We've hit Howler up a few times since we first posted about it way back in late 2013, but it's only been to see bands or grab a drink and not to have another shot at the dining menu. They've shifted away from the Asian-inspired bao and dumpling dishes and jumped squarely on the burger/rib trend that has swept through the city. The atmosphere is still Brunswick-cool, a beautiful enclosed courtyard area, a ping pong table inside and hipsters behind the bar who were born in the post-grunge era. Early on a Wednesday night the crowds are pretty minimal - even when we left for trivia at around 7:30 there wasn't massive competition for tables.
The burger-focussed menu is pretty veg-friendly - 2 of the 6 burgers on the regular menu are vego, as was the burger on the specials menu (crumbed eggplant), plus there's a quinoa salad and a decent array of fried sides. We kicked things off with a serve of shichimi spiced onion rings with chipotle aoili ($9.50). The spice in the batter and the smoky chilli flavours in the dipping sauce meant that these were almost designed with my palate in mind and they did not disappoint. It's a pretty generous serve though, so make sure you've got some people around to share with.
I ordered the vegan burger ($18) - a quinoa, wild rice, almond and beetroot pattie with beanshoots, pickled ginger, Asian herbs and vegan wasabi mayo served on a gluten-free bun (the other burgers all came on 'milk buns', which I'm guessing are not dairy-free). This was almost a total success - the burger patty was dense without being dry and the toppings were a brilliant combo of flavours (particular kudos to the pickled ginger, which really shone through). I didn't love the chewy GF bun, but others around the table were into it, so my dislike was probably down to personal preference rather than any real shortcomings in it.
Cindy went with the fried saganaki burger, with house relish, cucumber, tomato, basil and chipotle aioli ($18).
It's hard to go too far wrong with a fried cheese burger, and this hit the spot as expected. It had the typically high salt levels of any saganaki-based meal, but the fresh salad and aioli smoothed things over well. There's a lot of salad onion on there which, if you're like Cindy, is going to mean a lot of annoying picking off before you can really enjoy your meal. Even with that annoyance, this was a burger to rival our old favourite at 1000 £ Bend.
Howler (on a weeknight at least), is a good place to enjoy a relatively relaxed and quick dinner - there's a great range of booze to choose from, the menu ticks off dietary requirements and the kitchen delivers some pretty excellent burger-based food. The setting is probably the star - on a quiet night the courtyard is among the best places in Brunswick to hang out - we'll definitely be back once the days start getting a bit longer.
Apart from Hayley's rave up about the cheap Wednesday night burger deal, all the reviews I could find were of Howler's old dumpling and bao menu - they were mostly positive, but won't really help you decide if you want to try out the burger range. See: New International Students, I talk too much my mouth hurts, Melbourne Vita and This Model Eats a Lot.
7-11 Dawson St, Brunswick (entry via the carpark)
Accessibility: Pretty good. There's a flat entry way into a spacious courtyard and no steps as you go through to the inside area. The toilets are on the same level and there's wheelchair accessible and unisex facilities. Ordering and payment is at the bar.