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As the days count down to the end of the year, it’s time to take a look back on the local food that has stood out for the Table Under a Tree team in 2019. And it’s a few food themes that spring to mind this year: fun food and venues, everything fermented and smoke all around.
It’s always good to start with fun, and perhaps it’s the trend away from formal dining that sees us gravitate even more than usual to places that are relaxed and have the right vibe. Of course they have to back it up with top quality food, and that what Dirty Wilson in Lismore does in spades. Describing themselves as serving up street food, craft beer, sustainable wines, weird sodas and local spirits, they turn out a mighty fine burger. The Boss is my pick from the regular menu (Karaage Chicken, ginger slaw, pickled ginger, Korean chilli and aioli); and their specials menu shows a sense of humour and an appreciation of really interesting ingredients. Case in point is a current special, Santa’s Lil’Helper, which features Fair Game Wild Venison patty, cheese, Eltham Valley oakleaf, pickled beets and seeded mustard mayo.
Fair Game Wild Venison deserves a mention all of its own actually. An extraordinary story and an extraordinary product. Jonas has found a way to get wild harvested deer (animals that are an introduced species and which cause significant environmental damage) into homes and restaurants. It’s ethical, it’s nutritionally dense and amazing quality. Absolutely worth seeking out.
But back to the trends…
Ditto on the fun vibe and top quality at La Casita in Brunswick Heads. They pitch themselves as a take on an authentic, regional style of Mexican cuisine in a casual, mostly outdoor setting and that about sums it up perfectly. But what it doesn’t tell you is how effortlessly the place seems to hum along. You can tell a venue run by people who know what they’re doing. Great food. Great drinks. Great place.
And bridging the gap between fun and fermenting is the range of limited edition beers that have come out from Stone & Wood this year. The Counter Culture range has seen five releases through the year, each a beer that is a bit unusual. I can’t say I’ve loved all of them, but I have loved trying all of them. These have been interesting beers, ones to savour, and I have looked forward to each new release. The It’d Be Rude Not To French Toast Stout was sublime and the current release, Lovely Bubbly Brut Rose is phenomenal. Get some before it runs out.
Speaking of fermentation, that’s been an area where we’ve enjoyed some amazing flavours this year. Leading the charge are the clever folks from Pyewackets and their sister business, Lovemore Fermentary. Pyewackets make beautiful mixers for soft drinks and cocktails. Think cordial for adults! Their shrubs are a fruit and herb preserves is fermented in vinegar. They’re absolutely delicious. And Lovemore is a little slip of a cafe and and ferment store with a menu is inspired by fermentation and organic, seasonal and local produce. Happy bellies in more ways than one. There’s also the very talented Sam Wise from Cooked & Cultured whose breakasts I covet; and Katerina Lazareva from Suria Foods whose kimchi is now standard in my fridge.
And what of smoke? Well like much of the country, the Northern Rivers has been under a blanket of smoke for many weeks. It has come and gone, come and gone and come and gone. At its worst, it was so thick visibility was virtually non-existent and the acrid smell and taste in your mouth was just horrible. But it’s not an unpleasant taste that stands out as a highlight to me. No, the taste that stands out is the taste of pizza, cooked at community fundraisers where local people came together to raise money for the local firies, or of coffee from the cafes around the region chipping in proceeds to support those impacted by the fires and the drought.
Yes, 2019 will go down as a tumultuous year in many ways, but even in the midst of that craziness, it was nice to find real people, making real food at real places – all to support real communities in need.