The word’s out – in fact it’s been out for a while: Melbourne – Victoria, Australia’s capital city – has re-invented itself as one of the world’s most cosmopolitan and swinging cities on the planet. Boasting bars, cafes, restaurants and coffee houses renowned for their excellence and hospitality, it can now add bizarre to its list. For those looking for something off-beat and not-everyday, here are some joints that come highly recommended. Everything from the tacky to the terrifically surrealistic. But it’s not just the decor we’re talking about. It’s also great food and drink menus that make making a choice harder than usual.  From science labs to theatre restaurants to arcade halls, here are a few of Melbourne’s most loved eccentric venues.

Croft Institute

Melbourne CBD

Bring out your inner science nerd and visit one of Melbourne’s very first laneway bars. The dim lighting, black and white tiles, and shelves crammed with beakers and test tubes would normally create a stark atmosphere, but once you sit yourself down in a cosy corner, you’ll find The Croft to be quite an intimate setting. Although The Croft is no longer the secret Melbourne hideaway it once was, it has gained institution status due to its commitment to theme and creative cocktails. If themed bars are your thing, don’t hesitate to wander upstairs to their second floor gymnasium-style space, complete with turf bar and bleachers for seating.



Burgers? On a tram? In the sky? Yep, it can only be Easey’s. When this café/burger joint/sky-high bar first opened earlier this year, it generated some serious hype and we’re happy to report that Easey’s is still exceeding expectations in every way. The graffiti-covered Hitachi 153Ms are conducive to a fun and rambunctious atmosphere when filled to the brim. In short, their burgers are killer, and if you’re hungry, don’t hesitate to smash the Melbourne Madness, filled with a double beef patty, triple American cheddar, bacon, potato cake, dim sim (yes, really), jalapenos, pickles, onions, ketchup and mustard. Accompany that with some bourbon and five-cheese macaroni, or a doughnut filled with milkshake-flavour inspired custard, and you’re set.



As far as Tiki bars in Melbourne go, LuWow takes the cake, and a good time here is always guaranteed. If Hawaiian shirts, frozen margaritas and live music sound like something you’d be down with, then get yourself to LuWow STAT. As would be expected, the majority of their cocktails are rum-based, from a variety of Zombies to a classic Dark ’n’ Stormy. Our pick would have to be the King Mai Tai, served in a LuWow Tiki mug you get to take home. If a few of these aren’t enough to coax you out onto the D-floor, they even have go-go dancers to liven up the party. An honourable mention goes to Aloha Sailor, below The Noble Experiment, if you’re into Tiki cocktails and tropical times.


Berlin Bar

Melbourne CBD

Anyone who has been lucky enough to visit Germany’s capital knows of its historical background, thriving artistic culture and reputation as ‘poor but sexy’. So why wouldn’t we try and recreate a slice of that right here in Melbourne at Berlin Bar? This bar is split into two themed sections: the Communist East and the Capitalist West. Each side is decked out accordingly, so if you want a dive bar feel, head East, and for something a little more swanky, go West. It wouldn’t be a German-themed bar without beer, and they sell imported German brews by the bottle. Their cocktail list is also inspired by this epic European city; for something to keep you going until the early hours, try Das Berghain, with vodka, gin, Red Bull, cherry tomato, lemon, and pepper.

Madame Brussels

Melbourne CBD

When greeted by the bar staff at Madame Brussels, you would be forgiven for thinking it was time to dust off those tennis whites and start working on your backhand. The garden party theme is alive and well all year round, with outdoor furniture decorating both the open rooftop and indoor areas of the establishment. Even in winter, the experience is nothing short of delightful when you’re covered in blankets under heat lanterns, but nothing can beat a sunny afternoon sharing a cocktail jug amongst friends. Try the Prussian Iced Tea, with Tequila, ripe peaches, lemon, mint stepped in Earl Grey, and topped with lemonade and soda.

29th Apartment

St Kilda

This bar is a recreation of the apartment of St Kilda artist and prostitute Kitashe, who was fascinated by New York City and mysteriously went missing in the 1980s. Filled with eccentricities and oil paintings, 29th Apartment is unusual beyond the fact you feel like you’ve gatecrashed a peculiar house party. To continue the Manhattan influence, they serve New York style pizza, and menu offerings are playfully named after the Big Apple’s main attractions. For something on the sweeter side, try a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup martini, with a splash of vodka, amaretto, and chocolate syrup thrown in for good measure. Did we mention they have a Giant Jenga set to play with? We can’t decide if we’re having a night in or a night out.


Melbourne CBD

Melbourne is going a little gaga for gaming as an option for evening entertainment, and hey, who are we to snub such a fun trend? Take a trip down memory lane at Bartronica with classics such as Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Streetfighter 2 and GTI Club, without a single X-Box in sight. The drinks list continues on in the same 80s vein, so be sure to try the DeLorean for a fresh take on the mojito, or get a gin and tonic with Tetris-shaped ice cubes. Just when you thought drinking couldn’t get any more amusing, they go and make ice cubes cooler than ice cold. If you are a gaming nerd at heart, you could also get into other arcade theme bars such as Pixel Alley and Forgotten Worlds.

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Melbourne CBD

Take an exotic trip to a bedouin tent at the Glamp cocktail bar, hidden above street level in Melbourne’s CBD. Run by the same team behind African BBQ and bar PolePole, the safari-inspired space comes complete with Ethiopian coffee espresso martinis, an African twit on the Mai Tai and cosy camp-feel decor. Don your brightest African print, grab your safari hat and get ready for some delicious drinks and snacks.

Witches In Britches

West Melbourne

What weird and whacky list would be complete without at least one theatre restaurant mention? Your night begins as you walk through the tunnel of terror to the mysterious witches’ castle, where you will watch the show, enjoy a three-course meal, and dance the night away in the dungeon pit disco. Witches in Britches is currently running their spellbinding comedy ‘Vanity Lair’ featuring witches searching for eternal youth to the soundtrack of pop songs from the 80s to today. If theatre restaurants are a guilty pleasure of yours, Dracula’s might also be worth a visit; they are currently running a 70s-inspired vampire performance that you can really sink your teeth into.

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Soul Food is a term used for an ethnic cuisine, food traditionally prepared and eaten by African Americans of the Southern United States.

Many of the various dishes and ingredients included in “soul food” are also regional meals and comprise a part of other Southern US cooking, as well. The style of cooking originated during American slavery. African slaves were given only the “leftover” and “undesirable” cuts of meat from their masters (while the white slave owners got the meatiest cuts of ham, roasts, etc.).

They also had only vegetables grown for themselves. After slavery, many, being poor, could afford only off-cuts of meat, along with offal. Farming, hunting and fishing provided fresh vegetables, fish and wild game, such as possum, rabbit, squirrel and sometimes waterfowl. Africans living in America at the time (and since) more than made do with the food choices they had to work with. Dishes or ingredients commonly found in soul food include: Biscuits (a shortbread similar to scones, commonly served with butter, jam, jelly, sorghum or cane syrup, or gravy; used to wipe up, or “sop,” liquids from a dish). Black-eyed peas (cooked separately or with rice, as hoppin’ john). Catfish (dredged in seasoned cornbread and fried). Chicken (often fried with cornmeal breading or seasoned flour) Collard greens (usually cooked with ham hocks, often combined with other greens). Grits, often served with fish. Neckbones (beef neck bones seasoned and slow cooked). Okra:(African vegetable eaten fried in cornmeal or stewed, often with tomatoes, corn, onions and hot peppers). Turnip greens(usually cooked with ham hocks, often combined with other greens).

Though soul food originated in the South, soul food restaurants — from fried chicken and fish “shacks” to upscale dining establishments-are in every African-American community in the nation, especially in cities with large black populations, such as Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles and Washington, DC.

Slave Women Processing Pork on Wessyngton PlantationSource:

Soul Food History:

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When I was a kid, chicken-fried steak was my favourite restaurant food. A big slab of meat encased in batter and fried, accompanied by a big scoop of mashed potatoes and green beans, was the perfect meal. With everything smothered in white gravy, the dish contained all of the major food groups for a growing boy.

CFS was my choice any time my parents felt flush or brave enough to take six kids to a restaurant.

I still enjoy a good, and not so good, CFS every now and then. It’s often a benchmark comfort food for me when visiting an unfamiliar eating establishment. If a restaurant makes a good CFS, I extrapolate that the rest of their menu is also above average. There are CFS connoisseurs who search diners of the South for the best CFS. I’m not one of them. For my money, the best CFS is the one in front of me, the second best is the next one I’m going to have, and third best is the one I had yesterday.


Texas Versions

Former Austin Chronicle food editor, Robb Walsh, divides CFS into three categories. The East Texas version is a tenderized steak dipped in egg and flour, similar to how Southern fried chicken is prepared. The version from Central Texas draws from the area’s German heritage to use bread crumbs instead of flour, similar to Wiener schnitzel, and uses round steak rather than veal. In West Texas the preference is to dip the beef into milk and flour without the egg like a gussied-up pan-fried steak.

Over the years, there have been nearly as many modifications to CFS as there are kitchens preparing the hearty meal. To be an authentic CFS, the meat should be round steak pounded thin, and then dipped in a bath of milk (preferably buttermilk) before being covered in a mixture of flour, salt, and pepper. A true CFS should be pan fried, not deep fried, to a golden brown. The drippings are used to make the white gravy.

The most authentic CFS I’ve found is at Mary’s Cafe in Strawn. At this country cafe, the steak is the size of two hands, the breading is modest, and the meat is nearly tender enough to cut with a fork.

Like many culinary traditions, food historians argue over the origins, but most agree on the basic reasons for a particular method of preparation. CFS takes a tough cut of meat, beats it into submission and dresses the meat in a coating of batter.


Texas Legend

According to Texas culinary legend, a little cafe in the Panhandle town of Lamesa was the site of American food history. The story was largely perpetuated by journalist Larry BeSaw when it was published in the Austin American-Statesman on Jan. 11, 1976.

According to BeSaw, chicken-fried steak began on a winter day in 1911 at Ethel’s Home Cooking cafe in Lamesa. Jimmy Don Perkins was working as a short order cook at Ethel’s, when a waitress wrote an order for “chicken, fried steak.”

Poorly educated, Perkins didn’t comprehend the meaning of the comma during the lunch rush. Not thinking much about it at the time, he coated a steak in fried chicken batter and threw his name into the cooking hall of fame.

The mistake might have been overlooked, except diners began asking for the new concoction and Ethel’s became the most popular restaurant around. Ethel’s is long gone now, but every chef in Texas seems to want to put their signature on what began as a simple mistake.

Unfortunately, the story did not end well for Jimmy Don. BeSaw wrote that the cook was soon fired from Ethel’s after a dispute over a waitress’ affections. He was later found dead under mysterious circumstances in a Lubbock alley, never knowing his place in food history.

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Some content on this page was disabled on August 22, 2016 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from Kat Robinson. You can learn more about the DMCA here:

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Smith_Dimestore_HC_jkt_rgb_HRMy mother’s recipe box sits on the windowsill in our North Carolina kitchen where my eye falls on it twenty, maybe thirty times a day. I will never move it.

Author Lee Smith in her Hillsborough home office on March 3, 2016. Smith has recently published her first non-fiction book, Dimestore, a memoir of her personal and writing lives. Hillsborough writer Lee Smith writes about her mother’s battered recipe box in an essay excerpted from her latest book, Dimestore. Author Lee Smith in her Hillsborough home office on March 3, 2016. Smith has recently published her first non-fiction book, Dimestore, a memoir of her personal and writing lives. Hillsborough writer Lee Smith writes about her mother’s battered recipe box in an essay excerpted from her latest book, Dimestore.

An anachronism in my own modern kitchen, the battered box contains my mother’s whole life story, in a way, with all its places and phases, all her hopes and the accommodations she made in the name of love, as I have done, as we all do.

I can read it like a novel – for in fact, our recipes tell us everything about us: where we live, what we value, how we spend our time. Mama’s recipe box is an odd green-gold in color. She “antiqued” it, then decoupaged it with domestic decals of the fifties: one depicts a rolling pin, a flour sifter, a vase of daisies, and a cheerful, curly-headed mom wearing a red bead necklace; another shows a skillet, a milk bottle, a syrup pitcher, three eggs, and a grinning dad in an apron. Check out two of the recipes below:

From Lee Smith of Hillsborough.

2 (1/4-ounce) packages yeast

1/4 cup warm water

2 1/2 cups milk

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons Crisco

2 eggs, beaten

7 to 8 cups flour

Margarine or butter

Add yeast to water and stir to dissolve. Set aside.

Place milk, sugar, salt and Crisco in a saucepan and bring just below a boil and take off heat.

When milk mixture has cooled to lukewarm, add eggs and dissolved yeast. Place liquid in large bowl, add 7 cups flour and mix by hand. If it is too wet, add up to another 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup at a time. Knead well until dough develops. Cover and set in a warm place and let double in size.

Punch down dough, divide in half and shape into loafs. Place in greased loaf pans and let rise until it again doubles in size.

Bake in an oven heated to 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes until well browned. After loafs remove from pans, brush with melted butter and margarine. Cool completely.

Yield: 2 loaves.

Recipe tester found Durkee Famous Sauce at Carlie C’s IGA grocery store in Garner. From Lee Smith of Hillsborough.

1 teaspoon yellow or Dijon mustard

1 (4-ounce) chopped pimientos, drained

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup Durkee Famous Sandwich & Salad Sauce

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 pound shredded cheddar cheese

Mix together all ingredients.

Yield: about 4 cups



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In 1968,  Mahalia Jackson, still at the height of her singing fame, started a fried chicken chain in Chicago, meant to be the black counterpart to country comedian Minnie Pearl’s own chain as well as a competitor to Colonel Sanders’s rapidly expanding Kentucky Fried Chicken. Though we now claim Jackson as part of our shared American musical heritage, the intended audience for this chain implies a more limited role for Gospel music in the 1960s. As an article in the African-American newspaper The Chicago Defender noted, the chain was “black-owned, managed and staffed and is hiring in the communities in which it operates.”

In this way, the chain was most definitely a product of the 1960s. In the midst of the Civil Rights Era, less than 15 years after the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education declaring segregation in public schools to be illegal, integration was still in progress. Black and white restaurants and neighborhoods, though not legally segregated, existed (and, in fact, still exist today).

In the end, even with her name, fame, and star power, the restaurant chain was a bust. Both Minnie Pearl’s and Mahalia Jackson’s stores went out of business within a few years. A final restaurant bearing her name (Mayo’s Fried Pies and Mahalia Jackson’s Chicken in Nashville) closed in 2008.



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honey-mustard-chicken-tendersA flavorful grilled chicken tender recipe marinated in a honey mustard sauce and cooked to perfection.

Source: Grilled Honey Mustard Chicken Tenders

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Cafeterias used to be everywhere in this country. (For those who aren’t familiar with the term, they are restaurants that serve you food from a buffet in a line formation, but unlike a buffet, such as those popular in Las Vegas and around the country, you don’t primarily serve yourself). Nowadays they are few and far between. In California in the late 1940s and the 1950s they evolved into a popular style called a hofbrau (from the German word for a royal brewery) probably because they usually served beer as well as hearty food.

The earliest hofbrau that is still open is Tommy’s Joynt in San Francisco. Still wonderfully original and filled with clutter it serves good, filling food at low prices (perhaps the best value in the city). In 1954 the first Harry’s Hof Brau opened in Redwood City, now a small chain of newer hofbraus owned by Harry’s son Larry Kramer (the original Redwood City location is still open but has been remodelled). Famous ball player, coach, and manager Francis ‘Lefty’ O’Doul opened his eponymous hofbrau / sports bar in 1958 in San Francisco (still open and it sill has some charm but every time I go there for some tasty chow it seems there are more TVs than before). And across the bay in Berkeley Brennan’s opened its Irish style hofbrau in 1959 (still owned by the same family, it moved in 2008 into the historic 1913 Southern Pacific Railroad Station next door to the original location, but it’s also filled with more TVs than I can stand).


In 1955 Sam Gordon opened his first Hof Brau in Sacramento at 17th and J streets (it closed in 1993 and became Hamburger Mary’s, then Hamburger Patties, and still has the original chef neon sign from Sam’s Hof Brau). In 1957 Sam Gordon opened another Hof Brau in downtown Sacramento at 815 L St. in a Bavarian theme. Then in 1960 he opened his fancier restaurant, Sam’s Rancho Villa, at 2380 Fair Oaks Blvd., which featured three dining rooms, the Candlelight, the Continental, and the Venetian, and two cocktail lounges, the Capri and the Eden Roc (wow, I would have loved to have seen this place!). Although it was swanky, they still served food cafeteria style. In 1962 he opened Sam’s Plaza Hof Brau in the Plaza Shopping Center at 2500 Watt Ave., the only Sam’s Hof Brau still open in Northern California. The restaurant is mostly original, except for a few TVs by the bar. At the front is the food line with the servers and a big pickle slice decanter. On the right side of the large main dining room is the long bar with a large oil painting of the Golden Spike ceremony when the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869.


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Okay, a lot of people will tell you that it’s the sauce not the way the meat is cooked that makes all the different, and if there’s one sauce that every chicken-lovin’ restaurant goer loves it’s the Raisin’ Cane special sauce, which a disgruntled former employee decided to tell everybody about. If you have already caught up with it, try making some of your own using the following recipe:



  1. Combine all ingredients, mix well. Add additional pepper if desired.
  2. You can serve immediately, but it will taste better if the flavours are given the chance to “meld” in the fridge for a few hours (or days) before serving.


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Christie’s restaurant was a beloved eatery in San Antonio for over 50 years before closing in the 90’s. I used to love the neon sign out the front, that featured a fish flipping and flapping on a frying pan as it was being cooked. The food was amazing. But the place was really famous for its remoulade sauce which they’d pop onto a huge lettuce leaf. People still remember it 30-40 years later.  Why not give it a try. But please – read the recipe several times before attempting as this is a demanding recipe. And take care to add the oil one tablespoon at a time.

Chilling time not included in preparation time.
Makes 4 1/2 cups

1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
2 tablespoons green bell peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons dry mustard
2 tablespoons dry pectin (Sure Jel)
1 teaspoon lemon peel (Spice Islands works well)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon meringue powder (Wilton brand is available at stores that sell cake-decorating items)
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 cup crushed ice
4 large eggs
2 cups soya oil (use regular salad oil if you can’t find soybean)

1) Using food processor blender, finely chop celery, green pepper, carrot and onion until almost grated; set aside.
2) Combine salt, mustard, Sure Jel, lemon peel, cornstarch, meringue powder and paprika in small mixing bowl; set aside.
3) Place ice in large mixer bowl; add dry spice mixture along with eggs, mixing at high speed.
4) When thoroughly mixed and ice has melted, slowly add soybean oil 1 tablespoon at a time while mixing at high speed.
5) Mix until thick (this will take about 40 minutes).
6) Add chopped vegetables and mix about 1-2 minutes until blended.
7) Chill in covered container several hours before serving.

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