The queue out the front of Mr Crackles on Bourke Street says a lot about its Melbourne debut. We wanted a piece of what Sydneysiders have been enjoying since December 2012, and now we have it.
The warmth of its reception could be measured by the 60-metre lines of people out the door during its first week, says chef co-owner Sam Horowitz, and the stream continues just about every minute of the day until close.
“We were thinking we were going to match the [Sydney] numbers, but we’re easily doubling it so far,” he says. “We got a few one-star reviews because we ran out of pork last Sunday and we had to close early. So it’s been overwhelming just keeping up. I totally underestimated the brand.”
Horowitz and co-owner Carlos Justo originally met while working at The Wharf Restaurant in Sydney. “We used to have these staff parties where we’d cook up suckling pigs and make them into sandwiches,” Horowitz says. “Somebody suggested we should do it at the markets, and we did it. It was very popular so we opened a shop.”
Their Darlinghurst eatery quickly gained a cult-like following for its quality and late-night availability. The pair has brought five-year Crackles staffer Francesco Mauro to run the show here.
The Melbourne menu is the same as Sydney’s. Its most popular item, the Crackles Classic, is a roll packed with crispy-skinned, slow-roasted five-spice pork belly with Vietnamese salad. Horowitz says The Bogan, loaded with pork belly, chips, gravy and cheese, has been a hit here.
“We’ve got the crackling cup, which we sell out of every day after a few hours,” Horowitz adds. “The kitchen’s not big enough to cook enough.”
His personal favourite? Onion rings with French onion dip.
There’s nothing very fast about this fast-food joint, apart from the service. Everything from the mayo down to the pickles is made in-house; only the bread is outsourced from a baker. It makes the preparation a timely process. The Hong Kong-style barbeque pork, for example, is marinated for days. Lamb is salted for 24 hours, then cooked slowly for another eight.
To perfect the crackling is even more work.
“The pork takes three days,” he says. “We salt it for a day, cook it overnight for 12 hours, let it dry in the cool room for at least 12 hours, then we roast it up to get the crackling.”
Despite the care taken to perfect each dish, Horowitz emphasises it’s just a “sandwich shop, specialising in roast meats and salads.”
“In the first week, the phone was ringing every two minutes and we would have had a thousand emails for reservations,” he says. “But we’re just a simple takeaway place.”
On that note, the interior is dictated by function. Seating is limited to a dozen stools because the eight ovens and cold room out back take precedence.
“Last week we got 1.3 tonnes of pork belly, and a few hundred kilos of other meat,” he says. “So it’s gotta be mostly kitchen space.”
164 Bourke Street, Melbourne
(03) 9654 8054
Mon to Sun 11.30am–9.30pm