I never really plan to visit Juanita Peaches. But, like a black hole, the place has its own gravity. I’ll be drinking on Sydney Road or shopping at Barkly Square when the pale-brick warehouse starts pulling at the edges of my thoughts.
Since moving to Brunswick in 2016 I’ve surrendered to this force about once a fortnight. Sometimes more. One Saturday I went for lunch and dinner, which did distressingly little to alleviate my hangover. All up, I’d say I’ve clocked well over 50 visits.
My order never varies much: a cheeseburger, fries, barbeque sauce and two pieces of fried chicken. (The chicken could just as easily have been the subject of this article.) And maybe a doughnut to finish, depending on how I feel. Sometimes I make the cheeseburger a double. Sometimes I skip the fries or chicken. But that’s all the change I can deal with. Ordering anything else feels too much like missing out.
So, that burger. The thin, 120-gram patty is hand-formed using a mix of brisket, chuck and hanger steak from grass-fed Victorian cows, then rubbed in salt, pepper and coffee. This iconoclastic touch helps the patty to develop a dark, caramelised crust after cooking, a bit like Texan-style smoked brisket.
But don’t expect to see much of that crust. The patty is positively bathed in sharp-creamy mustard-mayo, which also conceals dill pickles and translucent slivers of onion and confit shallots. Gooey American cheese is in the mix too.
Ordinarily, this much moisture would be a problem. The burger would fall apart in your hands. But Raph Rashid, the guy behind Juanita’s, Taco Truck and Beatbox Kitchen, is an extremely thorough recipe tester and iterator. His spongy house-made potato bun is steamed before service, rather than toasted, so – much like a bao – it soaks up excess juices and holds together in even the most muscular grip. If you have enough self-control, this burger is sturdy enough to put down between bites. I rarely do.
Each mouthful has just the right amount of vinegary tang, textural bite and umami mmmmm. I’ve never tried adding the optional lettuce or tomato. I know they’d only ruin a good thing.
Here’s the most remarkable thing though: I couldn’t tell you the difference between my first Juanita Peaches cheeseburger and any that have followed. Through new chefs and even a brief period where the buns were outsourced, this thing has remained as consistent as, uh, gravity. Earth’s gravity.
It’s this, maybe more than anything, that keeps me drifting back to Juanita’s week after week. The place is comforting. Familiar. Exactly as I remembered it from last time.
The staff is a part of that, too. Shane, Wade and the rest of the crew are unfailingly lovely and genuinely care for their customers. At the end of a tough week, returning to Juanita’s feels like a homecoming, where your family is excited to see you and ready to cook your favourite meal.
And I’m always ready to eat it.
“I Can't Stop Thinking About” is a series about dishes Broadsheet’s editors are obsessed with.