What do you do on a Wednesday night in Melbourne when you’re looking to get a bit “buzzed”, as they say, and eat a decent meal, yet don’t want to spend an arm and a leg for a soggy eggplant parma and pint at your sad little local?
You turn to the dregs of the internet- of course- where a thrifty food voucher is a quick Google search away. Where to look first? Living Social? Groupon? Trademark-infringment-worthy Scoopon? (Perhaps if it were spelt Scoupon, a lawsuit would have been more eminent.)
I tend to get third-party sites (ahem, All The Deals) to do the dirty work for me, filtering through, quite literally, all the deals until I find one that meets my own unique needs and interests. (Cheap, conveniently located, veggie-friendly, etc.)
On this fine night, I landed on a Groupon voucher for two burgers + chips and two pints of beer for $25. Seems like quite the steal, doesn’t it? And it was a quick walk away, centrally located on Sydney Road in Brunswick, so- like a feral feline eager for sustenance- I pounced. Groupon bought, iPhone in hand with the QR code ready to go.
The place was quiet- suspiciously quiet- for a place that boasted $10 jugs and a free drink with every burger. But unsuspecting little me and my dining partner were already in too deep- there was no turning back at this point. We ordered a jug of cider and grabbed a seat.
Let’s take a brief intermission to discuss the decor. A bit kitsch, which I am a sucker for. Vintage, wooden doors and a life size cutout of a chap in a top hat adorning the wall. Interior aluminium panelling, local beer signage throughout, bicycle hanging from the ceiling and a tree planted smack dab in the middle of table. Charming.
To complete the old-school, grungy aesthetic, there was a mouse- just one, small and quick- who scurried out of the toilet and behind a large booth just as I took a seat. It was as if I was transported to another time (say, early-century Paris?), where rodents scamper through kitchens unabashedly, seasoning soup and flambéing high-quality proteins as they go. I knew this was a good sign of things to come.
We sipped our nameless, house beer while we anxiously awaited our food and the return of our furry friend. At one point, I excused myself to the bathroom, which featured a quirky, peep-hole door (no lock!) and heaps of spare tiles and rubbish in the corner. It was exciting to think that at any minute, someone could burst in and catch me trying to make use of the single ply of toilet paper left on the roll.
To my dismay, given the haunting emptiness of the place, there was no such luck.
Speaking of fellow diners- they were are fellows. Well, two, to be exact. Heavy-lidded and stumbling, they sure seemed to be enjoying themselves. It’s always nice to dine in a venue where other patrons appear satisfied.
When I got back from my bathroom break, the burgers had arrived. Brunswick is an alternative place, so one would expect that any dining institution in the area should and would embrace this spirit- as this place definitely did.
They defied all norms for a truly unique dining experience. For instance: Why serve a burger warm or even hot when you can serve it straight-up icy? So nouveau! My dining partner’s meat patty came out cold to the touch, and quite small compared to the starch-white bun that it sat on. It was an interesting play on the size-dynamics that are currently ever-present in our current social and political system. Well done on the restaurant’s part for encouraging such discourse.
I ordered a veggie burger, of course, composed of a pumpkin and bean patty with tzatziki and cheddar. But the restaurant staff must of known that I have an easier time digesting yoghurt than cheese, because the latter was left off. Props to them, my intestines thank thee.
The creamy sauce was an appropriate accompaniment to the patty, which tasted like the inside of an actual halloween pumpkin. No false advertising here! A sliver of iceberg lettuce added a bit of crunch without any unnecessary nutritional value, because who wants that when they order a burger?
There was also some sort of other, mystery sauce on my dish, which had halfway dripped down the side and then frozen in place, like a gooey stalactite. It became obvious that the chef went above and beyond to make their dishes as visually captivating as they were tasty.
I am not the most graceful burger-eater, so I cut up my sammie and added a bit of lightly salted chip to each bite. Soft pumpkin mush + white bread mush + not-too-crispy potato mush = a real flavour explosion in my mouth.
To top off the meal, my dining partner and I savoured the last drops of our cider. (Well, not quite the last, as we are not lushes and wanted to avoid coming off as gluttonous). According to him, it had an interesting, savoury aroma that is not typically present in traditional ciders. He described a dark musk, both on the nose and the palate.
As we walked towards the front counter to pay, the cook rushed to the register to bid us adieu and accept our gratitude in the form of some crumpled five dollar notes. I would have shaken his free hand if he had not still had his grease-stained cooking glove on.
As my dining partner and I headed out into the brisk, early spring night, with our stomachs full of bleached flour, canola oil and beer bubbles, I wondered how this place had stuck around for so long without garnering any more attention than it has.
But I guess that’s just Brunswick for you- the best of the best, the worst of the worst, the hidden gems and hidden disasters and everything in between, all in one suburb.
Will I be returning to the unnamed Brunswick burger joint? Well… I tend to never dine anywhere more than once, so I’m sure you can form your own deductions.