27 October, 2011

Where's your kitchen?

An intriguing part of the cafe boom around Brunswick is the forebearance of installing a kitchen. It's a pretty vital part of the food-service industry, but many venues go instead for a food-preparation area of grill and sink behind the counter, with as much bench space given to the coffee machine and its accessories.

The breadth of cafe options in the area owes thanks to that decision - it is, of course, about cutting start-up costs, making it possible to make rent and offer high-quality coffee with a small range of breakfasts and lunches, often under or around $10.

But, when the crowds arrive - as they inevitably do in Brunswick - the limitations of the set-up become more obvious, with 45-minute waits for breakfast orders, since only one or two items can be prepared at once.

It's a relief to visit somewhere like Mixed Business in Clifton Hill to see a cafe with closer to a 50-50 split between customer and kitchen space. A kitchen laden with colanders, steaming pots, aproned and hatted cooks is discreetly visible at the back of a single, large, light room. Filled with mish-mashed wooden furniture, it's an echoey space, but customers are given enough room that conversation is still an easy proposition.

Similarly, a recent lunch at Pope Joan was over refreshingly quickly, since their enormous food-prep area - with a separate room at the back and a finishing station at the front, often staffed by owner Matt Wilkinson - gives them capacity to cope with the endlessly eager crowd of customers.

Congrats to said Mr Wilkinson also, for recently being crowned Australia's best sandwich maker. I can attest that the ones on offer at Pope Joan are fantastic!

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