Working a three day week has so many benefits, I can’t count them on both my hands. One of my favourite things about it is I get to go to cafes at non-peak times, soak up the atmosphere and have a couple of leisurely coffees. No matter how much fun that is though, it’s always better to have someone to share it with, to revel in it like a kid wagging school. That’s why I’m glad I got to check out Cowbell with my mate Elise of beauty blog Stuff That I Bought. What’s more, she told me her idea for The Potluck Club, so it was a pretty mach a business meeting, yeah?

The Cowbell 808 menu is a 1-pager, listing 13 items. Its a fusion of ingredients and cuisines, served up cafe style, presenting a mish mash of meal times. It’s not the usual suspects ingredients-wise, although weirdly, its what you’d expect. House made is the word du jour; these guys make everything from their own yogurt, to their own bacon. Now that’s hardcore.

Ticking off at least 2 of the 5 big Sydney trends this year, the menu also has a slight ‘americana’ influence. Case in point, fried chicken with ‘slaw, and my dining companion’s order of fat stacked ricotta hotcakes with marscarpone, bacon maple ice cream and espresso syrup. I like that they don’t separate things based on time of day – if you want to have a burger for breakfast, or a Banancolada (house made coconut yogurt with roast banana and lime), feel free. Elise declares her hotcakes delicious but super filling – she eats about half.

I’m well and truly past my one-coffee-a-day limit, ordering two macchs from the list of ‘liquid vices’ (and I had an espresso before I left home…) I’m impressed, but far too lazy to check something basic like what coffee these guys use. It’s an organic house blend, but I’m not sure if they roast it themselves or have someone do it for them. That would be because I don’t much care what coffee is used, as long as its good. Anyone who knows let me know, it seems like the kind of fact I should have on hand.

I’m not sure why there’s a basketball hoop, a graffitti mural or a disco ball in the cafe. Sure, it fits with the 80’s/music theme, but I’m not convinced it makes for a cohesive aesthetic. The rest- second hand furniture, scrabble letters spelling out the coffee menu, the huge windows flooding the room with light, the selectively exposed brick- I love.

We checked out Cowbell 808 on a Monday morning, so we weren’t faced with the hideous crowds that swamped the newly opened, Short Black-mentioned cafe in the previous couple of days. The service was beyond lovely and not pushy – the people working there were so attentive and generally, dare I say it, caring. And they didn’t even blink when I started snapping away, which is excellent, because I always feel awkward doing so. Word on the street (not sure which street, but there you go) is that the weekend experience is a lot less fun. What can I say, chuck a sickie. It’s worth it for the hotcakes and the rich, creamy macchs on offer. I will be back, if only to try the sundae.

Cowbell 808
616 Bourke Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9698 5044
Open 7 days
7:00am – 4:00pm

Cowbell 808 on Urbanspoon

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Now it’s May, I think I’m safe to tell you what you already know – what’s hot in food from where I sit – smack bang in the middle of inner-city Sydney. There are zero surprises and as many predictions. Read on to find out what’s hot right now.

1. diy/dit

From brewing your own beer and cider to from-scratch sourdough to a beehive on the roof, to pickling, canning and preserving, diy (do it yourself) and dit (do it together) food sprung up post-GFC as part of a wider trend including knitting, gardening and squeezing all your soap remnants into one big ball (ok, maybe not so much).

It’s now cool to act like a Granny and no one will laugh at you for growing your own kale. It’s kinda like how we used to take the piss out of people who ate squid, or garlic, or other ‘weird’ foods in the 70s and 80s, and now you can’t walk into a pub without someone shoving a plate of calamari and aioli in your face. We’re all guerilla gardeners and apprentice artisan bakers these days, but even so, this trend has spawned a whole market of people who would quite like to pickle their own cumquats, but simply haven’t the time. This is why ‘homestyle cooking’ is everywhere in cafes right now. Call me crazy, but if I want ‘homestyle food’, I’ll go to…my house?

2. Every kind of non-espresso coffee (except instant)

Cold drip, siphon/syphon, filter/pourover, french press, stovetop – we’re still loving our fresh ground beans, but espresso just doesn’t have the novelty these other methods do. Add to this the fact that an espresso machine is a pretty pricey (and huge) piece of gear, and low-tech gadgetry becomes a lot more attractive.

People are tasting coffees the way they once tasted wines, and the less milk and sugar the better. It’s fashionable to want to taste the coffee all by its lonesome (well, with water) and all else is considered additive – sugar, milk, cut that shit out right now. We’re all about purity, simplicity

3. locavore-ism

Right now it is suddenly *so important* where your food comes from. Locavore is the organic of 5 years ago, with people growing truss tomatoes on their teensy apartment balconies. We hate Colesworths ‘cause of the pressure they put on food prices, farmers and the waste that results when less-than-picturesque produce is rejected (and yet Aldi is apparently fine?) so we’re jumping on the Farmer’s Market bandwagon like there’s no tomorrow. Which is fair enough, as food security is one of the single biggest issues we face; there may *be* no tomorrow if we don’t sort this shit the fuck *out*. Oh, and heirloom tomatoes. We like those.

4. cocktails and other concoctions

From the old fashioned to the walrus slime parfait (yes, I made that up), cocktails are hot, and the bars that serve them even more so. Signature drinks, mixologists, ‘freestyle’ bars with no menus- it’s all happening. Ok, so a Caipirinha will set you back 16 rather than 6 dollars, but it’s worth it to pretend you’re in Brasil, or Cuba, or an episode of Mad Men, or a Marylin Monroe film or… a really expensive bar. Wake up and smell the spiced rum.

5. ‘Americana’ is still going strong

Anywhere that does a half decent take on South American, Central American, Mexican, southern US or just plain junk food is the place to be seen instagramming on your iphone right now. Hotdogs and Ice cream sandwiches are everywhere, tacos are the word du jour, Brasilian, Peruvian and Argentinean food is more and more common. You can get Chicken and waffles at the Jazz City Diner and burger joints are still going strong. Food bloggers are baking up American candy-flavoured-treats like there’s no tomorrow. Dive bar food and deep fried everything is well and truly on the menu – from The Dip’s Deep fried birthday cake to The Norfolk’s deep fried pickles to the Abercrombie’s deep fried pizza, pubs and bars are dishing up what everyone in the rest of the world thinks Americans eat.

Anyway…you tell me. What’s hot right now in your books? And where can we get it?

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I kept thinking Cornersmith was called Cornerstone. I kept meaning to go there and never making it. But I finally made it the morning of the Sydney Food Bloggers Picnic last month, and I wasn’t dissappointed.

Cornersmith is the kind of joint that’s closed for pickling on Mondays. Yes, really, I didn’t get that from some kind of Hipster’s Encyclopaedia of cafe descriptors (remind me to write that, if I ever get a chance). They do all kinds of locavore/DIY things like buying backyard produce and making their own jam. They have a beehive on their roof! Basically, they’re the cafe equivalent of a Portlandia sketch.

All this and more means that I was there with bells on at whatever time it was that Saturday. Cornersmith is right by Marrickville station, which is super convenient for someone like me who hates buses. It’s got great decor, clean white walls, jars of pickles adorning the counter and a good mix of natural timber and understated vintage furniture.

Me and my mate order and pay at the counter and nab the only free table. Our toast/coffee/toast/macch order comes out at $32, and I realise there must be a mistake. That’s the problem with order-and-pay-at-the-counter with somewhere as busy as Cornersmith – mistakes are bound to be made. Our bill gets downgraded to a much more reasonable $19, phew!

I’m a fan of the coffee and I’m a fan of the vibe, although Saturday morning is pretty hectic. I’m enjoying my Mecca macchiatto, apparently my friend’s mocha is no slouch either. The menu is simple, a lot of toast-and-toppings on offer, with many tthings made on site – from honey, to pickles, chutneys and jams. Cornersmith strives to be self-sufficient. They also sell their products, and other peoples’, instore.

The reviews have generally been positive and I can see why, although they’ve also been victim of some pretty harsh graffitti, with ‘yuppy scum’ painted across the storefront and the windows bashed in. All in all I will definitely return if I’m ever in the hood.

Cornersmith
314 Illawarra Road
Marrickville NSW 2204
(02) 8065 0844
Tuesday to Friday 6.30am – 3.30pm
Saturday and Sunday 8:00am – 3:00pm
Monday – closed for pickling

Cornersmith on Urbanspoon

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