Is it possible? Could Coburg one day be better known for food and good brews than for its penal past? With a flurry of new cafes and a microbrewery slated to open inside the former Pentridge Prison, Coburg's watershed moment could be just around the high bluestone corner.
Cafes / brunch
Coburg has long been a settling spot for European migrants who appreciate a good, strong coffee. Many of the suburb's older residents gather at outdoor tables at Victoria Street Mall to enjoy the best-value coffee in town (a $2.20 short black at Coffee & Kitchen Centre). But an influx of younger residents means a rush of new cafes. Here are some of the area's best caffeine hits.
Victoria Street Mall is the heart of old-school Coburg. Photo: Jane Holroyd
South of Bell Street
If you like your coffee ethical, you can't go past Wild Timor, in Coburg's southern reaches. Set up by former Australian peacekeepers to put money directly into the hands of East Timor's coffee farmers, it offers a relaxed vibe, interesting riffs on cafe breakfasts (beetroot and pesto eggs) and sweet treats informed by Timor's colonial past such as Portuguese tarts.
282 Sydney Road, 03 9386 2315, wildtimorcoffee.com
One of Coburg's hipper cafes, True North dishes up brunch goodness in the form of bagels and "Texas eggs". From Thursday through to Sunday it stays open late, transforming into one of the suburb's few bars, with budget-friendly burgers and small curries to accompany your nightcap of choice. Oh, and there's wifi.
2A Munro Street, 03 9917 2262, truenortharcher.com
Commuter sanctuary near Coburg station: Eastern Bloc serves Allpress coffee. Photo: Jane Holroyd
Locals breathed a sigh of relief when this dumpy-looking shopfront on the Upfield bike path was given a makeover that revealed Art Deco flourishes, the perfect shell for a cafe on a caffeine-free strip. It's become a sanctuary from the thundering Bell Street traffic, serving Allpress coffee, some of Coburg's best hot chocolate and a menu jam-packed with goodies such as buttermilk-marinated chicken schnitzel with house-made pickles.
133 Bell Street, 03 9354 8830, facebook.com/The-Eastern-Bloc
Andre's Coffee House
Andre's is the elder statesman of Coburg's cafe scene. Friendly patron Youssef used to sell nuts outside Coburg Market but eight years ago swapped nuts for lattes because he "couldn't get a decent coffee". He sells six blends sourced from CoffeeMax – each named to honour a childhood hero, Noisette pastries and hefty boreks made by a local family. Grab some fresh-ground coffee, or some loaves from Brunswick's Der Partisan bakery on your way out.
421 Sydney Road (at entrance to Coburg Market), 0421 491 437, facebook.com/Andres-Coffee-House
Chef Simon Polkinghorne (also of Middle Street Food & Coffee) has transformed a rather drab-looking kebab joint into a paninoteca (sandwich shop). Fillings are inspired by co-owners Dave and Rob Scodella's Sicilian heritage (house-made porchetta, grilled meats and vegetables). More modern combinations include crisp pork belly with slaw and kangaroo with smoky eggplant and ricotta. The bread is baked in Fawkner and the coffee is from CBD roastery Where's Marcel?
130 Gaffney Street, 0417 589 064, eatpaninoteca.com.au
Made-to-order: Get your freshly prepped ingredients fill at Paninoteca. Photo: Brodie Chan
Popular with workers and shoppers from the Bunnings complex over the road, 8th Nerve serves up a small, standard menu of toast 'n' eggs breakfasts, sourdough sangas and the like in a small but welcoming space close to Batman station.
103 Gaffney Street, facebook.com/8thNerveCafe
Little Deer Tracks prides itself on its Italian-inspired all-vegetarian menu and the owners' support of local artists, whose work graces the walls. The vegan-friendly menu includes all-day breakfast and house-made gluten-free sweets.
44 O'Hea Street, 03 9354 3449, facebook.com/Little-Deer-Tracks
Housed in an 1850s red brick building inside the Pentridge development, the Boot Factory was once a prison workhouse. Now it's a lovely, spacious cafe serving Toby's Estate coffees. It's licensed and open for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays.
19 Pentridge Boulevard, 03 9354 4369, thebootfactory.com.au
Industrial eat streets: Mr Grocer is in an industrial complex on Sussex Street. Photo: Jane Holroyd
Fancy photogenic doughnuts and eggy breakfasts straight off the barbecue? Here's a cafe truly on the cutting edge of the northern 'burbs' gentrification... Located in the heart of an industrial stretch on the Coburg North / Pascoe Vale border, Mr Grocer's Stefan Mason opened his cafe in October within the grounds of his grandfather's food distribution business, Bruno Fine Foods. So once you've filled your tummy with ciabatta and those doughnuts (there's even a gogi-berry topped superfood version) you can fill your shopping basket with Mediterranean favourites such as San Pellegrino, pancetta and local goodies including Meredith Dairy goat's feta.
146 Sussex Street, 8371 8019, mrgrocergroup.com
Bustling bakery, deli and grocer with house-roasted coffee. The owners of O'Hea's – as it's known to locals – ruffled feathers when they applied to redevelop the site into town houses and a new food business earlier this year. While development plans go through the wringer there's a truce of sorts as this family business celebrates its 60th year. Pick up some Italian staples plus trending ingredients such as coconut oil and spelt flour to round out the fresh-baked pizza slices, cannoli and fluffy bombolonas. Come summer the gelato bar is a popular swap for babycinos.
203-205 O'Hea Street, 03 9354 8070, facebook.com/oheasbakery
More Coburg cafes ...
The Generator 89-91 Bakers Road, Coburg North, generatorfood.com
Cubby Cafe 1 Merlyn Street, Merlynston (Coburg North), 03 9354 6707
Heading to Coburg for lunch? You'd better be a fan of falafel, kebabs, charcoal chicken or Middle Eastern-style pizzas. While many other cuisines are represented along Sydney Road, Coburg does Middle Eastern particularly well.
Half Moon cafe
Melbourne's best falafel? A swag of awards have helped Nabil Hassan notch up 13 successful years in this tiny eatery, which specialises in Egyptian-style fava bean falafel. While the price of the eponymous Half Moon falafel wrap has crept up (to a still-competitive $8) following a much-needed interior makeover last year, the loyal customers spilling out into Victoria Street mall aren't jumping ship. Half Moon also does tasty kebabs and has a specially-made baklava that might suit those who prefer a less-sweet version of the popular honey treat.
13 Victoria Street, Coburg, 03 9350 2949
Whose falafel is best? The falafel deal from Abbout Falafel House in Sydney Road Coburg. Photo: Eddie Jim
Around the corner is the far more spacious Falafel House; open daily from 9am-5pm it dishes up plates of Lebanese favourites such as fatteh minced meat, foul btahini and of course, falafel.
465 Sydney Road, 8371 8019; Abbout Falafel House review
Middle Eastern bakeries
Al Alamy serves up fresh-baked Middle Eastern pies and pizzas. Photo: Jane Holroyd
Locals are split into two camps. You either embrace the chaos of old-school Al Alamy on Waterfield Street or wander south to the corner of Munro Street and Sydney Road where the clean-cut, newish kid on the block Zaatar holds sway. Both serve up wallet-friendly, pillowy soft spinach and feta pies, flatbreads topped with spiced minced meat and other Middle Eastern staples served straight from the oven. Al Alamy doubles as a Middle Eastern grocer if you're on the hunt for pantry staples, nuts, oils etc. while Zaatar serves up great coffees with bustling efficiency in its spacious cafe space.
Al Alamy, 51 Waterfield Street, 03 9355 8866, facebook.com/alalamymelbourne
Zaatar, 365 Sydney Road, 03 9939 9494, zaatar.com.au/zaatar
The dining hall half of the popular Post Office Hotel. Photo: Eddie Jim
The Post Office Hotel
Overhauled from a pokey, corner pub in 2010 by musicians including Tex Perkins and members of Dallas Crane, the Post Office has maintained its grip on the hearts and stomachs of Coburg's younger-set locals despite new owners and chef shuffles. The pub half still dishes up one of the inner-north's best pub burgers while the more sophisticated Dining Hall side provides more choice, sharing options (and space). The meandering, well-heated beer garden is bustling year-round and tap beers include brews from Coburg Brewing Co (see below).
229-231 Sydney Road, 03 9386 5300, thepostofficehotel.com.au
Owner Hayden George wanted to offer locals a reason to skip the tram ride to Brunswick's night strip when he took over this imposing 1850s-era pub in 2011. While an attempt to bring fine dining to Coburg quickly gave way to serving up pub standards to accommodate the young families moving into the area, George's passion for local craft beers has given the suburb something to brag about. There are 45-60 Victorian beers available by the stubby (and about seven on-tap) at any one time, and the menu offers plenty of choice too with popular mains such as wagyu burgers and beer-battered fish competing with char-grilled calamari with green mango slaw nam jim jelly and chilli popcorn. The $20 dinner and pot combo on Mondays is popular.
84-88 Sydney Road, 03 9384 1122, thewoodlandshotel.com.au
Coburger & Co
Need greasy goodness but not after a souvlaki van or pub-style meal? Since opening in October 2016 Coburger & Co. have offered up brioche-style burger action, loaded fries, halal snack packs, onion rings, shakes (including alcoholic) and tap beers in a fresh-looking space in Coburg's south-east corner. Available for takeaway, home delivery and UberEats.
67 Moreland Road, 03 9939 5178
More Coburg dinner spots...
Blu (Australian Seafood Group) fish and chips A flashy new shopfront has bolstered ASG's claim to serving up some of the best fish and chips in Melbourne. Much more accessible than the previous digs around the corner on Hossack Avenue, Blu is also a good bet for picking up fresh (albeit pricey) seafood for home-cooking. 146 Gaffney Street, 03 9350 3200, blubyasg.com.au
Also try: Fish on Sydney at 373 Sydney Road, and newcomer Kavo Greko Fish & Stix (Facebook @Kavogreko) for a Greek spin (and coffee!) located just off the carpark at the back of the Sydney Road Coles (shop 10, 441-449 Sydney Road).
On the cards ... Coburg Brewing Co. It's not much to look at right now; a crumbly bluestone building with a rusty tin roof on a weedy 1200sqm patch of land in the Pentridge housing estate, but the mob behind Coburg's Post Office Hotel are hoping to transform Pentridge's original D-Division prison laundry into a microbrowery. The development appears to have a hit a snag or two but the Post Office's general manager Danial Cavena hopes his plan to use the cavernous space to serve fresh Coburg Lager, Pentridge Pale Ale and an Australian barbecue menu cooked on a woodfire grill will come to fruition some time in 2017.
A 5 and Dime bagel, Coburg Farmers' Market Photo: Simon Schluter
Weekly farmers' market: Coburg Farmers Market (accredited MFM) for farm-fresh produce, free-range eggs and meat, fresh sourdough, bagels, chocolate and local honey. Every Saturday 8am-1pm, 180 O'Hea Street, Coburg (at Coburg North Primary School). See weekly stallholder list at the Facebook page @CoburgFarmersMarket)
Coburg Market: Fruit and vegetables, two fishmongers, a poultry shop, a deli plus nuts, dried pulses etc.
415-425 Sydney Road
The Deli, Coburg: Lovely spot for a coffee and croissant and great place to pick up quality cheeses and charcuterie, olive oils and wine.
401 Sydney Road, 03 9354 2056, thedelicoburg.com.au
More tips on eating out in Coburg
Local foodie Rafaella Ceddia runs tours of Sydney Road's gems. More info at Flavourhood Tours.