In all communities, large and small, we choose ways to define ourselves – where do we “belong”, who are “our type of people”? There are many ways to do this. In the many small towns of my youthful wandering around the country, people were usually a “top pub” or a “bottom pub” person. And like all ways we define ourselves in the sub groups of our communities, these decisions become self-reinforcing as your type of person would be found there and so friendships networks are formed and familiarity grows, making us feel like we belong.
As towns change and new people arrive, preferences adapt. When I lived in Kuranda in Far North Queensland in the 1970’s, the bottom pub was where the hippies and blackfellas drank and the top pub was referred to as the place where “the locals” drank. The irony of this given the blackfellas had been “local” for quite a few thousand years wasn’t lost on us in the bottom pub!
I noticed moving into the Cygnet area some years ago how strongly people can connect to “their” café. Given in small communities this is often a place you drop into during the day and meet people spontaneously, picking the place where “your people” hang is quite important and again becomes self reinforcing. And of course, all this is on top of the rather significant issue of the food and coffee that you like!
In Cygnet we are blessed with an unusual number of food opportunities, with the tourist trade keeping more businesses viable than would normally survive in a town this small. The two defining places amongst visiting foodies and our local network are Lotus Eaters and Red Velvet Lounge, both local institutions, both very well known on the foodie trail and both attracting strong opinions and feelings of where one “belongs”.
“Lotus” and “RVL” as they tend to be known locally both pride themselves in interesting food with a strong local focus, as nice places to hang out and both attract people on weekends and holidays who travel a long way for a long lunch. Each has quite a distinctive style and approach. RVL is much larger and slightly more traditional, with table service and a full menu + specials. Lotus is more casual, with a lot of outside seating, an eclectic mix of old chairs and tables and a more casual atmosphere. The physical structure, with the outside seating being open to the footpath, also makes it feels like a public place. So as you walk by you’re often drawn into casual conversation with people and end up staying for coffee.
Lotus cook partly based on what the local growers bring in and adjust their food to suit. The menu changes every day though there’s standard themes of a curry or dumplings on Fridays and weekends, joined every day by a salad, a pizza and a savoury tart, each influenced by what’s in the kitchen and in season. They make exceptional cakes, including our family’s favourite the Rugelach pastry, and serve amazingly consistent great coffee.
I think of the women who run Lotus as artists, both in culture and food. They love to cook and their food is always interesting and, as well described in a recent review, “epically epicurean”! In the “artist style” though, it’s pretty clear they’ll decide what they feel like producing and when you can have it. Their approach to breakfast is locally famous for this – you basically have to be quick. They open at 9am and serve breakfast “until 10am or when the kitchen says so”. They then get to work on lunch for a few hours serving cakes and paninis until then. It’s worth being quick though as the breakfast is to die for, with the big brekkie heaped with the usual eggs and local bacon but then always with a fascinating array of whatever’s around, usually things like a great sausage, mushrooms, zucchini, tomatoes and various greens. With all those veggies and greens, you can’t help feeling your big brekky is healthier, not to mention seriously big! Mind you we often share and generally match it with the outstanding Woodbridge Smokehouse Trout plate with cafe baked baguette, gherkins, cream cheese, dill and various interesting delights.
As you can tell, we are definitely Lotus people but we will still often end up at RVL such as when we meet our “RVL friends” – in fact two of our best friends will always choose RVL and the invitee gets to decide the location. The other reason to shift is when we miss the Lotus women’s mood for breakfast cut off timing! As well as serving brekky until 11.30am, RVL have a long menu of options, including my favourite the vegan brekky based on chilli tofu and beans. Michelle’s more of an egg girl, so she always looks at me slightly bewildered at my pleasure, given I’m not a vegan and we farm pigs! So we don’t share brekky at RVL but I still love the vegan choice both for its difference and its spicy morning kick!
Weekends and summer days is when RVL comes into it’s own with lots of groups of people making an outing of it from Hobart or further afield, taking advantage of RVL’s full liquor licence and award winning drinks menu. This makes it very suitable for long lunches with a great variety of local wines and ciders.
These aren’t the only two options to eat in town with, as well as the pubs, the School House Coffee Shop – more traditional but still a very good café with the added advantage that you can afford to eat there with a family of teenagers and still enjoy your lunch! It’s more the classic country café, and both our elderly mum’s prefer to eat here. School House changed ownership since we moved to town with the big improvement most noticeable if you’re lucky enough to enter when the scallop pies come fresh out of the oven.
And so Cygnet defines the “first world problem” – where shall we eat today? What “epic epicurean” delight are we in the mood for? While for us it’s always Lotus that draws us back, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below (or via @greenappleisle on Twitter) about your suburb or town. What do you love about your local café? Where do you belong and why? Is it the people, the mood or the food? We look forward to hearing your thoughts.