A month ago, I decided to take a rather impromptu trip to Australia to visit my sister, Bri, who lives in Brisbane. I visited her when she lived in Perth, and we ate our way around the city. We had delicious Aussie breakfasts like eggs and avocado on toast, decadent coffees, and we visited a fish and chip shop where the chips were poured onto sheets of newspaper laid on our table. That was three years ago, and I was determined to make a trip out to see her life in Brisbane. When she found out I was coming she assured me that, like before, we would eat our way across the city.
Our first stop after my arrival was the Gunshop Café, located in Brisbane's cultural center, which is referred to as the West End. Bri discovered this café when she lived in an apartment in the heart of downtown, and it had quickly become her favourite breakfast haunt--for good reason. The Gunshop Café has been named in the 100 Greatest Australian Gourmet Experiences by Australian Traveller, and won Best Café in Australia a few years ago from Delicious Magazine. Their breakfasts are especially popular and received a nod from Gourmet Traveller, landing in the magazine's top 20 breakfast restaurants in Australia. And it's no wonder, with their wonderfully creative menu for which all the produce is sourced from local markets. They even had two bee hives installed on their roof which enables them to produce all their own honey. I think this fact alone is enough to love them. Do you know of any other food establishment with bee hives on their roof? I keep wondering who tends to them. Did they hire a bee keeper or did all of their servers suddenly have to learn the art of bee keeping? But I digress.
The café itself was unassuming from the outside, but the inside was all brick, wood, and quirky touches. We chose a table in their newly renovated courtyard, which boasted a double oven for toasting sandwiches and baking bread. After ordering a cappuccino and a hot chocolate I requested that Bri navigate the menu for us, and she chose a favorite dish and a special: potato and feta hash cakes with herbed sour cream and a stack of pancakes topped with fresh fruit, nuts, and generous helpings of cream and dark chocolate. The hash cakes were incredibly savory, with the richness balanced by the tartness of the blistered cherry tomatoes and lemon if so desired. The pancakes were drenched in syrup and at first I thought they were a bit too sweet. That was until I took a bite with the chocolate and found that it was almost completely unsweetened. Its bitterness toned things down and I quite liked it. We were joined by our cousin Katrina, who also lives in Brisbane, and she ordered a sort of breakfast salad with fresh spinach, mushrooms, and soft cooked eggs. I think making the Gunshop Café my first stop in Brisbane is going to have to become a tradition.
Upon leaving the café, Katrina mentioned that she'd heard that just a few streets away there was an eclectic little collection of eateries she wanted to explore. We walked over and found a commercial lot with shipping containers turned into food stands and coffee shops. Most had tables and chairs arranged out front, and half of the lot consisted of a grassy lawn that would make for a decent picnic spot. The edge of this lawn housed the only non shipping container establishment: an old camper turned into an organic food and drink shop. We didn't buy any food but if you fancy yourself to be a hipster then I'm sure you'd love it.
A few days later Bri and I met up with Katrina again. She is quite the foodie, and suggested we walk to a food fair she had heard about. It ended up being quite small but it was here that we found a cronut stand. I had never heard of a cronut so Bri enlightened me. Apparently it's a cross between a croissant and a donut, and since none of us had ever tried one and are prone to greedy food decisions, we decided it was a must. Bri selected one topped with chocolate and nuts and I pulled out my camera to document what was sure to be an epic culinary adventure. The dough was layered and flaky like a croissant but it appeared to have been cooked by deep frying like a donut so as you can imagine it was incredibly rich. It was delicious, but like cheesecake needs to be eaten in small portions. Even though we shared it we struggled to finish the last bites.
On another day we walked along the river front to a shop in South Bank called Kiss the Berry in order to have acai bowls. Although I'm familiar with acai berries, which have come into popularity as a super food, I had never heard of acai bowls. Basically, frozen acai berries are pureed into a thick smoothie and then topped with things like fruit, granola, and nuts. It reminded me of having frozen yogurt with toppings, except healthier and still amazingly delicious and decadent. Paying over $10 for a little container of the stuff didn't make me feel as good, but I presumed it was due to Australia's inflated pricing. However, a quick Google search revealed that around the world people seem to be paying around $7-10 for acai bowls, so the difficulty of harvesting the berries, paired with media hype, seems to be to blame for the high price.
A huge part of my food experience centered around hot beverages, partly because the weather was quite cool and rainy when I arrived, and partly because Bri has worked as a barista and is a connoisseur of fine coffee. Australia really does have a lot of lovely coffee, so that is what we had for the most part. In general, Australian coffee is not served sweet, so one must ask for sugar to be added if they want something sweet. While that was my wish the majority of the time, Bri insisted that a high quality blend that has been skilfully prepared is mild enough to drink sans sugar without tasting like you're drinking burnt tar. I was dubious but after trying her sugarless cappuccinos a few times I had to agree, although I think I'm still a sweet and milky gal. Bri also had me try a Picccolo Latte, which is basically an incredibly cute coffee served in a mini latte glass. I think Australia has a unique coffee culture in that the whole country feels like you're in Seattle or Portland. Think small un-commercialized coffee shops on every corner, serving drinks with beautiful touches you only find in high end establishments in the States. When we weren't having a coffee we drank tea. We had chai in tall glasses, and Earl Grey and English Breakfast in tiny teapots with mini pitchers of cream, which I found particularly enchanting. You can't help but feel posh even if you're in jeans and a tee-shirt with only $50 to your name. During my last week Bri decided that I couldn't go home without having an Australian iced chocolate, which is something like a blend between chocolate milk and a milkshake. Chocolate syrup is drizzled into the bottom of a glass and then topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Milk is then poured over the whole thing and topped with whip cream and chocolate powder and voilá--you have a drink that also requires a spoon and tastes like happiness in a cup. If you ask for an iced coffee it's made exactly the same way except that the chocolate syrup is of course replaced with shots of coffee.
Something else that I also couldn't go home without having was wedges with sour cream and sweet chili sauce. Wedges are like french fries except that... well, they're wedge shaped and usually crusted in a nice salty seasoning mix. Dipped in sour cream, sweet chili sauce, or both, they have to be one of the most satisfying ways of eating a potato. Speaking of fried things, I must mention the battered plantains and pineapples we ate during our visit to the coast. Bri took me up to a lovely seaside town called Caloundra and we headed to a fish and chip shop for lunch. But instead of chips, Bri wanted to introduce me to the wonder of battered and fried pineapple slices which she described as succulent. This particular shop seemed to have about everything you could imagine battered and fried and so we decided to try the plantains too. And just for good measure, we threw in an order of battered potatoes. I began to feel a little judged sitting at a table covered entirely by deep fried food. As people walked past I made an effort to sit up straighter to flatten my belly pooch and made a point of giving them a "so what?" kind of look as they passed by. In the end we'd been far to ambitious and only made it through the battered potatoes, but the bananas and pineapples were quite the tasty treat the next day. Very juicy and nice to have something sweet under all that salty batter.
We had many other wonderful meals but I would bore even myself if I gave a day by day account. Suffice it to say, eating in Brisbane and the surrounding area was delicious from beginning to end, and I can't wait to gorge myself on my next visit.