Max’s Cafe and Wine Bar

1-3 Leake St, Essendon
Phone: 9374 2632

You can tell a lot about a person from the places they choose to take you on a date. When I’m in charge of choosing the place, you can tell that I’m indecisive and often disorganised. I’ll most likely suggest to meet somewhere in the vicinity of a few good options, then make us traipse around seemingly aimlessly, dismissing options out of hand because they’re too busy, not busy enough, or because I’ve heard something bad about it from friends. But I’d like to think that more often than not, I come up with the goods. That’s one good thing about being a food blogger, having other food bloggers as friends; you have a pretty good idea of where the good places to eat are.

Anyway, when I went out on a second date with Mr D – the first was just drinks at a bar – and we were in his ‘hood, naturally I decided to let him choose. The first alarm bell rang when he declared that he didn’t really like Asian food. I really should have said, “Well, it’s been nice knowing you.” then and there. But I thought I’d give him the benefit of the doubt, and so we ended up at Max’s.

Upon walking in, we were summarily ignored by the three waitstaff who were managing three other tables between them. The place looked like a reputable establishment, so we approached one of the waitresses and asked to be seated. We were told to “just sit anywhere”, so we did, and waited for about five minutes before another waiter came over to us to ask if we needed anything. Yeah, menus might be useful. Well, they would have been, had they not been filled with the most banal of cafe/pub dishes. I can’t even remember what was on there – it’s that forgettable – but I’m fairly sure there was probably something like a tandoori chicken salad, some sort of steak, and two or three bland-sounding pasta dishes. So when in doubt, benchmark the place. We both ordered the chicken parma, with chips and vegetables.

Now I know my photography isn’t great – something I’m ironically proud of, actually – but the food was actually that insipid looking. To be fair, the chips were OK. The parma itself was pretty big, but the chicken was dry and bland; I have a suspicion it was one of those terracotta chicken tiles you can buy at the supermarket deli. But the most distressing thing about the whole affair were the ‘roast vegetables’. Yes, they had been roasted, but probably not that day. And that certainly wasn’t the last cooking process which had been applied to them. Ah, the uneven heat distribution that can only be produced by a microwave. Some pieces were still cold, while others almost burned my tongue. Interestingly, conversation over the course of the meal also ran hot and cold. We had a few things in common, but I found myself having to think hard for the next conversation topic, which is never a good sign. But I digress.

The fact that I am an insatiable glutton is well known to you regular readers. It’s a rare occasion that I don’t finish a parma, because I very rarely order one unless I’m actually hungry. As a result, the act of leaving chicken on a plate is a form of silent protest for me. I protested at Max’s. Sadly, I doubt any of the staff noticed.

I’m not going back. Nor were there any subsequent dates with Mr D.


Smoken Joe’s

680 Mt Alexander Rd, Moonee Ponds
Phone: 9370 4888

Smoken Joe’s is a pretty standard cafe/restaurant of that Blue Train/Automatic/Joe’s Garage vein, with a menu modelled on American Diner fare, plus pasta, plus some bistro food, plus curry (!?!?). They serve decent meals at reasonable prices, and there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the food.

As is usual in one of these places, there are a few things on the menu which are signature dishes, but you’ll find all of the usual suspects on the menu. I tend to find that they’re the best dishes on which to judge a restaurant, so I started off with the steak sandwich. The steak was still juicy and the toast was crisp. Not bad, in my books. Mr N had the chicken parmigiana. He was satisfied, and struggled to finish it all. I’ve got to say the chips were a bit of a let-down; not particularly crispy. I’m also of the belief that either you go shoestring, or you go fat chips. The KFC-gauge should be left to KFC. Well, OK, and Nando’s.

A return visit with other friends led to similar ordering. Mr I had the burger, and Mr A had the steak sandwich, on my recommendation. Both were satisfied with their meals, but there were no songs of praise to be sung. Mr A’s steak sandwich looked even better than mine.

I have been there other times when someone ordered the pasta (ho-hum) and the grilled salmon (a winner, but no photo!) but I’m yet to try their ribs or the surf’n’turf. I love a bit o’ doublemeat action.

Oh, but wait! I lie! There IS something remarkable about Smoken Joe’s. They have these OVERSIZED chocolate crackles and honey joys!!

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