Nolan’s baby Proud Mary has been the ever-spring establishment in Fitzroy. It is still packed on weekends from 10am, with a willing queue of patrons. I love the coffee there, and it’s the first place I think of when I’m in need of a serious fix. The kitchen churns out brilliant food too, and that is certainly one of the charms of Proud Mary. However, faced with the agony of waiting and other breakfast joints, the latter has been winning in recent times. Such is the price of success; eventually customers will seek other choices.
Well, here comes Plan B. Proud Mary has a baby brother, and its name is Stagger Lee’s. It is ideally located on Brunswick St near the junction with Johnston St. Parking can be rather tricky if you wander up slightly later in the morning, but I dropped by at 9.30am on a Sunday morning and got street parking right outside the still-snoozing Black Cat. There wasn’t any great big signage heralding it’s presence, but the little chalk scribblings by the entrance. I like the full-length glass walls as it serves to advocate it popularity by letting you see how crowded it is, and also to really lighten up the interior. There are a couple of tables along the pavement of Greeves St, but in the current winter weather, I’d favour a cozy spot inside. The decor is not ultra-minimalistic, the coffee conjuring area is somewhat smaller than Proud Mary, with a backdrop of glassware and coffee drips. I was struck by the several familiar faces manning the joint. They have pulled staff across from Proud Mary, and for some customers, this may indeed make them more comfortable.The wooden tables do have a rather weather appearance, and I can’t declare the chairs to be the most comfortable either. However, for a business establishment, it is functional.
For ultimately, I’m here for the coffee and food. Heading up the kitchen is Proud Mary’s own Chris Hamburger, incidentally ex-Aylesbury among others. I had to dispel my comfort orders of potato hash with bugna cauda sauce, and the ricotta hotcakes. I was here to check out what new weekend indulgences I could be savouring in future.
Let’s start at the very beginning. The simplest order for Sunday breakfast. Eggs on toast. It’s easier to fry an egg than it is to scramble a couple. The scrambled eggs was cleanly prepared, the use of butter was sufficient to let you feel the butter flavour but it didn’t weight down in the mouth. The eggs were served hot, and moist to contrast against the harder toast. The buttered spinach (extra $4) was also well-prepared with no moisture seeping away from the greens nor glugging up the toast. Compared to Proud Mary, the portion size is slightly smaller, but strangely the price is slightly more expensive by a couple of $$s (unless PM’s have recently revised their pricing).
The big question on everyone’s mind is ‘what will be the must-try dish on SL’s menu?’ It is still early days, and no one has gotten round to organising a voting booth, but two items did perk my interest. The first was Mama’s Stack, which comprised of shaved corned beef, poached egg, pressed potato, fried tuscan kale and parsley sauce. The portion size is more than what it appears in the picture below. The corned beef was nice, flavours as expected. The poached egg was spot on, with an orange runny yolk. And the parsley sauce nicely moistened the potato. To me, the dish was well assembled, the individual components are nice on their own, but the overall combination.. hmm.. when everything comes together, it didn’t elevate the dish further. And what is the focus of the dish, perhaps a little re-invention might be in order? For $19, I can’t say yes next time.
The Pumpkin and Walnut offers house-baked pumpkin loaf, vanilla infused spiced pumpkin jam, candied walnuts and yoghurt ice cream. (Not sure whether the Canadian maple syrup was missing as a dressing??) I really liked this one. It’s different, it’s a simple-ish pumpkin loaf that is slightly moist, slightly crumbly, given texture by the candied walnuts, additional flavour with the pumpkin jam, then a slather of the cold yogurt ice cream. It is visually attractive too. For $16, I’m happy with this order.
Overall, the new Stagger Lee’s establishment is a nice weekend early escape. It’s great for a casual catchup with friends, or people watch on the bench by the glass walls. Oh, and did I mention the coffee was nice too? The menu throws up some new interesting inventions worth trying, and there is a short lunch menu for later in the day. There might be a few teething problems, as the service attempts to match the demands of the customers. I visited in the quiet morning lull, so I cannot comment on the standards during full-on peak service hours.