What’s your café?

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!

Big Breakfast at Lotus Eaters, Cygnet (photo by Callan Back)

Big Breakfast at Lotus Eaters, Cygnet (photo by Callan Back)

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.

The Lotus Eaters, Cygnet (photo by Callan Back)

The Lotus Eaters, Cygnet (photo by Callan Back)

The Lotus Eaters, Cygnet (photo by Callan Back)

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.

Fruit and nut pie at Lotus Eaters, Cygnet (photo by Callan Back)

Fruit and nut pie at Lotus Eaters, Cygnet (photo by Callan Back)

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.

Friday Dumplings at Lotus Eaters, Cygnet (photo by Callan Back)

Friday Dumplings at Lotus Eaters, Cygnet (photo by Callan Back)

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.

Red Velvet Lounge, Cygnet (photo by Callan Back)

Red Velvet Lounge, Cygnet (photo by Callan Back)

Red Velvet Lounge, Cygnet (photo by Callan Back)

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.

9 responses to What’s your café?

    • Definitely another great local cafe, and one I go to very often on my way into Hobart. The outside seating there has to be one of the most amazing atmospheres of any cafe in Tas, with that outlook across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel to Bruny Island. I can sit there for hours.

  1. James

    While down in Tasmania I love the views and relaxed atmosphere of Peppermint bay. It’s the perfect place to sit and and enjoy a coffee and look out over the bay, however I much prefer the local vibe and the emphasis on local food at Lotus Eaters, and the overall quality of the food is an incredibly high standard, especially when compared to Sydney cafe’s.

    • What’s your favourite cafe in Sydney? I always liked Red Door in the Blue Mountains and Bourke St Bakery in the city.

  2. James

    For me I’m a Sonoma fan. I always walk past Bourke St Bakery on the way there. Personally not a fan of Bourke St Bakery, I find their hot food’s always too cold. Sonoma’s breakfast is out of this world (especially their french toast, served with spek, onions, garlic and maple syrup), and the coffee’s much better than Bourke St Bakery – definitely a tribe thing though!

  3. Tic

    Sorry peppermint bay lovers but that place is a glorified pub with food to match. When steve was there it really was something. But now the black and white stiffness of the staff just does not match the soul less food. Go to kettering pub.

  4. Carolyn

    So great to see another blog start up…I’ve read them all. The ones that interest me the most are like yours, the ones that focus on life in the Huon Valley. As of early next year my husband, two sons and myself are settling down your way. I hope I manage to bump into yourself or others who contribute. Look forward to the next post 😀

    • I’m sure you’ll love it, it’s such a stunning area. We’re currently working on launching this blog properly soon (so far was more of a soft-launch as we organised everything and iron it all out) and will be posting a lot more regularly, and with more contributors. Regular articles should be kicking off in the new year!

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