Where: Espresso Alley, 4 Separation Street Northcote
What: Mr Whatever Floats Your Bloat’s first adventurous brunch choice of his entire life
Who: Mr Whatever Floats Your Bloat
Bloat score: 0 – Living the dream
Grocery shopping is easily my and Mr WFYB’s least favourite part of the weekend. I typically try to sweeten the deal for myself by begging Mr WFYB to stop by at Lâm Lâm beforehand to build positive associations between grocery shopping and Lâm Lâm’s sublime salt and pepper tofu, but on this occasion, he volunteered we go for brunch, which is very unlike him because all he eats at brunch is eggs on toast, something he insists he can make himself.
I obviously seized the opportunity with the excitement of a child being offered a weekend lolly and suggested Espresso Alley, a café a stone’s throw away from Northcote Plaza, the dreaded site of our weekend grocery shop. We’d been before, but not in a while, and it was the most convenient pit stop.
Espresso Alley is a laidback sort of café that looks more like a shed than cafe – it’s never empty, but it’s never exactly teeming with people either and I love that I can get in without queuing out the front for 20 minutes. The menu is simple yet interesting. Hotcakes aren’t just any old hotcakes – they’re matcha hotcakes with jasmine-poached stone fruit, vanilla bean mascarpone and sesame praline. Baked eggs aren’t just any old baked eggs in a tomato-based sauce – they’re spicy green curry baked eggs and they come with a fried shallot crumble, eggplant, capsicum and peanuts. And much to my amazement, this is what Mr WFYB settled on. There was the option of ‘eggs cooked your way on toasted sourdough’ – his archetype order – but he reasoned to himself that he likes green curry and he likes eggs, so what could go wrong?
Nothing went wrong – he loved it. The eggplant was caramelised and baked into the curry, while the peanut and shallot crumble added a crunchy textural counterpoint to the entire dish. The green curry had a bit of a zing but not overly so, and Mr WFYB used his triangles of grilled roti as makeshift spoons to scoop up his eggs. I did not try this dish because I can’t eat eggplant, capsicum, shallots or green curry, so I took his word for it.
It was certainly Mr WFYB’s day to be brunching because apart from the left-of-centre brunch order that paid off, Espresso Alley serves milkshakes – his favourite drink after milo.
I went for the comparatively safer option of grilled zucchini fritters with a turmeric yoghurt dressing, poached egg and rocket salad. To grease things up, I got a side of hash browns because why not. This zero-bloat dish was brunch made good again for someone who can’t eat almost anything on a typical brunch menu – the fritters were light and springy, the yoghurt dressing was zesty and creamy without being overpowering, the perfectly cooked poached egg blanketed everything in its oozy glory, and the salad was a salad.
Giving up almond milk on this low-histamine diet was tough for me because I’d gotten quite used to it and I don’t like soy milk as much, but Espresso Alley came through with the goods with their coconut milk latte that I greatly enjoyed. More places have coconut milk, please – it’s the new almond milk.
Espresso Alley is a cutesy local on a somewhat deserted strip in Northcote that I’m glad exists because it means grocery shopping can be fun every once in a while. If I were to be able to eat anything I wanted – oh what a life – I would have gotten the exact same thing because nothing can come between a good fritter and me.
Espresso Alley is open from 7.30am to 4pm Monday to Friday, from 8am to 4pm on Saturday and from 8.30am to 4pm on Sunday.