Melburnians adopt many methods when judging a cafe. For some, it's the ooziness of its poached eggs - there's even a hashtag for it: #yolkporn. For others, it comes down to whether or not they can sip siphon coffee on reclaimed school chairs at recycled timber tables. But there is one dish that is still a drawcard for many, one menu fixture that's grown in popularity during the past five years.
Affectionately known as ''smashed av'', this ubiquitous breakfast favourite typically involves partly mashed avocado mixed with feta or goat's cheese, doused with lemon juice, seasoned, and served on toast.
Jason M Jones, of Icke & Igby (the hospitality management group behind Porgie + Mr Jones, Friends of Mine, Snow Pony and newcomer the Stables of Como), estimates that 70 per cent of customers add a poached egg to the dish. When hungover, they add bacon.
The origins of this cafe favourite are unclear. "The smashed avocado that has hit every single cafe in Melbourne was definitely started at Porgie + Mr Jones in 2008," says Jones. He used to smash avocado for his friends on the morning of their birthdays growing up in Gippsland. Now the dish accounts for 60 per cent of breakfast sales at Porgie + Mr Jones, with the kitchen powering through more than 50 boxes of avocados a week and employing a staff member almost full time just to smash avocado and slice mushrooms.
Chef Matt Wilkinson, co-owner of Pope Joan, Hams & Bacon and Spud Bar, credits South Americans with smashing avocados in the 14th century - later, the Mexicans dubbed it guacamole - and Bill Granger for bringing it to the forefront of cafe culture. He recalls snacking on the dish at Bill's in Sydney in 2000 and in Melbourne a year later at Blake's Cafeteria in Prahran. "It's like me trying to claim I invented custard," says Wilkinson, "We've been on this planet for a long, long time, and it's just an avocado."
Similarly, Rob Jones, owner-operator of Ginger Jones cafe in Dandenong, refuses to jump on the smashed avocado bandwagon. He serves guacamole on thick sourdough toast with a wedge of lemon. "In light of the [smashed avocado] craze, why not just call it what it really is?" he says. Jones incorporates the guacamole mixture into two other dishes on his menu, including his Eggs Mexican. It doesn't follow the classic huevos rancheros formula, so Jones avoided naming it as such. "I've never been to Mexico," he explains. "I don't want to dress myself up as something I'm not."
Smashing aside, Nathan Toleman (Two Birds One Stone, Top Paddock) believes his wife was the first to pair avocado with feta at a cafe when they opened APTE in Fairfield seven years ago, although he admits their fanned avocado was daggy by today's smashed standards. The cafe scene is so saturated with smashed avocado that Toleman's waitstaff have to clarify for customers that the avocado at their latest venture, Top Paddock, is served in its skin. "I've had a few people say, 'this is ridiculous, this isn't smashed avocado, you should be ashamed of yourself'. Some people are so in love with avocado they get insulted if it's not served smashed with feta," he says.
Smashed avocado isn't just popular with cafe patrons; it's also popular in the kitchen. Adding lemon juice to the mixture prevents oxidisation, allowing staff to prepare enough for the whole day without browning or wastage. Serving the pre-prepared mixture is also more efficient than fanning avocado or plating a wedge. But as with any fruit, challenges arise with seasonality. Just ask Katrina Myers, owner of Barham Avocados, a family run orchard on the banks of the Murray River in NSW. "One of the problems with smashed-avocado culture is that people just expect it all year around … that's tough for a lot of cafes and restaurants because prices skyrocket. They're paying a fortune in the off season and not making much money on it," she says.
Just two years ago, Barham Avocados didn't supply any cafes directly. Now they supply some of Melbourne's best. Myers attributes the increase in cafe inquiries about direct distribution to Melbourne's smashed-avocado and Mexican trends, as well as the increased importance people are placing on buying local and direct from farmers. Both Two Birds One Stone and Porgie + Mr Jones offer avocado for breakfast year-round but Pope Joan only offers smashed avocado from the second week of August, when it's seasonal for Barham.
Since the late noughties, a specific template for success has emerged that cafes follow in Melbourne. Many look the same, feel the same and taste the same. As a result, some cafe owners, like Toleman, are ready to end their long-term relationship with smashed avocado. But fans will be relieved to know that others, like Jason M Jones, will always have smashed avocado on the menu.
"We'll never stop serving it," he says, "unless mushrooms stop growing and avocados stop being green."
Top 12: Smashed avocado
1. Bluebird Espresso, $15.50
Once you go Bluebird, there's no turning back. They keep it simple with a combination of flawless avocado, Meredith feta, parsley and fresh mint on buttery multigrain sourdough from Noisette. Jaws drop as it arrives piled high, complete with its soft-poached egg.
134 Johnston Street, Collingwood, 9078 7047, bluebirdespresso.com
2. Three Bags Full, $15
An oldie but a goldie, the smashed avo on toast with Yarra Valley Persian feta, cherry tomatoes, shaved radish, black sesame and extra virgin olive oil is a bestseller at Three Bags. Introduced by Nathan Toleman and team, it has remained on the menu by popular demand. Toleman is now co-owner at Two Birds One Stone.
60 Nicholson Street, Abbotsford, 9421 2732, threebagsfullcafe.com.au
3. Industry Beans, $14
The biggest selling point for Industry Beans' Avocado Smash comes down to two words: "whole avocado". They then up the ante by adding goat's cheese, purple opal basil, micro-mint, charred lemon and green tea sea salt to the soft sourdough base.
Warehouse 3, Corner Rose and Fitzroy Streets, Fitzroy, 9417 1034, industrybeans.com
4. Monk Bodhi Dharma, $15.50
The Avo at Monk Bodhi Dharma is one of the healthier smashed avocado options; tossed with feta, mint and lemon, and garnished with just the right amount of chilli. It's arranged on two slices of toast from Woodfrog Bakery - one organic sourdough, the other pumpkin multigrain. Those seeking an alternative to feta will be pleasantly surprised by the generous smear of home-made cashew sour cream in its place.
Rear 202 Carlisle Street, Balaclava, 9534 7250, monkbodhidharma.com.au
5. Crabapple Kitchen, $16.50
Mixing it up by serving their avocado on olive toast, Crabapple's avocado concoction is smoother than most. It's sprinkled with Meredith Dairy soft feta, whole mint leaves, a generous peppering of sliced fresh chilli, fresh lemon and a drizzle of avocado oil.
659 Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn, 9078 5492, crabapplekitchen.com.au
6. Common Galaxia, $16
The best option for Seddon locals is Common Galaxia's smashed avocado with extra ''oomph''. Served on two slices of sourdough, the avocado and goat's cheese mix is chunkier than most and decorated with glistening blood orange, almonds, basil and radish. Add $3.50 for bacon.
Shop 3/130 Victoria Street, Seddon, 9689 0309, commongalaxia.com.au
7. Demitri's Feast, $17.50
Demitri ignores the trend of adding extras and makes ordering easy by including the obligatory poached egg and hangover-friendly bacon with its smashed avocado, along with whole confit cherry tomatoes. It's all the best bits of breakfast on a single plate.
141 Swan Street, Richmond, 9428 8659, demitrisfeast.com.au
8. The Foodrinkery, $10
Avocado is not smashed here; it's whipped. It doesn't use feta either, but soft ricotta. The cheese is mixed with the avocado to create a smooth ''mash''. Sesame seed toast is then smothered with the mixture, a thick layer of ricotta, and completed with a poached egg. Not only is it original, it's a steal.
22 Banksia Street, Burwood East, 9808 2468, facebook.com/TheFoodrinkery
9. Proud Mary, $16
Best described as a beautiful mess, this is the perfect example of how cafes are adding their own twist to smashed avocado. Proud Mary coats five-grain farmhouse toast with avocado before scattering it with charred corn and quinoa ''tabbouleh'', goat's cheese and chilli oil.
172 Oxford Street, Collingwood, 9417 5930, proudmarycoffee.com.au
10. Le Petit Prince, $16.50
For a side of luxury with your smashed avocado, try the adaptation at Le Petit Prince with smoked salmon. There's the usual Persian feta suspect alongside snow pea tendrils, all served on soy and quinoa toast from Brasserie Bread.
1A Mercer Road Armadale, 9824 6404, lpparmadale.com.au
11. Adeney Milkbar, $12
This corner cafe has not one, but two versions of our beloved smashed avocado. Those who like a morning kick can order theirs with fresh chilli, coriander and lime on sourdough, while traditionalists can stick to the buttery avocado-feta mix on multigrain with mint, sea salt and lemon.
70 Adeney Avenue, Kew, 9817 3993, facebook.com/AdeneyCafe
12. The Resident, $15
At this Ashburton gem overlooking the Anniversary Bike Trail, smashed avocado isn't just mixed with feta, but also muddled with preserved lemon. It arrives on three small pieces of seeded toast and is finished with delicate, soft herbs.
246 High Street, Ashburton, 9885 8777, theresident.com.au