After living in Melbourne for almost 2 months now, I have come to a realization. Australians, especially Melbournians, are very particular about their coffee. Cafes and coffee shops are on every corner in every suburb of Melbourne, much like 7-Elevens in the US. Lattes, flat whites, long blacks, and cappuccinos are taken very seriously here and the barista is a coveted job thought of with the utmost respect. Even toddlers drink “babycinos” with brekky – and I was embarrassed back home when I told people I didn’t like coffee. When I order my usual chai latte or hot tea it is against every part of this city’s coffee culture. Needless to say I get interesting looks at the counter. Picking up a few shifts a week at a cafe down the street has made me realize another similarity amongst the people of Melbourne. They despise, with every bone in their bodies, Starbucks. Every day without fail, a customer notices my Yankee accent and decides to have a 30 minute debate about how Americans don’t know anything about coffee, why Starbucks is the devil, and the way real coffee should be made. If only they knew about Dunkin’ Donuts. Most customers then proceed to order the most complicated coffee I’ve ever heard. If it doesn’t come out exactly the way they like it they will be offended and their week will be ruined. I wish I drank coffee, I do – then I would be able to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into each drink a Melbournian barista concocts. When I was growing up, I didn’t eat seafood. I lived with an ocean, river, and bay in my backyard my entire childhood, and didn’t start to eat fish until I went to college…in the mountains of southwest Virginia. Knowing me, I’ll probably be landing at Norfolk International in 10 months and decide to grab a latte from Starbucks on my way home. Only then will I understand what all these Aussies are talking about.
On Thursday, my trusty gal pal and I acted like it was the weekend and filled the day with good food, shopping, and pampering. Instead of going to our regular brekky spot, Izzy said she had a surprise and we were going to try some place new. We met in front of the Safeway supermarket on Carlisle Street and she led the way. We walked around the back of the building to the parking lot, then through a fenced-in alleyway. Awkward. There was a couple walking into this small warehouse with a mural of a monk on the outside of it and she proudly exclaimed, “This is it!” We entered Monk Bodhi Dharma, a boutique micro-roastery, and I started with my usual, “Oh, this is so cool…I feel so cool…Oh, look at that plate!” Exposed brick and wooden beams gave this hole-in-the-wall spot an even cozier, industrial vibe. It was super quaint – no more than 20 seats in the whole place. An old, timber work bench served as the communal table where Izzy and I dined, and we sat on mini, but very heavy, stools that resembled tree trunks. You immediately got the feeling that you are one of the lucky ones who know that this cafe exists. You feel like you’re in the know. A true local. We tried to play the part as best as we could – even with our American accents and my uncontainable excitement.
Monk is known for their organic, free trade coffee selections and a tasty, vegetarian/vegan breakfast and lunch. The breakfast menu had 8 scrumptious dishes and the lunch specials were written on a chalkboard hanging on the far wall. While Iz and I aren’t vegan (far from it), we could tell from the plates that dropped in front of the customers across from us that the Monk kitchen means business. We could live without bacon and eggs for one morning if it meant we got to try the to-die-for Avignon Apple Pancakes. You think gluten-free and vegan – how could pancakes taste that good? The fluffiest apple buckwheat pancakes were adorned with a vanilla coconut cream, cinnamon banana nice cream, strawberries, apple chips, and a mini bottle of maple syrup. They were heavenly. These apple pancakes didn’t taste healthy at all – they were moist (many of my friends’ least favorite word) and tricked your mind into thinking they were made with real butter, white flour, and eggs. My favorite bite was a small piece of strawberry and a lot of pancake, dragged through the vanilla cream, melted cinnamon ice cream, and maple syrup. Perfection. We also shared the Yucatan Beans – a savory, hearty dish with stewed beans and vegetables on top of crusty sourdough toast and sprinkled with the most delicious feta cheese we’d ever tasted. The black and kidney beans were cooked low and slow with celery, carrots, onions, and spices until it tasted like home. The Monk cooks give you the option of a vegan, almond feta cheese or the real stuff. We wanted the real stuff. This was some really good feta – salty, crumbly, but still creamy. I wondered if they had sheep out back that they had milked for this feta cheese. Yucatan Beans was such a simple plate and probably cost $4 to prepare, but each bite was rich with flavor. The staff at Monk matches the atmosphere – relaxed, warm, low-key – and they really know their beans. Coffee beans that is. They had a ton of different coffees to choose from ranging from $4 to $11 a cup from all around the globe. Izzy chose the $4 variety – we’re not made of money – and raved about it. I got their chai latte (shocker) and it was the best chai I’ve ever had – intensely spicy and aromatic. This may be our new, weekly brekky spot. Monk – you didn’t disappoint.