Thursday, January 01, 2015

Wide Open Road IV

November 16 & December 24, 2014

I was quite surprised to discover that it had been about two years since we last wrote a proper blog post about Wide Open Road. Since that post we've moved to a new flat not too far from Barkly Street and quickly made it our go-to local cafe option - I get coffee there all the time and Cindy and I regularly stop by to check out the seasonal menu changes. It's probably our own familiarity that has limited us to the occasional tweet and facebook post, but a couple of visits within a few weeks of each other this summer is a good excuse to remind our readers of this place's charms.

It's a lovely space - a cavernous and stylish interior tucked away behind a fairly brutal industrial exterior. There are communal tables, bench seats, booths and regular tables, but they're all almost always full and on a weekend you'll almost never get a table without at least a few minutes of waiting around. In spite of the ridiculous turnover and seeming chaos of the place, the staff are relaxed, charming and incredibly efficient - it's a slick operation.

The menu changes around semi-regularly and always has a bunch of vegetarian options available. They've stopped being explicit about dietary requirements on the menu these days, but there's a note clearly welcoming inquiries about which dishes can be done vegan or gluten-free. We had a couple of shots at the most recent incarnation of the menu.

On the first visit I ordered fried eggs on sourdough with an avocado and black bean dressing and Asian herbs and chilli salad ($15.90) plus a gruyere potato cake ($5) on the side to share with Cindy.

The potato cake was excellent - crispy and cheesy and completely indulgent, but it didn't really belong with the rest of this dish. The dish itself was incredible - the black bean dressing had a rich savouriness, while the noodle salad had crunch and a decent dose of chilli heat. Throw in half of an excellent avocado and two perfect fried eggs and you've got a really excellent and innovative breakfast dish.

After she'd polished off her share of the potato cake, Cindy tackled her dish - local strawberries with whipped cream fraiche, praline and balsamic flakes on toasted brioche ($15).

The toppings on this were great - a nice combination of sweetness and tartness - but the toasted brioche itself was like a thick slab of cake and difficult to share around those pretty toppings.

I'm a big fan of the coffee that Wide Open Road serves up and Cindy reports that their chai is excellent as well - spicy and not too sweet.

Our more recent visit was a lunchtime trip, specifically so we could try the fried cauliflower sandwich (with carrot jam, walnut labne, chard and herbs served on Rustica pumpkin bread, $15.50).

It was an unwieldy sandwich - basically impossible to eat without taking it to pieces and using a knife and fork. The fillings were wonderful though - battered, deep-fried cauliflower florets, a mild labne dotted with walnut chunks and a lot of sweetness from the carrot jam. Between the soft sweetness of the pumpkin bread and the carrot jam, the dish was at the sweet end of the savoury menu, right where Cindy likes it.

I had enviously eyed off the Egyptian fuul on our previous visit, so was set on ordering it this time around. It's a broadbean-based dish, topped with battered, dukkah spiced poached eggs, a pomegranate and mint salad and some flat bread ($16.50)

This was another spectacular dish - I highly approve of the practice of battering poached eggs and henceforth encourage all cafes to offer it as an option. The fuul itself was a little drier than examples we've enjoyed at Brunswick Foodstore and Half Moon Cafe, but was hearty and well spiced, with the mint and pomegranate providing some sharp freshness to cut through the rest of the dish.

There's good reason that Wide Open Road is wildly successful - it's menu is innovative, varying and the food is consistently top notch. They do great coffee, are always playing excellent music and have a group of superbly effective and personable staff. It's a high-end breakfast (you're almost always paying $15+ for food), but they really justify the high prices in ways that lots of other cafes don't. They've got a reputation for being super vegan-friendly, but I'm not sure how the current menu works out - I'd be interested to hear about the experience of any vegans who have visited recently.


Read about our previous visits to Wide Open Road here, here and here (and on Facebook here, here and here). Since our last blogging visit a couple of years ago, it has been positively reviewed by: The Good Hearted (back when WOR had more explicitly vegan dishes on the menu), The World Loves Melbourne, The Filthy Platen, Klaus & Fritz, melbourne brunch scene, Dale's Blog, The Owl's Nest, Mel: Hot or Not, I talk too much my mouth hurts, Doughnut forget me, Miss Muesli, Do You Want to Stay for Breakfast? and New International Students. There are a couple of less enthusiastic write-ups at Melbourne Food Snob and The Travel Journo.

Wide Open Road
274 Barkly St, Brunswick
9387 6079
menu: food, drinks

Accessibility: Tables outside are on a sloping footpath and there are a couple of steps up on entry. There's a fair bit of space inside, although they manage to squeeze plenty of tables in there. There's full table service. The toilets are tucked away out the back, are gendered and fully accessible.

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