Coburg's bringing the cute cafe culture! ElegantGourmand kindly pinged us when he dined at newly opened Little Deer Tracks, north of Bell St. Though I didn't care for the twee name, I wasn't going to turn my nose up at an all-vegetarian cafe. Michael and I took to the Upfield bike path the following weekend to check it out.
Italian-style restaurants are rarely places to excite vegetarians (pasta in napoli sauce or risotto with suspiciously-sourced stock, anyone?) but this menu has plenty of "ooh, I want that!" options - crumbed and fried fennel with lemon aioli, a warm beetroot salad, eggplant balls, even the standard risotto looks good! (It's made with broad beans and saffron.) Impressively, all the cheese is rennet free. On the face of it there's not a lot for vegans, but the kitchen will adapt a number of items on request... and they've got vegan lamingtons in the cake display, so there's that. I think there's been a lot more vegan interest than they expected on opening so hopefully the range will only improve over time.
The other pleasant surprise was that The Quince Poacher spotted us and said hi! She's one smart cookie, posting her thorough review in advance of The Age's coverage.
I tried the gnocchi with Red Hill blue goats cheese, rocket and walnuts ($17.50) from the specials board. When it arrived, I thought it looked pretty gluggy. Happily it was not - the gnocchi pieces were quite light and held together just enough, the cheese had that bit of bite, and the walnuts provided some crunch. Even if it wasn't gluggy, it was enormously rich. I would have been a happier luncher if I'd had, say half or two-thirds the quantity of gnocchi with a big handful of peppery rocket on the side. But it's not the done thing, is it?
Michael had the less-typically-Italian black bean pie with mash and broccoli salad (aka steamed broccoli, $14.50 all up). This got two thumbs up - excellent pastry with a good meaty filling and simple sides that complemented the feature food well.
The staff were very friendly and informative, even chatty. They've got everything to be cheery about - this is a very pleasant eatery, in a neighbourhood with an increasing demand for such things, offering a vegetarian menu that will appeal to many omnivores besides. We'll certainly be back, in cycle-friendly weather.
Little Deer Tracks has already been reviewed by The Quince Poacher.
Little Deer Tracks
44 O'Hea St, Coburg
veg lunches $7.50-17.50
Accessibility: This cafe has a flat wide entrance. The furniture's a little crowded up front but there's more space behind the counter (and I think enough room to get, say, a wheelchair or pram through). Service is all at the table. ETA 15/01/2011: see Marilyn's further comments below regarding accessibility - looks good!