You may remember a big, purple building on Mt Alexander Road called “Smoken Joe’s”. It was hard to miss it. The bistro’s gigantic double-schnitzel chicken parmas (which came in a portion that could feed four) were legendary in the area. After it closed it became a space that “nobody wanted to touch”, says new tenant Andrew D'Aprano. It sat unoccupied for years.

Then just over three months ago, D’Aprano, a local, re-opened the space as District North.

“It was a big battle to change this place from the ugly duckling into something that’s nothing like what it was before. It’s been a complete rebuild,” says D’Aprano.

Sandra Nervengna of Carlton’s Ink Studio has worked magic. The long, perforated metal bar with built-in glass cabinets creates a beautiful workbench for the baristas. There is also communal bench-style seating. Pendant lights scattered throughout give the space a warm glow.

One of the (literal) standouts on the menu is the green pancakes. Made with a pandan soy drink, they are almost fluorescent. Decorated with kaya mascarpone, mango, charred pineapple, sesame meringue and purple flowers, they are the most popular (and the most photographed) item on the menu.

The creative list of dishes, developed by D’Aprano with chef Jessica Olczak, supports other local businesses. Four Pillars gin is used to cure the salmon (which is served with rosti, pea tendrils, apple, zucchini, radish, herbs, smoked labne and a poached egg); Dr Marty’s crumpets are paired with whipped mascarpone and house-made jam; and Noisette supplies the breads and pastries.

The doughnuts are from a local bakery, and then are filled and decorated with all sorts of confectionaries (Sour Straps, Maltesers, Snickers, pretzels, pomegranate cream) at the cafe. Coffee is by Brunswick’s Code Black.

From the end of May, the team will start special monthly dinners with rotating menus. The first will focus on tacos. The venue is also available to hire for private functions.

District North
678–680 Mt Alexander Road, Moonee Ponds
(03) 9372 9116

Mon to Sat 7.30–4pm
Sun 8.30–4pm