Guys, guys, an amazing discovery. Throw that Cheap Eats guide aside. Close the browser on that pretentious food blog. This is big. It’s those “ethnic clubs” — you know, the ones usually tucked away amidst the side streets of an assuming working-class suburb? Well most, if not all have a restaurant attached to them. And they’re really good value. And it doesn’t matter what race, colour or creed you are — they’ll serve you a tremendous feed for less than a 20.
I stumbled across this amazing alternate universe of hearty food, old surly lookin’ dudes and plinky balaika music when my beloved, an adventurous young lady, demanded we try Footscray’s Croatian Club (72 Whitehall Street, Footscray) in Melbourne. Initially reluctant, her begging and pleading finally got the better and we headed off one bitterly cold winter evening for a quick dinner before a movie.
A squat, metallic box from the outside, looking quite unlike a place where food was served, the interior was not unlike that of any large pub bistro in the country. Sure, there’s a painting of dudes in puffy pants and fezzes everywhere, but for the most part, it was a very familiar, welcoming environment.
After a rather quite nice Karlovacko, one of the beers they had on import, we ordered and I opted on the mixed grill, a reputed standout amidst the sausages and cabbage dumplings on the menu. Less than 10 minutes later we were presented with heaving platters that must have each comprised half a grown pig, also groaning under the weight of coleslaw and salad.
Sure, it wasn’t complicated. Sure, it wasn’t presented with an artisan’s care. However, it was the most succulent, tasty pork I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I was transported. Not only did I visit my happy place, but I also took the time to mount a picture of said pork on the fireplace there. It was fantastic. Spectacular. Now that I’m on a health kick, I occasionally have really quite vivid, filthy dreams about it.
I would offer some caveats, however, to those who have decided to visit their local ethnic club for dinner. It’s always wise to book — such places are very, very popular and will fill up on Saturday as the whole family gets brought along for a feed. I’d also encourage readers to order an “entree” size of whatever they’re ordering — these guys don’t muck around; a main is enough to sustain a three-man expedition for a week. Finally, smile, be friendly and know that you’re welcome — we’re all Aussies and these folks are more than happy to introduce you to some of the delights they’re brought to this country.
So, friends, it’s time to hunt around. Ask your neighbours. Barrel up the the little old man who lives in the next flat. Grill him mercilessly on where he gets his grill. Keep an eye out as you motor past your local Italian, Polish or Croatian club. Culinary treasures exists within.