A vege-bite of the Apple

Australian cafes, bars and restaurants have taken a foothold in New York. Barry Divola spends 48 hours eating and drinking in nothing but Aussie-run places.

Looking for a flat white and Vegemite soldiers in New York? How about a cold bottle of Coopers? Or a pie? Or a burger with the lot — including fried egg, pineapple and beetroot?

They're all here in New York City.

Over the past decade, expat Australians have been setting up more and more cafes, restaurants and bars in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I decided to spend 48 hours eating and drinking in nothing but Australian-run establishments, trying out their fare and meeting the locals. First stop, breakfast at Smooch in Brooklyn's Fort Greene neighbourhood.

If you're a fan of cult TV show Bored to Death, you'll know Smooch as the cafe where the characters played by Jason Schwartzman and Zach Galifianakis sometimes hang out. Former Sydney photographer Brett Cochrane, who now goes by the single name Basquali, set up Smooch in 2006.

"In Sydney I lived in Potts Point," he says while I sip a flat white and tuck into something called The Frisky Fergus "We Remember Who's Your Daddy" Scrambled Pesto Eggs. "I would swim every morning at the Boy Charlton pool then go to Dov and have a latte, a boiled egg, toast and jam. The people there knew their customers and what they wanted. There was a sense of community. I couldn't find that here in New York, so I decided to do something about it."

Smooch uses almost entirely organic ingredients and the names of the meals are as eccentric as Basquali himself, from "No Animals Were Harmed During the Making of This Breakfast" to "Cry Me a Rivera Diego Cos I Just Dumped My Cheating Ex Mouthful of Satisfaction".

"It's that Australian thing of taking the piss and not taking yourself too seriously," he says. "I don't have pictures of Bondi Beach or the Harbour Bridge on the walls, but I tell people that this is a Sydney cafe in its attitude and design and approach to fresh food."

Across the bridge in Nolita, the Lower Manhattan neighbourhood north of Little Italy, it's virtually Little Australia, with everyone from Dinosaur Designs to Ksubi having storefronts in one small area. Ruby's, a tiny five-table cafe on Mulberry Street, is renowned for a clientele that leans towards pretty young things from the worlds of fashion and media, plus burgers named after Australian beaches. You can chow down on a Bondi, a Bells, a Bluey's or a Whaley's, but I opt for a Bronte, which crams premium beef, tomato, lettuce, sweet chilli and mayo between two crispy buns. Of course, the waitress who serves me is from Bondi and sitting at the next table is a New Zealand-born fashion journalist who writes for The New York Times.

"I never cook at home," he says. "Why would I? This is by far the best burger in New York."

Lincoln Pilcher and Nick Mathers started Ruby's in 2003. Four years later they decided to open a restaurant in the West Village, naming it after a quintessential Australian car — Kingswood. I walk in that evening, settle in at the long bar at the front and order a Coopers Pale Ale. The walls are dotted with elkhorn ferns and old illustrations of insects, while up the back is a huge terrarium filled with ferns, with a stuffed peacock perched on top.

I proceed to order plates from the bar menu — pork fritters, truffle fries, a little bowl of macaroni and cheese. It's comfort food with a fresh twist. On the main menu you can go to town on everything from Long Island striped bass with steamed cockles to a Vermont leg of lamb with braised cippolini and brussels sprouts.

The following morning it's back to Brooklyn for brunch. Heathe St Clair, a former actor who you may have seen in E Street and A Country Practice back in the day, is best known for downtown Manhattan stalwarts The Sunburnt Cow and Bondi Road, but they closed recently due to skyrocketing rents. In 2010 he opened The Sunburnt Calf on the Upper West Side, matching the location with more upmarket fare, a dining room set under a glass atrium and an upstairs bar named the MCC (Manhattan Cricket Club).

Its sister restaurant, The Sunburnt Calf BK, opened in late 2011 and quickly became a go-to spot for that most New York of Sunday rituals — the brunch. Sitting on a busy stretch of Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn's Prospect Heights, the place is pitched as "flavours from the south-east Asian region, served Australian style". There's bamboo wallpaper, a beer garden out the back and kung fu movies playing silently on flat-screen TVs. I go for the popular "wrap and roll" option: portions of pork and roast duck, lettuce to wrap them in and bowls of various sauces.

"I arrived in New York back in 1996 to study drama, but I found that I became very nostalgic for Australia, which is why I set up The Sunburnt Cow in 2003," St Clair says. "Since then I've found there's a general camaraderie between the Australians who have places here. We all know each other and we help each other when we can. If I've got a girl I want to take out to a nice place, I'll go to Kingswood."

It's mid-afternoon snack time when I get back to Manhattan, so I go down to the original Lower East Side outlet of Tuck Shop, whose pies have proved so popular with locals that they've added shops on St Mark's Place in the East Village and inside Chelsea Market.

"A couple of years after we opened in 2005, we were talking about wrapping things up," says co-owner Lincoln Davies, originally from Melbourne. "We were standing around scratching our arses. Then things started to really kick in, mainly through word of mouth with the locals and more Aussies coming over on the E3 visa." He estimates the clientele is now 70 per cent Americans, 30 per cent Australians. I go for the traditional ground-beef pie and a cleansing Coopers, but you can be a bit more adventurous, biting into a Guinness steak and mushroom offering or Thai green-curry chook pies, surrounded by a XXXX beer mirror, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo plate and other memorabilia pieces that line the walls.

Late that evening I end up at the granddaddy of all Aussie hangouts. Back in 1999, Whyalla brothers Will and Frank Ford opened Eight Mile Creek in Mulberry Street. While I sip a James Boag's lager and dine on baked barramundi fillet with fingerling potatoes, bok choy and asparagus, gregarious co-owner Andrew Jordan regales me with tales of the combined birthday party in the downstairs bar for James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch, or the time Russell Crowe and Heath Ledger watched a State of Origin game on TV while drinking beers together.

Eight Mile Creek has introduced New Yorkers to rack of lamb, "Lygon Street" spaghetti (crab and prawn, sambal oelek, preserved lemon) and, of course, kangaroo.

"Some of the Yanks were horrified by the concept of roo at first, but now it's our most popular dish," Jordan says. "People come down here seeking it out. Even the ones who are hesitant at first end up loving it.

"I like to think we've brought a bit of Australia to New York City."

The writer was a guest of United Airlines and Roomorama.


Trip notes

Getting there

United flies daily from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles and San Francisco, with connections to New York. 13 17 77, united.com.

Staying there

Roomorama is an online marketplace for short-term apartment rentals. Listings come with multiple photos, ratings from previous guests and a secure online payment system. roomorama.com.

Eating and drinking there

Smooch, 264 Carlton Avenue, Fort Greene, Brooklyn, 718 624 4075, smoochorganic.com.

Ruby's, 219 Mulberry Street, Nolita, 212 925 5755, rubyscafe.us.

Kingswood, 121 W10th Street, West Village, 212 645 0018, kingswoodnyc.com.

The Sunburnt Calf, 226 W79th Street, Upper West Side, 646 823 9255, thesunburntcalf.com.

The Sunburnt Calf BK, 611 Vanderbilt Avenue, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, 347 915 1000, thesunburntcalfbk.com.

Tuck Shop, 68 E1st Street, Lower East Side, 212 979 5200 (also 115 Street, St Mark's Place, East Village; and Chelsea Market, 75 Ninth Avenue, Chelsea), tuckshopnyc.com.

Eight Mile Creek, 240 Mulberry Street, Nolita, 212 431 4635, eightmilecreek.tumblr.com.

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