Friday, February 22, 2008

Mealtime in Melbourne

On first glance, Melbourne, Florida might look like the sleepiest of sleeper towns. The antique shops line New Haven St., displaying their collectible rocking chairs and Hammond B3 organs and terra cotta planters, beckoning couples and groups of Red Hat ladies to browse a little and pick up a 1904 copy of Jude the Obscure. An elderly woman exits The Village Ice Cream Shop holding a cup of rose colored black-raspberry ice cream while her companion nibbles gingerly on a cone heaped with vanilla ice cream. Nothing would suggest that the city holds a deep, dark secret. Nothing would intimate that the food in Melbourne is stellar.

To be fair, I haven’t eaten at every restaurant in Melbourne, but out of the three meals I did eat there, three were worthy of note. It’s rare that I go on vacation anywhere and end up that the food I eat is 100% memorable, but this time, the impossible happened, rendering it, well, possible. And since it was the season for the impossible becoming possible, Cliff and I, die hard seafood fanatics, didn’t eat one full meal of any sea-dwelling creature the entire weekend. Though we did take a fruitless-but-well-fated trip down to Grant, Florida, a tiny coastal town with a killer Seafood Festival, to go to Ozzy’s Crab House, we were chagrined to find the words, “Be Back Soon!” on the marquee under the restaurant’s sign. Closed for the winter. Bummer.

That night, however, we did end up at Meg O’Malleys, an Irish pub full of Blarney-flavored comestibles and a guitarist singing the “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?” jig. The décor in Meg’s was unbelievably kitschy, with Irish sayings on the wall in needlepoint, stuffed leprechauns hung from the walls, and shamrocks around every corner. The corniness was left behind on the menu, though, with Bangers and Mash heading up the list of Irish-style fare.

For those unfamiliar with Bangers and Mash, let me explain. Imagine: four mild rosemary-scented pork sausages chargrilled over a heaping mound of perfectly creamy mashed red potatoes, topped with thicker-than-cement ooze of Guinness gravy. Bliss. If that’s not enough to get you through the Potato Famine, I don’t know what is. It’s served with a pile of buttered cabbage, so juicy and flavorful that you forget its cabbage. Also featured on the menu, potato balls, Chips and Gravy (French fries with Guinness gravy for dipping), corned beef and cabbage, shepherd’s pie, chicken pot pie, and just about every other tummy-filling comfort food you can imagine. Finish with a pint of Killian’s or any of the other 14 Irish beers on draught. That, my friends, is the pot of gold at the end of the day’s rainbow.

We turned the corner in the hot sun from A1A at the water’s edge to Indiatlantic Blvd in the beach district of Melbourne when my eyes were accosted by a bright pink building with a sign in front that could have only been a sign from the gods: “The Best Burrito You’ll Ever Eat.” Only a few minutes ago, I had thought to myself, “You know, I haven’t eaten anything that has blown my face off in a long, long time. Maybe I’ve eaten all there is to eat Maybe I’m jaded already!”

My body betrayed my cynical mindset and I pointed emphatically without saying a word at the cotton-candy-colored building. Cliff, perceptive young man that he is, recognizes this gesture to mean, “I want to eat THERE!” Cliff dutifully turned into the parking lot in front of the strange woman mannequin sitting on the teal wrought iron park bench, adorned in a coonskin Davy-Crockett style cap and a blank stare to the left.

Inside, the aqua walls were adorned with signs and posters praising the likesof Led Zepplin, The Beatles, the Haight-Asbury district of San Fransisco, and just about every late-60s hippie/early-metal/drug-induced haze kind of memorabilia. Inside was Rita (we’ll call her) - a saggy, fifty-fiveish, bleach-blonde with a smattering of bright pink lipstick on her smoker’s lips and a frizzy side ponytail. She explained our choices of burrito in a husky voice that might have once been sexy forty years ago. Chicken, steak, fish, or brisket. The choices of sauce were just as varied – chipotle ranch, mango, and two others that I can’t remember (must have been the second-hand ‘shrooms).

Needless (well, maybe not needless) to say, I got my face blown off. It was, true to the sign – THE BEST BURRITO I HAVE EVER EATEN. If I could write that in the same kind of letters that were on the marquee, I would. It was unbelievable. The brisket (I know, the fish taco girl passed up tilapia for red meat), smoked for 17 hours in a dry smoker permeated the entire burrito and left me wanting more long after I felt too full to function. I chose the chipotle ranch sauce, which was a perfect complement to the smokiness of the beef and the heat of the chili.

Cliff, ever the seafood lover, chose the tilapia burrito with rice and beans and the mango sauce. It was sweet and tangy. The fish was flaky and juicy and had great grill char. This is a place you can’t miss on Melbourne Beach.

Saturday morning, we were craving a big breakfast. We stopped at the Beachside Café, right over the bride in Indiatlantic Beach. Settled in between some staple surfshops, Beachside Café is only open between 7am and 2pm, and only for breakfast and lunch (obviously). It’s uber-beachy, most of the waitresses’ bikini tops could be seen under their uniform shirts, ready to pounce on the shelly sand as soon as the restaurant closes. It’s gotta be the life.

After agonizing over both menus (I couldn’t just decide between breakfast and lunch right off the bat), I chose something not even on the menu, but written in tiny script on the Specials board across from our table. Greek Benedict. Two poached eggs piled atop a bed of runchy baby spinach leaves and toasted English muffins, slices of ruby red tomatoes, crumbles of brackish feta cheese, and a drizzle of probably the best Hollandaise I’ve had in a while. It was a recipe to be duplicated over and over.

Cliff’s breakfast was just as kitschy – corned beef hash isn’t something a Peruvian boy from Ft. Lauderdale eats very often (if ever), so I had to explain it to him. A deep-seated love of crispy hashbrowns over griddle-top corned beef hash is one of the many thing that makes me a Southern girl. It certainly wasn’t inexpensive, but it certainly was a great experience.

While Melbourne may not be the next great culinary capital of the world, it was fantastic that we could find some great fare without having to try. I had forgotten to plan our meals ahead of time (something I have learned to obsessively do before going somewhere new), but it didn’t seem to matter. We ate well on gut instinct. Pun intended.

Meg O’Malleys
812 E. New Haven Avenue
Melbourne, Fl. 32901
Tel. No. (321) 952-5510
http://www.megomalleys.com/

Burrito Beach
315 Ocean Ave, Melbourne Beach, FL
Tel: 321-729-6244

Beachside Café
109 5th Avenue,
Melbourne, FL 32903

Phone: 321.953.8444

1 comment:

blivieri said...

I too have eaten at Meg O'Malleys, last year around Christmas (2007) and just recently at Beach Burrito (July 2008). Both restaurants were surprisingly good. On my most recent trip, we also went to Squid Lips which is located on Eau Gallie Blvd., near I-95. I thought the food was wonderful and original for a pseduo chain restaurant. (Original is in Sebastian). We had the seafood lasagna and Cajun scallops alfredo over Squid Ink pasta. PURPLE pasta! It was wonderful. Go to their website at www.squidlipsgrill.com and sign up for email letters. Good deals come with those!