Dear Abbey review

Indoor-outdoor cafe Dear Abbey blends old and new.
Indoor-outdoor cafe Dear Abbey blends old and new. Photo: Pat Scala

23A Gladstone St Moonee Ponds, VIC 3039

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Opening hours Monday-Friday 7am-4.30pm, Saturday-Sunday 8am-4pm
Features Licensed, Family friendly, Vegetarian friendly, Breakfast-brunch
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9372 0093

"Dear Abby" is a US advice column known since the 1950s for its crisp wit and no-nonsense wisdom. It's also a tortured John Prine ballad from the 1970s ("Dear Abby, Dear Abby, My fountain pen leaks, My wife hollers at me and my kids are all freaks…") And, since late 2016, it's also a magnetically appealing cafe opposite the Moonee Ponds Woolworths carpark.

Dear Abbey's main dining room is a big glass box bolted on to the front of an 1890s Wesleyan church, which has itself been converted into apartments. In fact, number 4 is for sale and if you like the idea of stained-glass saints watching over your slumber, it might be for you.

The glass box is the first of a series of indoor-outdoor spaces that charmingly abut old and new. There's a courtyard under the spire, a corridor lined with small dining tables and an ante-room where it's easy to imagine a severe nun pacing the parquetry floor praying for souls. Now it's trod by young waiters praying they get this heavy breakfast to table 10 without stumbling.

The Abbey hot plate: eggs, boston beans, mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, potato roesti, black pudding and halloumi.
The Abbey hot plate: eggs, boston beans, mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, potato roesti, black pudding and halloumi. Photo: Pat Scala

I'm not joking about the weightiness. The modern cafe's focus on presentation has led to increasingly heavy plates and presentation boards - and sometimes even a hefty plate on a thick plank. If there's one benefit to all this, it's that servers have beautifully sculpted arms.

As you'd gather from the heavy plate scenario, the menu is contemporary but Dear Abbey is not desperately trendy and the food is more about well-executed standards, presented with pride.

The ricotta hotcakes are fluffy and served with a generous jug of lemon maple butter syrup. The eggs benedict comes with a very good hollandaise made with seeded mustard and just the right acidic kick. A potato roesti stands in for the traditional muffin and the ham element turns out to be jamon tightly wrapped around grilled asparagus. It's excellent.

Eggs benedict with jamon-wrapped asparagus spears.
Eggs benedict with jamon-wrapped asparagus spears. Photo: Pat Scala

The Abbey hot plate is a full-brekkie extravaganza that includes black pudding and haloumi. Eat it, climb the spire, no problem.

For lunch, there's seafood pasta, softshell crab burger and chicken kimchi sub. There's also a superfood salad with tricolour quinoa, carrots, avocado, shaved radishes and petals. In 2010, this would have been astonishing but it's a mark of the fast pace of Melbourne menus that it already seems a little dated. It's tasty and sustaining though.

Dear Abbey's coffee geekery is denoted by a display cabinet showing off a complicated drip brewer but the young staff don't do much to push it. The standard espresso is nicely done but I especially love the fact that stovetop espresso is offered.

Coffee geekery: Cold drip coffee.
Coffee geekery: Cold drip coffee. Photo: Pat Scala

The builders who constructed the 40-metre Gothic Revival spire under which Dear Abbey buzzes would never have dreamed it, but their landmark now lures the hangry to brunch revival. If Melbourne's new religion is coffee, then it all makes sense.

Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)