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

Blintz on Tour: The Hogtown Vegan, Toronto

On my last night in Toronto, I was adamant that I had to make sure my last meal was at the venue most keenly recommended to me by Michael in terms of having the most interesting menu of near endless vegan comfort food – The Hogtown Vegan. Hopping on the subway and heading out to the outer reaches of Bloor Street West past Koreatown, Hogtown Vegan welcomes you with a dark cosy interior reminiscent of a smoky bar, but given the array of customers from hipster couples, college-looking kids, and whole families with little ones, it’s clearly a beloved dining option for all kinds of folks.

The menu is very extensive in terms of mock meat delights, to the point where I got far more indecisive than usual. Should I go with waffles and ‘unchicken’? Build my own Hogtown burger? The Philly ‘Cheesesteak’ comprised of seitan topped with pepper, onions and vegan cheese sauce on top of baguette? Eventually I narrowed the numerous choices down to the ‘unchicken’ Caesar wrap – breaded fried soy chicken, romaine lettuce, croutons, fakin’ bits, almond parmesan, and house made creamy Caesar dressing all squeeze together in a wrap. This was a hefty sized wrap, with breaded pieces of unchicken packed in tightly with a generous hand, there was barely any room for even the lettuce! The spice of the unchicken had a bit of unexpected heat to it, but otherwise it was quite good, although it was overshadowed slightly in my choice of side.

This side was poutine, which was a personal mandatory choice because Canada. These hot chips came topped with daiya cheese and mushroom beer gravy. As I hinted at earlier, for a side it was ENORMOUS, I was a little trepidatious embarking on it, but taste-wise I had no worries. My experiments with daiya continued to be fruitful, with not only that full cheesy flavour being present without any hint of chemical taint, but it also went sufficiently melty to make a proper cheese experience. The mushroom beer gravy was rich and satisfying, and I feel I was quite valiant (or perhaps unheeding of my long-term health prospects) in finishing the whole serve. I certainly needed the aid of my glass of Southern Tea, comprised of bourbon, iced tea, agave and muddled mint.

Maybe I’d been getting too used to devouring salads and fresh veggies during the rest of my Toronto eats, but such a huge plate of delicious stodge sat a bit heavily with me than it would usually. Maybe my experience would have been more dynamic as part of a group of people being able to share a bunch of dishes together and experience more range, rather than as a lone diner. Maybe I was just sad at the prospect of leaving Canada! I do however really encourage Toronto visitors to experience Hogtown Vegan, it’s a really comforting spot, the staff were lovely and there is so much interesting mock-meat deliciousness available that you would really benefit from several visits rather than one. Just make sure you arrive very, VERY hungry.

The Hogtown Vegan

1056 Bloor Street West, Toronto

Ph: +1 (416) 901-9779

www.hogtownvegan.com

The Cornish Arms

There are days where all you want to do is throw caution and health to the wind and stuff your face with as much processed fried crap as you can find. When you dare to be vegetarian or vegan, however, sometimes the sweet embrace of crisp fried badness can be hard to come by.

That’s why a place like The Cornish Arms is such an ace blessing, with it’s near-endless vegetarian and vegan options that fully commit to hearty, fried, oh-so-bad-for-you-it’s-good pub grub. I somehow hadn’t been before (alors!) so Carla took me in hand to ensure that I could finally experience one of Melbourne’s best cruisey vegan places.

The Cornish Arms is an old school boozer in a lot of ways – you’ll find a lot of grizzled blokes putting back schooners alongside tattooed too-cool-for-school hipsters – but everyone seems to be happily welcomed. On the Thursday evening we visited trivia was in full swing, so we ended up sitting out in the beer garden, which was pleasant despite a tricksy wind wanting to blow menus away.

While I was definitely intrigued by the idea of the ‘meat loathers’ pizza (I mean, how couldn’t you be?), I ended up with a fever for mock chicken and ordered the vegan chicken burger. As well as a big fat herb and breadcrumb-encrusted slab of fried mock chicken, the burger also contained facon, vegan ‘cheez’, cos lettuce, tomato slices, ranch sauce and chipotle aioli. The burger is also served with some fat chips, which were nice enough, although it would have been nicer if they’d been accompanied by some kind of condiment.

I don’t know what sort of magic the chefs here sprinkle over their mock meats to make them so succulent and delicious, but it is some level 50 mage shit. I actually ended up feeling that all the other components of the burger apart from the facon were distracting from the fried mock goodness. I might keep the cos lettuce and tomato, but there was definitely too much bread involved. And I don’t think I will ever reconcile myself to vegan cheese, it never seems to achieve any sense of true cheesiness for me and always has this unpleasant, chemically aftertaste. Carla insists that Cheezly is the only way to go when it comes to vegan cheese, I trust in her judgement.

Carla wasn’t about to let bread get in the way of her mock chicken consumption so she went with the vegan double down – two pieces of crumbed mock chicken sandwiching facon, cheez, tomato and sauces, served alongside some super crispy wedges and the tokenistic inclusion of a small mound of coleslaw. While some might balk at such an extreme level of soy protein, I ended up with a serious case of food envy at the sheer amount of fried wonder that adorned Carla’s plate. Ironically, she ended up feeling that some bread actually would have improved things for her tastes, so really we probably should have gone halfsies.

I couldn’t get the image of the double down out of my mind, so a few weeks later I went on a solo jaunt by myself to experience the glory. While my mound of coleslaw was definitely bigger than Carla’s (and actually contributed nicely to leavening all the soy protein), and the wedges were indeed fluffy crisps of amazement, again I couldn’t arrest my attention away from the vibrantly spiced, crisp moist goodness of the mock chicken. It is delicious wizardry. Although again, could have done without the vegan cheese. I am sorry, vegan cheese, you are just not a thing, not yet anyway. But otherwise this is the most pure form of soy mock enjoyment I have yet discovered.

I’ve since realised that even in mentioning The Cornish Arms to folks, veg*ns and omnis alike react with worshipful glee and reverent creative swearing. This is clearly a venue of joy that I’ve been far too slow in getting around to, you didn’t need to read this at all, you’ve clearly already been there hundreds of times, TAKE ME WITH YOU.

The Cornish Arms

163A Sydney Road, Brunswick

Ph: 9380 8383

www.cornisharms.com.au

The Post Office Hotel

It had been FAR too long since I had last caught up with Emma and Phoebe – I mean, Phoebe had had time to go to JAPAN and back, that’s how long it had been – so after Brother Alec and Women of Letters, I scuttled myself over to The Post Office Hotel for a long overdue chat ‘n’ chips dinner (warning: there were an AVALANCHE of chips involved).

I’d been keen to get to The Post Office Hotel for ages how, as both my sisters had made several visits in the past and had made me drool with their descriptions of the food. And I was heartened to discover that the menu on their website must be rather out of date, as I had been expecting minimal vegetarian options but was instead greeted with about five or six dishes to choose from. Excellent!

There’s a more formal dining room around the side of the venue where you can have a more restauranty experience, but we decided to sit in the front bar, because really, this is the kind of atmosphere one wants when pub dining. While waiting for Phoebe to arrive, Emma and I started on some chips – long thin shoestrings, crispy and golden, and served with a chunky tomato relish. They certainly got the hunger pumping!

After much rumination, I decided that the best way to ascertain the quality of a pub’s grub is through it’s burger offerings, so I went with the field mushroom burger with gruyere, cos lettuce, tomato slices, ketchup and mayo. Having liked the opening salvo of chips I also ordered another cup of chips, but HORRORS! (or potato paradise, take your pick) the burger came with additional chips, so I was submerged in them. And, dear reader, she ate them all.

The burger itself… well, I might have to re-organise my own internal best burgers around town list, because this baby was HELLA AMAZING. The mushroom had been perfectly grilled with the gruyere melted on top, the sauces popped with tang, the cos was crisp, and the bun, despite being of a brioche-type bent, didn’t overwhelm with sweetness as too many brioche burgers are want to do, and instead properly contributed to balancing the flavours into a tipping point of THIS IS STUPIDLY YUM BRING ME FIVE MORE.

Phoebe had the Sunday roast, a round of lamb prettied up with delicately cut, uniform squares of carrot and peas spread across the meat like a blanket. Loving her meat as she does, and requiring a hearty meal to soak up a wedding party hangover, the roast was reduced to a gravy smear in no time.

Emma had the prawn pizza, which she reported as being very good. It certainly looked great, with plump prawns scattered across a crusty desert plain spotted with occasional outcrops of leafy greenery.

This visit made me kick myself that it had taken me so long to schlep out to Coburg and experience the PO. Particularly for a Sunday evening it had this lovely relaxing and cruisey vibe that I really appreciate, and of course food this good can only help an outing’s success. I will have to make sure that my next visit is more prompt, and that my stomach is prepared for Avalanche of Chips II: The Potatoning.

The Post Office Hotel

231 Sydney Road, Coburg

Ph: 9386 5300

www.thepostofficehotel.com.au 

Gasometer II: It Came From Budapest

When buzz hit the interwebs that Gasometer had changed its menu from its previous American soul food focus to one that sought inspiration from Eastern European cuisine, there was consternation from quite a few quarters. Where were we to get KFC-style fake chicken burgers from now? But one must not complain too much before ascertaining whether the replacement vittles are up to the same standard (and frankly I’m okay with any changes as long as those fabulous Gasometer chips stay on the menu). So, before a visit to the drive-in one chilly Sunday night, Muffin, Rob and I went on an investigatory visit.

Muffin ordered the goulash, a big expansive bowl of stew that looked terribly comforting on such a chilly night. But what I ended up coveting most was her pretzel. With fluffy, buttery dough and a soft crust flecked with crystals of sea salt, this generously sized pretzel was served with a brightly coloured mustard butter. While the mustard butter was delish, I was so impressed by the pretzel itself that I kept forgetting about condiments, and urged by Muffin just kept enjoying the texture and slightly sour flavours free of accompaniments.

I couldn’t turn away from the idea of a vegan schnitzel, which came served with a huge mound of creamy mashed potato and roasted baby carrots, beans and tiny beets. This was ridiculously impressive. The schnitz itself was all crumbed, herbed crispness on the outside, moist mock-chicken on the inside, pretty much my perfect vision of a schnitzel. The accompaniments were also of a high standard, the mashed potato constantly begging you to eat more of it with its creamy, buttery consistency, the beans and baby carrots sweet and permeated with that charred flavour that roasting imparts. And I’d never had roasted beetroot before, but those baby beets were irrepressibly more-ish.

I also completely ignored how large the serves normally are at the Gaso, and somehow thought that I was going to be able to fit in a serving of chips with aioli as well. While the chips here are still the height of potato-y joy, crispy and fluffy and crunchy, even with input from both Muffin and Rob I couldn’t finish them all. The SHAME!

Rob had… a burger. It was a meat burger, it came with chips, and Rob liked it, but that’s all either of us can remember about it. I mean, Rob has a terrible memory anyway, but I am now suffering from the sheer food-blogging shame of not remembering to take notes, or failing to interrogate Rob immediately after ingestion, I AM SORRY INTERNET.

The Gaso, thankfully, is still the king of vego pub meals whether their focus is on either side of the Atlantic pond. The three of us were quite comprehensively stuffed by the time we managed to totter onto our feet and head off for our drive-in adventure (which caused me to have nightmares about skeezy Matthew McConaughey for weeks, thanks Steven Soderbergh).

Gasometer

484 Smith Street, Collingwood

Ph: 9417 5538

Gasometer

As you will have noticed from my previous post, if one thing is guaranteed when film festival time rolls around, it is that Melbourne eateries will receive my heavily increased patronage. While my tendency to eat out is ordinarily at a reasonably high level, during this time it skyrockets, due to increased time spent in the city sitting in cinemas for hours on end, combined with my extreme laziness in actually attempting to make my own lunches and dinners to sustain me through screenings.

And if these pre- or post-film eating sessions include fine company, well, that’s all to the better! After an afternoon session of Werner Herzog’s latest doco Cave of Forgotten Dreams at MIFF, Muffin and I could be found strolling down Smith Street gleefully recalling some of the more ridiculous lines of Herzog’s narration (“Are we just albino crocodiles overwhelmed in a river of history?” Oh, Werner).

The only way that we were feeling like crocodiles was in that we were starving, and required a good solid meal so that we could spend the evening floating bloated in a river somewhere, as I am led to believe crocodiles are wont to do. Little were we to expect that the dinner we ended up ordering at Gasometer would leave us as stuffed and satisfied as a plump antelope must do for a Nile crocodile (this post is turning into a National Geographic special).

Gasometer serves fabulous pub grub with a difference – it is extremely vegie and vegan friendly, and the kitchen goes to a real effort to make their v-dishes exciting and varied. This isn’t your standard we’re-going-to-slap-you-with-a-standard-vegie-burger pub meal. This is v-junk food in its finest incarnation.

After much dithering and being quite overwhelmed by the choice on offer, I ended up going with the southern fried “chicken” burger with chips, and a side of vegan mac and cheese. The burger is probably the closest vegies are ever going to get to experiencing KFC again, and it tastes a hell of a lot better than KFC ever did! The protein patty is deliciously seasoned, nice and crispy without and juicy within, and complimented with tomato, lettuce and a kicky sauce filled with spice.

The chips deserve a paragraph all to themselves, as they are, without a doubt, the best chips in Melbourne. You heard me. Think of a light yet intensely crispy chip with a fluffy interior and then multiply its deliciousness ten-fold. Muffin and I descended into a fierce discussion attempting to figure out their cooking method to achieve such potato finery… perhaps an adaptation of the Blumenthal method? We are continuing our research.

The vegan mac and cheese I was most curious about. How would you recreate such a rich dish without any cheese? Would it go chalky, like some cheese-replacements I’ve sampled have had a tendency to do? I shouldn’t have worried, I was clearly in safe hands. It was the richest mac and cheese, let alone ‘cheeze’, that I’ve probably ever had, and definitely one of the nicest. A more satisfying bowl of rich, stodgy goo you will never find!

Muffin bucked the vegan-trending menu by ordering the item with probably the most meat in it, the Reuben sandwich. A mountain of pastrami wedged between some mighty fine-looking slices of dark rye bread, the sandwich was accompanied by two sides, a bowl of sauerkraut and a carrot and beetroot salad. I snuck in quite a few tastes of the sauerkraut (I think Muffin and I are both quietly developing twin sauerkraut dependency syndromes) and it was gorgeously sweet and tart, a very nice kraut indeed. Muffin very wisely finished with the carrot and beetroot salad, which was a light way to finish while I struggled through the remains of my mac and cheese (so cheezy!).

The fact that we had mown through meals ample enough for a family of crocodiles was not going to stop us from ordering dessert! We’d been eying off the pumpkin pie since arriving, and after giving ourselves a moment to rest, it arrived at our table with an accompanying globe of gingerbread ice cream.

The waitress had told us that the gingerbread ice cream was the greatest thing ever, and she wasn’t wrong. I want to know how they make this, too! It’s light ginger yet biscuity touch was a perfect foil for the dense, creamy pie, which was everything I’d hoped it would be. God, I love pie.

Gasometer is highly impressive. The fact that I am desperately searching for ways to replicate both the chips and the gingerbread ice cream at home should go some way to proving how affecting I found their food to be. So make like an albino crocodile, and ponder the meanings of history, art and the human soul over a gut-busting meal of vegan decadence at Gasometer. Although I can’t imagine that Herzog would approve, considering how much he’d probably prefer you to help him in his quest to rid the world of chickens.

Gasometer

484 Smith Street, Collingwood

Ph: 9417 5538

The Station Hotel

Birthdays! The biggest excuse, in our family at least, for dressing up (complete with a pre-emptively loose set of trousers) and heading out to eat ourselves stupid. Food, as I imagine it is in a lot of families, really brings us together, and we tend to make a big effort to celebrate milestones by trying to insert as much delicious food and alcoholic beverages into us as humanly possible.

Which is how we all found ourselves in Footscray on Mum’s birthday, scrambling from out of the maxi-taxi into The Station’s Hotel’s carpark, ravenous and anticipatory. I was enormously keen to sample The Age Good Food Guide’s 2011 Pub of the Year, and had been bolstered in my keen-ness by my dad, who is a sharp foodie himself and has been a fan of The Station Hotel’s offerings for years.

A cursory glance at the menu might make vegetarians baulk slightly. The Station’s speciality is steak, and their beefy offerings takes up a goodly chunk of the menu. But what surprised me was that although the vegie options are a little scarce (along with my main I think there may have been only two other vegie options in the entrees section), my meal ended up being one of the most impressive, most delicious, and just damn GOOD that I’ve ever had.

For my main I had the eggplant parmagiana with buffalo mozzarella and heritage tomatoes. Now, an introduction to serving sizes at the Station: they are absolutely MAMMOTH! Seriously, I’m a fan of ample servings, but this thing came out in a huge baking dish that could have happily served about three people. I’m not entirely sure if I should be proud or appalled that I managed to polish it all off, but it was hard to stop. The eggplant was gorgeously plump and well-seasoned, the bubbling tomato sauce all sharply piquant and intriguingly complex (I think I found tiny green grapes in the tomatoes! I have no idea what they were doing in there, but they were delicious so who cares!). It was gorgeous, and honestly as perfect a dish as you’re ever going to find.

After consuming such hugely decadent meal, I’m betting that you’re thinking that I passed on dessert. Well, that’s what a sensible person would have done, but if the past nine months of food rambling has taught you anything, is that I am clearly not sensible at all when it comes to portions. So of course I placed in a swift order for the hot Valrhona chocolate cake with rhubarb jam and vanilla ice cream. Just like the eggplant parma, the chocolate cake was ridiculously huge, presented in a wide, round quiche platter containing a sea of cake, with a big white scoop of ice cream on top, like a delicious bobble hat. It was rich, it was chocolate heaven, and the gold lay right at the bottom of the dish with a slightly caramelised layer of rhubarb jam, which pretty much sent me into a heightened state of rapturous glee. The fact that I got so full that I had to leave a fat sliver untouched, filling me with a profound, aching sadness that took a good few days to leave me, should stand testament to how damn good a dish it was.

I was not only me who was having a revelatory dining experience. All up and down our table came a chorus of delighted gasps, sighs and any number of satisfied foodie sounds. I haven’t eaten out with such a big group before where every single member was left so completely in awe of the food, the service (which really was impeccable, strikingly that tricky balance between attentive and inobstrusive) and the experience as a whole.

So find yourself your own special occasion, or heck, just make one up, and head on down. Bounties await you!

The Station Hotel

59 Napier Street, Footscray

Ph: 9687 2913

www.thestationhotel.com.au