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The pursuit of excellence

January 23, 2011

One of those peccadillos of country life is that if one requires specialist medical treatment, one is often forced to travel many a mile to obtain it. That can be unfortunate for those who work full time or don’t have a drivers’ license. Or, as I discovered two weeks ago, all the surrounding major roads are closed due to freak weather events.

Once the threat of imminent flooding had subsided and my appointment had been rescheduled, unencumbered by full-time gainful employment, I planned a big day out with Mama Explody to visit some of our favourite spots in the region, heading towards our final destination of Byron Bay. A medical obligation soon became a pleasant road trip to obtain quality smallgoods and pantry items which are also unavailable in the motherland.

The first substantial town one encounters north on the Summerland Way from Grafton is Casino. Best known as beef country, Casino is also the home of Da Leone cafe and delicatessan. Da Leone is an unexpected delight. The Leo family, who have operated the cafe and deli for over seventeen years, are Italian immigrants who arrived in Australia via Argentina after World War II. The family-run business reminds me of the warm and welcoming shops and cafes I used to frequent in my previous home of Leichhardt. They serve good coffee with a selection of homemade biscuits, cakes and other sweet treats. They also sell olives from their own olive grove, Mongogarie Lodge, and that’s what we’re here for. These olives are among the most exceptional I have ever tasted: plump and juicy green fruit, simply preserved in vinegar and salt with a sprig of oregano. We picked up a monster two-kilo jar for just $24.

Da Leone, Casino

After some exciting antique shopping which yielded an immaculate Globite suitcase for my inexplicably growing collection of vintage luggage, our next stop was Lismore. Specifically Howard’s Butchery and Delicatessan. Howard’s represents a number of things that I don’t usually like. This small butchery and deli is also a busy cafe. I find that deli/cafes are often unsuccessful because the quality of either the retail or cafe experience is compromised due to understaffing or a lack of focus. Further, Howard’s offers a wide range of value-added meat products. Maybe I’ve just walked past one too many Lenard’s displays of chicken fajitas, but I usually prefer to buy my meat unadulterated so I can add the marinades and stuffings myself. However, Howard’s differs from most other retailers who have attempted to pull off these challenging additions to their core business by, very simply, doing it exceptionally well.

One stop shop.

So it has come to pass that the Explodys now regularly travel to Lismore just to stock up on fleisch. Pork, chicken, duck, beef, lamb, we’ve found all to be superlative produce. Best is their range of smallgoods, especially those smoked in their own smokehouse, resulting in a subtle smoky flavour which doesn’t overwhelm the flavour of the meat. A smoked chicken was incredibly moist, while a misplaced order unfortunately meant we couldn’t try their smoked lamb over Christmas. Best of all is their Merguez sausage, a plump and spicy coil, perhaps the best sausage I’ve ever tried. (And I used to live two blocks from AC Butchery, so I’ve had a few.) The cafe also turns out great coffee and fantastic house-made eats such as their gorgeous terrine. There is also a useful range of pantry items including a house line of sauces and preserves. A small but well-chosen selection of Australian and international cheeses is also a treat. I live in hope that they will one day consider opening a Grafton branch.

Spicy sausage!

Say yes to Sopressa

Say cheese

With an esky full of meat, it was time to find a spot of lunch in Bangalow. The village of Bangalow, as far as I can tell, is the Woollahra of the north coast. So much so that it is conceivably a colonial outpost established by residents of Sydney’s eastern suburbs to accommodate holidays and tree changes. At least, it’s the only place I know of outside of that area where the pharmacy stocks a large range of Missoni towels and has an Aesop consultant.

Indeed, the quaint main street is not completely unlike Queen Street Woollahra, with attractive heritage buildings housing boutiques full of fabulous things as well as restaurants and cafes. One thing that Queen Street doesn’t have, however, is a Country Women’s Association shop. The ladies of the Bangalow chapter showed remarkable foresight locating their rooms at the hub of this village, where the price of real estate is now prohibitive. Through their shop front they raise funds by selling homemade crafts, and their window display, complete with Golliwogg tea cosies, is a warm addition to the streetscape.

CWA on display

Honour to God, loyalty to the throne, service to the country, through country women, for country women, by country women

It's a small world after all

Once I was able to drag myself away from the delights of the Bangalow CWA doll display, we headed to find some lunch at Ate, younger sibling to hatted restaurant Satiate, where the parental Explodys had dined several weeks previously. The service was somewhat brusque and indifferent in the way that it often can be in popular eating houses. It does boast a cracking menu though. We were told that the duck jaffle wasn’t on, so we both went for a croque monsieur made with Bangalow pork. It was a fine specimen: crunchy, melty, salty, with a squeeze of lemon juice, a brilliant touch which cut through the fattiness of the filling (though it was unfortunately afflicted with the scourge of limp, superfluous rocket which is undermining the sandwich, and to a lesser extent cooked breakfast, Australia-wide). I look forward to returning to Ate and Satiate to try something more substantial. There’s obviously great talent in this kitchen!

Ate: the art of food

Croque monsieur

My exciting discoveries have necessitated another trip north this coming weekend, when Lola and I will be taking Chairman Kaga and a selection of mixtapes on the road for a leisurely Antiques Roadshow (with garden ornament interludes).

Da Leoni cafe and deli, 78 Centre Street, Casino, 02 6662 3390

Mongogarie Olives, 1310 Mongogarie Road, Mongogarie, via Casino, 02 6664 1254

Howard’s Butchery and Delicatessan, 106 Keen Street, Lismore, 02 6621 9779

Ate, 33 Byron Street, Bangalow, 02 6687 2555

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Lola permalink
    January 23, 2011 16:08

    dear lord my mouth is watering…….

  2. January 24, 2011 16:53

    Nice to hear from you Felix – and what a road trip! hmmmm sausages!

  3. January 25, 2011 02:01

    I LOVE IT! ALL of IT … except … the monsieur … I’m a girlie and I prefer the (eggy goodness) of madame *wink* x

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