16 Douglas Street Stanmore, New South Wales 2048
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri, 7am-4pm; Sat-Sun, 8am-4pm|
|Features||Cheap Eats, Family friendly, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||(02) 9560 1077|
One of the surest signs you've bonded with someone is when they start sharing their eccentric family tales. Barely 15 minutes after setting foot in Where the Monster Sat, we find ourselves in the middle of a cracking yarn by the head barista, Al Monserrat.
Noting our fascination with the cafe's hand-painted monster logo hanging proudly above the coffee machine, she wanders over to our table and issues a challenge: "You will never guess where the name came from."
"Is it a Where the Wild Things Are reference?" asks my friend, more curious than ever.
"Does it have anything to do with Dr Seuss?" says another.
Al is right, of course. We would never have guessed. Turns out the four-month-old cafe is named after a childhood nickname that belongs to the chef's aunt, Carmen Monserrat. "Carmen used to get teased about her last name at school and the kids would call her 'Carmen where the monster sat'," says Al. "We thought if we ever started a cafe, that would make an awesome name, and so it all began from there."
With the mystery cracked and our stomachs rumbling, we focus on the brunch menu. Specials are handwritten on a butcher's paper scroll. Heartier dishes are served from 11am, and on this busy Saturday there is a roast pumpkin and kale risotto, a Mediterranean beef burger with grilled vegetables and minted yoghurt and – the dish that catches our eye – a house-made pulled pork and spiced apple pie.
All day breakfast options are mainly classics-driven. We spot a few neighbouring tables with the hefty-looking vegie stacks (a colourful assemblage of roasted field mushrooms, sweet potato, zucchini, capsicum, haloumi and pesto) and its meat-lovers counterpart, Monster Breakfast with the lot. But wanting to save room for a sweet treat, we opt for the slightly less indulgent eggs benedict and smoked salmon potato hash.
Benedicts have had some bad press lately, with New York Times writer David Shaftel declaring it the ultimate overpriced, "conformist" dish that represents everything irksome about brunch. The Monster Benedict, however, does not warrant such scathing judgement.
A fluffy, pale golden hollandaise sauce is topped with a sprinkle of black salt. Chef Ralph Monserrat explains its higher sulphur content offers a contrast that cuts through the richness of the eggs. My only gripe with the dish is the rosti, which is on the stodgy side and lacks texture and crunch. The potato hash thankfully makes up for the minor carbohydrate mishap. Piles of golden cubes are fluffy on the inside and go perfectly with a sunny-side up fried egg and twirls of salty smoked salmon.
It's our favourite dish – until the pie arrives. A tribute to the chef's love of pork, the pie's filling is made from six-hour-slow-cooked and hand-pulled pork shoulder, along with wedges of spiced apples. I ask about the smoky flavour – since the kitchen seems on the small side for a smoker – and Ralph reveals it's the addition of a dash of liquid smoke that does the trick.
Despite being a new neighbourhood addition, there are already mementos everywhere. A fan of the cafe has painted a picture of a tiny blue monster in a coffee cup, which sits amid twee pot plants and mini specials chalkboards. I finish the meal with a caramely macchiato, a house blend from Melbourne's Zest Specialty Coffee Roasters, and grab a gluten-free Monster chocolate cookie to go.
"We want people to feel like they are a part of our family," Ralph says. With the warm service and the homely dishes, this certainly won't be the last time we'll be dropping in on the Monserrats.
THE PICKS Spiced apple and pulled pork pie; potato hash with smoked salmon
THE COFFEE Zest Specialty Coffee Roasters, Forte dark blend
THE LOOK Neighbourhood gem
THE SERVICE Friendly and attentive