Cafes seemed the go-to venue to open between 2015 and 2017, with chefs chucking in their whites for a simpler life in the suburbs. That trend perhaps slowed slightly in 2018, with classy middle-market restaurants suddenly the rage, but it doesn’t mean the city’s cafe scene has stopped evolving.

There was a straightforward philosophy to this year’s openings: good food and coffee presented simply, but given some sort of twist. Take Yavanna, offering staples such as steak and potatoes, and chicken and salad, but completely vegan; or Florence, which serves no-fuss nourishing food that makes the produce the hero; and Only., which has created a streamlined grab-and-go approach for a CBD crowd that doesn’t want to skimp on quality.

Here’s our take on the best Brisbane cafe openings of 2018.

Glee
A regional favourite since launching on the New South Wales Central Coast just a few years ago, Glee’s first Queensland outpost arrived in South Brisbane in June. The handsome warehouse space, which previously belonged to The Roastery Cafe, has been brightened with plenty of white paint and greenery. Glee’s Queensland roastery focuses on single origins, while the cafe’s menu has imported a few favourites from down south, such as the avo smash with lemon, feta and dukkah, and smoky house beans with polenta chips, crispy kale and goat’s curd.

1/25 Glenelg Street, South Brisbane

Penny Coffee Co
After a six-year stint in Melbourne working front-of-house for some of that city’s biggest roasters, Geoff Grundy wanted to open a spot with a simple focus: nice food and exceptional specialty coffee. With the help of Clui Design, Grundy turned an old Fujifilm development lab on Annerley Road into an understated standalone cafe with bi-fold windows and a colourful Shani Finch mural. Coffee is the main event here with options of espresso, V60 and Aeropress. The food is refreshingly uncomplicated; there are dishes such as miso scrambled eggs and salt-baked salmon on rye, confit mushroom and pumpkin with a poached egg and hummus, and chai-spiced bircher muesli.

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109 Annerley Road, Dutton Park

Macho Macho
Macho Macho is the third Brisbane cafe from Monica and Jimmy Strong, the couple responsible for Artie & Mai and the much-loved if now defunct Arthur’s Green. Macho Macho features exposed-brick walls, pink accents and custom neon with a mural by Joel Birch (artist and lead singer for the Amity Affliction). The Ashgrove West spot runs breakfast through to dinner with coffee from Seven Miles, and a list of beers, wine and cocktails kicks in later in the day. Food includes house-made hash cakes with egg and relish (a favourite imported from Artie & Mai), dukkah-crusted eggplant, fall-off-the-bone beef rib, and zesty pancakes with honeycomb.

2/498 Waterworks Road, Ashgrove

Dicki’s
Opening in February, Dicki’s has become an enormously popular New Farm go-to for simple vegan food. The cafe is run by siblings Justine Khoury, Lexi Golding and Choy Zulueta – all veterans of the local hospitality scene. The family has named it Dicki’s after their late father, who first introduced them to a vegan diet. While the food menu is entirely vegan, Dicki’s does offer a cow’s-milk option for those who want it in their coffee. “Everybody has veggies, but not everyone will have coffee on soy,” co-owner Justine Khoury says.

893 Brunswick Street, New Farm

Florence
Florence co-owners Elizabeth Florence and Sam Pethely first met when working together at Felix for Goodness (which Pethely co-owns), where they bonded over a passion for good, nourishing food. They soon dreamt up Florence, and earlier this year took over a 1930s cottage in Camp Hill to make the cafe a reality. Formerly Cafe Grenadine, Florence and Pethely opened up the space and installed custom furniture by Talty Sargent. An all-day breakfast menu includes in-house ferments, pickles and sauces, which can also be bought from the deli section alongside local breads and nut cheeses.

54 Martha Street, Camp Hill

Only.
While Brisbane’s CBD has some pretty big players in the specialty coffee scene, there’s still a bunch of black spots once you move away from Edward and Elizabeth streets. Only. did its part to address this when it opened on Queen Street in September. The long space takes fashionable Scandi minimalism to a whole new level; its clean-cut white surfaces perhaps more resemble an Apple store than a cafe. A service bench takes up most of the space with coffee up one end and a cabinet full of fresh salads at the other, creating an intuitive flow for grab-and-go customers. For those who do want to stick around, there’s one long bench seat against one wall.

324 Queen Street, Brisbane

Nodo
2018 was a big year for Nodo. The Newstead venue underwent renovations to turn the gluten-free bakery into a fully-fledged cafe replete with table service, a seasonal menu focused on native and local produce, and a kitchen big enough to supply to other sites. This paved the way for a new Nodo location in Camp Hill, which opened this month inside Camp Hill Marketplace. The new venue features many of the typical Nodo touches such as concrete tables, sleek, minimal styling and a large glass cabinet displaying rows of gluten-free doughnuts, but has a much more casual approach. All seating is outdoors and takes advantage of a grassy square making it very family-friendly.

1 Ella Street, Newstead

25 Samuel Street, Camp Hill

Yavanna
Yavanna offers a new take on plant-based dining. “We want to break the stereotype of boring vegan food,” says head chef John Baker. “We want to have steaks and cheesy food”. He and his co-owners Cale Drouin and Kate Borgo have done exactly that: the menu is full of seitan-based alternative meat takes on classics such as chargrilled steak with creamy potato, and flame-grilled chicken with chips and slaw. The name, Yavanna, comes from a JRR Tolkien character – a goddess who is the queen of the earth and giver of fruit. The inspiration flows through to the styling, which has plenty of wood, greenery and a carefully detailed feature wall.

2 Latrobe Terrace, Paddington

Gramps
Eggs Benedict. That’s what customers were chasing 10 years ago when Adam Murphy first started working in hospitality. Now they’re after something much more creative, and it inspired Murphy to open Gramps in Red Hill in July. For the menu, Murphy has struck a balance between simple, modest food and something you can’t make at home – think poached eggs with butter-bean hummus and nut crumble on sourdough; or the Old-Time Omelette with dill, labneh and capsicum chilli jam. Coffee is by Single O and filter comes from Parallel Roasters, with a collection of teas and other drinks as well.

110 Windsor Road, Red Hill

Freja’s
Elevated brunch moved to the suburbs when Freja’s set up shop on Wilston’s Macgregor Street. Co-owners Freja Rasmussen and Nathan Dunnell wanted to create a polished approach to the morning meal, serving classics with a twist. Take the avo on toast, which comes with saltbush, goat’s cheese, tomato chutney and spiced ‘nduja (spreadable salami). The cosy cafe sports Scandinavian-style wood and white details and a courtyard filled with benches made by Dunnell and his father.

3/1 MacGregor Street, Wilston

Honourable mentions:
Arlette’s Kitchen
Huskk
The New Black
Two Tables