of South Melbourne, just near the Domain Interchange, there’s not another quality cafe within cooee. Luckily Julian had got there before me on this day and had the good sense to put our name on the list, so the wait for me was under ten minutes. Always go to brunch with more punctual friends, it equals dividends!

The Kettle Black is very striking, aesthetically. It’s comprised of the ground level of a swisho new apartment block, all shiny surfaces and architectural whizz-bangery, which has managed to include an old, stark white terrace house as a part of the greater building. Inside walls are white, with potted plants and vines streaming their tendrils in the bright light of the wall to ceiling windows that face the street.

After a flat white, I got stuck into a plate of seasonal raw and cooked mushrooms on toast with mushroom powder and goat curd, plus a poached egg. The poached egg was served on the side, which was a little odd – surely the joy of the poached egg is to pop it open upon your bread and fixings and let the yolk ooze decadently over everything. Maybe The Kettle Black wants to advocate levering a poached egg directly into you mouth all at once, and if so I greatly dishonoured local practice by carefully transferring the egg onto the mushroom and curd mountain on toast. The cooked mushrooms were juicy and hot; I’m not 100% convinced that the raw mushrooms worked with the rest of the plate, mainly for textural reasons, but it certainly is an interesting idea. But hey, put creamy goats’ curd on things and it all tends to turn out right in the end.

Julian decided to feast on some native wildlife (okay maybe it was mostly the allure of the eggs) and went with the chilli scrambled eggs with air-dried Flinders Island wallaby, feta and leaves. The scramble was an eye-popping cadmium yellow – yes I just delved into Derwent pencil colours to get just the right descriptor – crowned with some red capsicum and little pink medallions of wallaby meat.

I also finally sampled a Doughboys doughnut, which were the crown jewels in a very impressively curated cake cabinet. I have been largely suspicious of the fancy doughnut craze, as for me a doughnut is a rebellious crap food indulgence. I don’t need quality ingredients when it comes to a doughnut, I want powdered sugar and artificial creme! But this morning I was beguiled by the fat, glazed rings calling at me from across the room. I asked the waiter to surprise me with the flavour, and he brought back a ‘lime toast’ with lemon and lime zest icing, sprinkled with toasted coconut. The dough was very light, puffy and airy, and the icing had been heavily zested with citrus flavours without being overwhelming. It was very pleasant, although I can’t say I’ve now been drawn into abandoning my crap doughnut ways.

I am not one to ordinarily advocate queuing for anything, no matter how good, but should you find yourself in South Melbourne and can snaffle yourself a spot at The Kettle Black in under ten minutes, I would recommend it as time well spent.

The Kettle Black

50 Albert Road, South Melbourne

Ph: 9088 0721

thekettleblack.com.au