4 180 S Creek Rd Wheeler Heights, NSW 2097
|Opening hours||Breakfast and lunch daily; dinner Thu-Sun|
|Features||Family friendly, Outdoor seating, Licensed, Accepts bookings|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||0451 866 756|
It's Sunday afternoon on a suburban strip of Sydney's northern beaches and chef Blake Toth is filling tacos with smoky chicken and bright salsas. A guy on acoustic guitar is pumping out early Paul Kelly and the Tothy Brothers terrace is heady with the fragrance of spice and slow-cooking meat.
The full dinner menu does not kick in until 4pm, but the place is already packed with families – the kids taking full advantage of the skate park across the road – and couples on their second round of jalapeno margaritas and party-popping snacks. It's all enough to make you want to google "median house price Wheeler Heights" .
It's $2.4 million, by the way, slightly more than nearby Frenchs Forest, but considerably less than neighbouring Collaroy. That price could rise throughout the year, especially with the arrival of this new cafe and restaurant specialising in smoked, well, everything.
Brothers Blake and Sean Toth grew up in Palm Beach and developed a fascination for all things spice-rubbed and smoked while living in California and eating their way around the US. After returning home in 2018, the pair decided to try smoking massive hunks of beef brisket themselves and created an American-style barbecue out of cinder blocks in their parents' backyard.
A touring sandwich stall was a hit at local markets, and last year the Toths opened a permanent shop beneath an otherwise dull apartment complex. Daytime trade in the simple, white-walled dining room is built around North America's best sangers, including a Reuben with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and a signature pastrami brined for two weeks in brown sugar, bay and juniper ($22). My stars, it's good.
Piled high with crimson-red meat like the sandwiches at Katz's Deli in New York (the one from When Harry Met Sally), the Reuben also features on a more substantial and refined dinner menu the brothers launched in February. A sandwich for dinner? I couldn't possibly. A couple at the next table look positively chuffed to be sharing one, though. To hell with it, I'll have what they're having.
I stop short of going full last-days-of-Rome and dipping the sandwich in gravy but, gee, the temptation is there. It's incredibly tasty, made with the rendered fat of smoked brisket and elevating anything it touches, such as a side of velvety mash ($8); it's essential with a smoked half-chicken ($32), boasting skin crisp and golden-brown like autumn leaves.
Bonus mash and gravy is served with a superb pork and fennel sausage ($28) plated on collard greens that are, unfortunately, too salty to enjoy. However, if you're not averse to upsetting your cardiologist, give the barbecued cabbage ($18) a whirl.
A one-time healthy brassica is braised in smoked whey, butter and kombu seaweed before a spin over charcoal and a dusting of nori powder. The braising liquid is reduced for a sauce and it's one of the most rib-sticking cabbages you will encounter on this or any other planet.
Before moving to Los Angeles and working at one of Hollywood's hottest restaurants, E.P. & L.P., Blake Toth was cooking modern Japanese at Potts Point's Cho Cho San. You can see the influence in an entree of thick-sliced raw kingfish curled around ribbons of crunchy kohlrabi ($26).
Tomato broth dashi and bonito flakes amplify the umami, although a frazzled clutch of crisp-fried vine leaves adds little to the dish except a strange-looking nest. Regardless, the considered flavours suggest Toth's cooking may become more singular as the menu evolves.
Meanwhile, soccer coach turned restaurateur Sean runs the floor, pouring sweet and boozy Arnold Palmer cocktails ($18), featuring whisky, rum, black tea and lemon. Perfect for cutting through all the butter and richness. Likewise, a shiraz-pinot blend by Lucky's winery in the Hunter Valley – a vibrant and fruity bargain at $8 a glass.
All power to the brothers for creating a top-notch diner for locals to either grab a quick coffee or hunker down for a smorgasbord of smoked meats and house wine at pub prices.
There's a welcoming, come-as-you-are vibe about the place, especially at that sweet spot around 3pm on a Sunday when there's live music, tacos and the odd spare seat.
Mark it on your dance card before the rest of the northern beaches does, too.
Vibe: Relaxed neighbourhood diner for sharing smoked meats with family and old friends
Go-to dish: Reuben with hand-sliced pastrami on rye.
Drinks: Small list of approachable natural wines, local beers and food-friendly cocktails
Cost: About $120 for dinner, $60 for lunch, excluding drinks
This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine