Friday, January 22, 2010

Let’s get ‘CERES’ about gluten free and organic food

This week I was lucky enough to go to CERES café for lunch, which is found in CERES Environment Park (located on the corner of Roberts and Stewart Streets in Brunswick East - CERES (the Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies), is a 10 acre park quite close to the inner city of Melbourne, and is really a small village devoted to all things sustainable and environmentally friendly.

CERES Café has one of the most relaxed eating spaces in Melbourne, with a large sandpit and play area for the kids (and the adults), plenty of space for prams, a beautiful shaded open area to sit in, mosaic tables, and only a short walk to say g’day to ‘the girls’, i.e. the local chooks, as they scratch and forage around CERES' gardens.  CERES aims to minimise its environmental footprint by composting its organic waste, recycling, using solar energy, using water collection and solar heating for hot water, and feeding all its waste water through a grey water system. The café uses around 80% organic ingredients, with as much as possible coming straight from CERES’ own organic market garden.

Our occasion to visit CERES was a birthday lunch for one of the adult members of my son’s playgroup, so four of us, with toddlers in tow, planted ourselves under the shade of a beautiful little tea tree, and proceeded to get stuck into a veritable feast of tummy, earth and child friendly food.

Everything at CERES is cooked on site with a large range of organic and dietary specific meals and snacks, so there were no issues in me finding suitable gluten free options on the menu. In fact, gluten free and wheat free options are clearly marked on the menu (as are vegan, dairy free and 90% organic options)… gotta love that!  Examples of what's on the menu include: free-range organic eggs; big vegan breakfasts; slow cooked beans; hot indonesian eggs; and french toast for breakfast; savoury tarts, pastries, salads and organic baguettes for lunch.

As I was feeling the need for a simple, uncomplicated meal, I ordered poached organic eggs on gluten free toast. Now this is a dish that I consider the litmus test for cafes if they claim they can provide good gluten free food. The bread has to be soft, of good consistency, fresh and tasty (and of course gluten free), as it’s really the foundation for the whole dish. Everything else hangs off how good the bread is. CERES café surpasses many a café in Melbourne for the gluten free bread they provide, which is thickly sliced, soft, a beautiful light yellow in colour, with a lovely crunchy crust. So often have I been served bread that is stale, dry and crumbly, and tasting a little too much like potato (from the potato flour often used in GF bread mixes), that I suspect the cooks/chefs haven’t taken the time to taste the stuff to see if they’d actually eat it themselves. Would they serve that kind of bread to ‘normal’ customers? Somehow I think not – they’d lose a lot of business.

Judging a café by its eggs is another matter entirely, as there are so many different preferences for how they should be cooked. To me, CERES café does a great poached googy, a little bit runny, but not too runny so you need a straw to suck it up off the plate. One of our group tried the scrambled eggs, which looked great, and she said they tasted great too. Can’t argue with that.

My eating companions were also happy with their CERES experience (thank you ladies and babies)...

"The food seems wholesome – lots of sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds in my salad which I like! The outside cafe overall – earthy and gritty, but in a good way...."

"Consistently delicious! Service is always excellent too, even in busy times."

"I ordered the spinach and cheese roll (for Max, but I ate it too!) It was good, tasted fresh and full of spinach and the pastry was not too heavy. I also had my standard eggs on toast which is always good, my only criticism is that I find the whole thing a bit oily (but they do say on the menu that the bread is brushed with oil so I suppose that comment shouldn't count)??!! Sourdough bread delicious.  I love the phoenix range of drinks and always have the ginger beer."

And as for the coffee… well… I have to make a confession here. I don’t usually drink caffeinated coffee as it tends to make me just that little bit too giddy and wide awake at 3am in the morning. I ordered a decaf latte, and can I say that CERES is one of the few places in coffee-obsessed inner Melbourne where people ordering decaf are not treated as the very un-cool cousins of caffeinated coffee drinkers. In fact, if you’re not ordering an organic, fair-trade, soy-milk, water-filtered decaf mocca-latte, then you’re really not into saving the planet. Joking. I do exaggerate there… just a little.

Anyhoo, the coffee is really quite nice, although mine could have been just that little bit stronger tasting. To the coffee purists who don’t order anything unless it’s been roasted on site, I would say look elsewhere for your brew, but for the rest of us, give it a go as it’s a good cup to sip whilst sitting in the open air watching magpies bicker over food scraps donated by concerned toddlers. The atmosphere really helps everything here taste better... a bit like camping really, where you could eat tuna, chocolate and dried peas on 3 day old rice cakes and still love it.

Service at the café is relaxed and friendly, and I'm always fascinated by the huge variety of different accents of the staff. This is truly a well-travelled bunch of people. You don't get silver service here... more BYO service as you need to grab your own cutlery and drinks of water, but given the ethos of the place, it's totally appropriate.

So... all in all I fully recommend that you go visit CERES cafe.  It's a lovely atmosphere, has that 'feel good factor', has plenty of menu options for the gluten free amongst us, and best of all, it has chooks nearby!

1 comment:

  1. Great start Jodi! looking forward to the next one!