13 Brighton Road St Kilda, Victoria 31820402 842 407
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri 7am-5pm; Sat-Sun 8am-4pm|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
As soon as Kristy Andruszko saw the former dispensary on Brighton Road, on the ground floor of what is now an apartment block, she knew she wanted it as a space for her new cafe.
"I knew the block, but initially I had no idea of the history," Andruszko says. Once she learnt its roots, she was convinced. Originally it was the St Kilda Dispensary, and was at one time the biggest of its kind in the British Empire.
"It was a one-stop shop with doctors, nurses and consulting rooms, which are now the apartments of varying sizes at the back," Andruszko says. "I get a lot of elderly people from the area who tell me it was a pharmacy for the poorer people, and up until the 1970s it was a still a chemist."
After a stint as an adult bookshop it had been used as an office before Andruszko stripped it back and ran with the theme, filling the space, painted surgery green, with vintage medical equipment and ephemera; pastries are stored in an old steriliser cabinet, sugar is served in science lab beakers and vintage medical educational charts line the walls. The menu is presented like a prescription, the specials on old rolodex cards.
Andruszko, who used to own Saltimbocca in Elsternwick, says the cosy space has built up a roster of old and young regulars from the area with her simple and affordable (there's barely anything over $15 here) breakfast and lunch menus.
"I wanted to do simple dishes that sort of reflect the British-style era [of the building)]. Like bubble and squeak [proper old-school style, like your gran might have made it, with carved ham and an egg sunny side up, $14.50], a bit stodgy and hearty, but in a good, English NHS way!"
Her "cheap and cheerful" menu features classics like the breakfast roll with bacon, egg, rocket and hollandaise ($9.50), spelt banana bread with maple syrup butter ($6.50) and the enticingly named breakfast trifle (with berries, yoghurt, granola and fruit pearls, $6.50) to heartier options like corn fritters with smoked salmon, avocado, dill, lemon and a beetroot horseradish cream ($16.50) or with bacon, avocado, coriander and baby truss tomatoes ($15.50).
There's also a good range of lunch-time sandwiches and piadinas (from $12.50 to $14.50) and excellent Allpress coffee.
"It's not fancy but it's not meant to be," Andruszko says. "The kitchen is tiny, so it's not designed for fancy. But I'd rather be cheap and cheerful and see the same people very day."
Andruszko's regulars now bring in medical memorabilia when they find it, and many have told her anecdotes about the building's history. "I have to go easy now or I'm going to have too much stuff soon," she says.
She says there are no firm breakfast favourites - "everything sells well" - but she's bringing back one popular item for winter - her "scone sliders", two brioche buns with "raspberry jam and lashings of cream". Just what the doctor ordered.