Bagel & Juice Cafe and Catering, 736 Mt Alexander Rd, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9375 2947
The signs on the wall above the coffee machine are eloquent and indicative.
“The deadline for complaints is yesterday,” reads one.
“Sarcasm – just one more service we offer here,” says the other.
As you’d expect, Bagel & Juice proprietor Leanne is a formidably tough, hard-as-nails broad.
Actually, everything about this homely Moonee Ponds enterprise – the food, the welcome, the staff singing along to the music, the decor, the cooking aromas and more – is a lively, nurturing antidote to the hipper-than-thou coffee joints sprouting up like mushrooms across the west.
Hey, I can go with that flow quite happily, but Bagel & Juice is something else again.
Being no great fan of bagels, I’d previously ignored the place despite driving and even walking past it countless times.
But earlier in the day I’d set out with the determined purpose of finding somewhere interesting to eat on the stretch of Mt Alexander Rd between Kensington and Puckle St. That’s not as easy as it sounds.
As I discuss with Leanne after my lunch has been and done, it’s a weird stretch with a bit of a Jekyll & Hyde about it.
Heaps of traffic, a fish and chip joint that does sushi, lots of Asian places further up near Puckle St that seem generally pricier than we are used to in our other westie haunts, plenty of cafes and the like. And lots and lots of light industrial and commercial activity.
There’s not a lot of footpath traffic and many eats businesses are not open for lunch, though I suspect there’s a nightlife vibe generated by the pubs and clubs in the hours I am least likely to be in the neighbourhood.
Maybe all that accounts for why about 80 per cent of Leanne’s trade is found on the catering side of her business.
Actually, the word bagel in the name is a little misleading.
There’s plenty of them – brought in par-baked from Glicks and finished on the premises – but there’s a revolving cast of other goodies going as well, including these days what Leanne calls her “Winter Warmers”.
There’s soups and wraps and pastas and stews – the range from week to week varies, sometimes for no better reason than staff preferences.
“We don’t want to eat the same stuff all the time either!” says Leanne.
What draws me through the door is the list on sandwich board outside, and specifically its mention of “Beef or Moroccan stroganoff”.
I opt for the beef version – and it’s a doozy.
Made, Leanne informs me, by using beef, beef stock, mushrooms, onions, sour cream, wine, garlic, black pepper and lots of love, this is classic stroganoff territory.
Served over nice penne pasta, its richness is ameliorated in just right way by the wine. The beef could be a little more tender, but it’s the mushies, sour cream and pepper that dominate the flavour proceedings in a grand fashion.
It’s very good and I luxuriate in every mouthful.
It’s a good-sized serve, too, making the $10.95 price tag something of a bargain.
Bagel & Juice is open 8am-4pm five days a week.
Leanne has all sort of special deals and customer loyalty schemes going on.
And a big mouth.
There’s a nifty courtyard out back, too.
Who knows? Given the great vibe, I might even opt for a bagel next time around.