It’s hard to say whether it’s Obama, cheap air travel or Mad Men. But Melbourne is soaking up a global trend: what was once considered crass is cool again. We’re talking America – the land of opportunity. It seems the GFC has – at least to some extent – severed the association between America and obscene excess. And the result? We’re willing to put aside images of obesity and junk food, and embrace and explore American cuisine.
For too long, stereotypes have overshadowed what is wonderful about American food: a melting pot of influences that reflect a history of ingenuity, immigration and innovation. Sure, there is tendency to deep-fry, over-salt and over-sweeten. But American cuisine is also about toothsome flavours, heady sauces, heartiness, zing and that full-bellied contentment.
Here are some Melbourne eateries serving up dishes with an American flavour.
On the corner of Smith Street and Alexandra Parade in Collingwood, the newly established Gasometer features an all-American menu for vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. The money-shot burger is served on a brioche bun; a salsa board is on offer, complete with seasonal salsas and stuffed fried olives; and for the vegetarian, fried tofu strips are a tasty alternative to the classic buffalo wings. But the highlight is the BBQ pulled-pork sandwich – slow-roasted shredded pork and house-made barbeque sauce in a white bun, served with a giant dill pickle and apple slaw.
743-745 Sydney Road, Brunswick
(03) 9386 3392
Don’t be deterred by the groups of burley motorbike enthusiasts outside this 50s-style diner in Brunswick. The interior of Highway 31 – another name for Sydney Road, in case you didn’t know – mixes 50s kitsch with rockabilly garage. Exposed brick walls are covered with motorcycle memorabilia, and vintage motorcycles - which patrons are allowed to look at but not touch - decorate the space. On the menu is a selection of burgers including The “OMG” burger (a double-decker chicken concoction), buffalo wings and an array of southern fare. Dishes like chicken creole, peppered pork chops covered in a maple syrup glaze and fish of the day blackened with Cajun spices conjure up the sounds of jazz drifting across the French Quarter in New Orleans. If you have a serious hunger, try the giant beef ribs that are marinated in sweet, tangy barbeque sauce and served with an equally large salad covered in creamy dressing.
This new-ish addition to Fitzroy is still finding its feet amid the plethora of bars that line Brunswick Street, but The Kodiak Club is a place worth visiting. In true American style, drinks are placed on a napkin and buffalo wings are on the menu. They are sticky, sweet, tangy and spicy and come with a very rich blue-cheese sauce. A side of celery sticks offers a refreshing respite from the wings. A pile of napkins and refresher towels accompany the dish, which means you can avoid greasing your beer bottle with sticky sauce.
289 Wellington Street, Collingwood
(03) 9419 5170
With pictures of Elvis in almost every corner and the odd poster of Hank Williams, this saloon-like pub pulls a motley crew of locals, rockabillies, country fans and curious passersby. Buy a jug of beer and settle in for some local music and tasty pub fare. Try the fish tacos for something with a Tex-Mex influence, but if you’re seeking a stick-to-the-ribs experience order the Philly cheesesteak sandwich. True to its moniker, this is surely a dish that Elvis would guzzle. The open sandwich is piled high with slices of steak covered in melted cheese and served with a side of fries and a small salad.
American Doughnut Kitchen
Parked at The Victoria Markets
(03) 9417 6415
It’s impossible to visit Melbourne’s Victoria Markets without the smell of deep-fried doughnuts wafting across the sheds. The American Doughnut Kitchen is actually a van and it serves up some of the most popular doughnuts in the city. The queue is inevitable, but the wait is worth it. Six dollars will buy you six doughy, deep-fried balls rolled in sugar, with a squirt of hot jam in the middle.