56-58 Main St Upwey, VIC 3158
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri 7am-4pm; Sat-Sun 8am-4pm|
|Features||Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Family friendly, Outdoor seating, Licensed|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9754 8101|
How do you solve a problem like Maria? Actually, cancel that thought. Upwey cafe Maria is part of the solution (not the problem) to brunch issues in Melbourne's outer-east. The Dandenong Ranges are better known for Devonshire teas and restaurants where lederhosen are de rigueur, but since Maria opened opposite Upwey railway station seven months ago there's been a Mexican flavour in these hills.
The sister cafe of Ferntree Gully's Lorna, Maria is named in honour of co-owner Omar Viramontes' grandmother. Five minutes' drive from the 1000 Steps walking track (or another 6000 steps for the average person), it's the scene of weekend morning lycra showdowns between the hangry hordes over PBs and the last table.
They had me at hola. The sign asking diners to wait to be seated sets the Latin theme with its cheery greeting. Viramontes and partner Josh O'Brien have done good things with a tricky old-fashioned shopfront, opening up the former warren of interconnecting rooms at the nexus of sharp and homely with pale timber seating and plenty of fresh greenery hanging about in wall planters. Out back there's another bunch of tables in the ray-catching elevated courtyard.
The Latin accent lilts through the menu in varying strengths, from a churros waffle doused in chocolate sauce and mascarpone to eggs Benedict lifted by chorizo croquettes, oaxaca cheese and red capsicum jam.
A shape-shifting avocado smash features a gordita ("chubby girl" in Spanish, or a tortilla bun to you and me) sandwiching a nicely limey guacamole with soft feta and little batons of crisp jamon; the chilli scrambled eggs doesn't hold back with a fiery jalapeno sauce and lime and jalapeno-marinated prawns.
Beef brisket tacos, tamales and your nuevo-Mexi-classico corn on the cob takes things into lunchtime and beyond.
The rich house brew – the signature Fitzroy Street blend from inner-north champs Industry Beans – is all delicious bright dark chocolate and strong enough that your usual extra shot is going to be overkill. There's also a rotating single-origin batch brew, cold brew and a quadrella of quasi-lattes including turmeric.
Smoothies with added protein powder are aimed straight at the jugular of anyone arriving hot and sweaty off the 1000 Steps. There are Mexican soft drinks (Jarritos) and beers (Pacifico and Dos Equis) backed by three Yarra Valley wines and brunch-friendly cocktails.
Loving A new taste profile challenging the Melbourne brunch hegemony.
Not getting Why a glass of juice has to be half ice.
Vegan factor There's a southern-fried tempeh burger, and plenty of the menu can be modified in the key of V.
Overheard "Next time we skip the walk and come straight to lunch."
Caffe latte $3.80