98 Lygon St Brunswick East, VIC 3057
|Features||Licensed, Bar, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||03 9387 1218|
Following Katie Marron around town has become one of those Melbourne food things, like camping out for a Lune croissant or scoffing a $3 borek at the Queen Vic Market.
Marron has been cooking her Virginia-born grandmother's soul food recipes in pub kitchens since 2013, initially at the Public Bar in North Melbourne, then at the more salubrious Rochester on Johnston Street.
Earlier this year, the Rochie decided it needed a "broader offering" for the fickle Fitzroyalty, so Marron shifted her pans to Chinatown's divey Ding Dong Lounge in August. It's arguably a better fit for her bibs-and-newspaper fare which goes best with a side order of ear-splitting rock 'n' roll.
Now she's taken over a second kitchen, at Brunswick East's Alehouse Project, serving her special blend of down-and-dirty American comfort food until at least Christmas.
One side of the venue has been converted into a unpretentious mess hall-style diner for the occasion, with red, white and blue stools, fishing nets pinned to the ceiling and crab trawlers hooped around the light fittings.
Miss Katie's "crab shack" operates from a plastic-covered table out the back, offering a punchy menu of fried chicken with waffles and syrup (look out), burgers, tacos, and oysters, as well as the signature crab boil which can be pimped out with extras such as clams, mussels and king prawns.
The Alehouse bar runs as normal in the adjoining room, with high benches, red vinyl banquettes and a sign screaming "craft beer" on the brick wall. It's true: there's an overwhelming range of designer suds to delight the most knowledgeable beer nerds, with a focus on local brewers such as Stomping Ground, BrewCult and Merri Mashers, as well as rare by-the-bottle options from The Cellared Series, including fancy brews upwards of $30 a pop.
The bar staff might steer you towards a pint of the new 3 Ravens Juicy IPA, which is a sessionable number at a slightly lower 6 per cent alcohol, bursting with a bouquet of hops. There are also six reds and six whites by bottle or glass, easy-drinking Australian wines to match the unfussy food.
And the food is great fun, from the spectacularly crunchy, rum-glazed chicken ribs (a must-order) to the Old Bay seasoned fries with funky blue cheese dressing for extra calories.
The namesake crab arrives in a cardboard box, accompanied by a paper bag filled with essential utensils: a plastic bib emblazoned with a red crustacean, a flimsy wooden mallet, a stack of refresher towelettes. Cheery staff spread out sheets of this week's streetpress and wish you luck.
Sections of corn disappear first – sweet and spiced and drenched in butter – then generous sections of chorizo sausage. Finally, the full blue swimmer crab needs considerable cracking, but the flesh, once you get to it, is juicy and elegant. It's like the pistachio of the sea: hard work but arguably worth the effort. Keep up the good crab, Miss Katie; we'd follow you anywhere.
Pro Tip: Tuesdays is chowder night, Wednesday has burgers and trivia.
Go-to Dish: Classic crab boil, $27.