When I was recently in Melbourne, my father expressed an interest in trying German food. I intended to take him to Hofbrauhaus for the best Bavarian food and beer on my last visit to Melbourne, but unfortunately neglected to make a booking for a late Saturday night dinner. Simply showing up the door and asking for the next available booking had the maitre d nearly laughing in my face. I’ll know better for next time!
Luckily we were able to wander around to look for another restaurant and managed to grab a table at Mr Big Stuff at 9.30pm, one of the final tables of the night. My brother had been there just a few weeks earlier, and thought that my father would enjoy the food there given how much he had enjoyed our visit to the Merrywell, which serves up similar modern American cuisine without the soul food twist.
I ordered a non-alcoholic mocktail, my brother ordered his usual cider, and Dad asked me to order him a beer. Having read a little bit about the stereotypes associated with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, I thought it would be funny to order one for my father who is the complete antithesis of the typical hipster Pabst drinker. Little did I know that he was actually drinking it before it was cool – when our drinks came out, he exclaimed “I used to drink this back in the seventies!”. Apparently Pabst Blue Ribbon was a beer of choice in Hong Kong in the seventies, and my father would drink it all the time. My dad was the original hipster.
We were quite hungry by that point, so I quickly ordered a few dishes of the menu for the three of us to share. First up was the daily special of a mixed bean salad, with kidney, black eyed, and cannellini beans all represented in the salad. Dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice and combined with a medley of fresh herbs and chillis, the salad is equal parts earthy, refreshing, and more than satisfying. It’s a pity that it’s not on Mr Big Stuff’s regular menu, as there was definitely a lack of fresh options like this. (Correct at time of writing – apparently now they’ve added salads to their menu!)
The first small bites to come out were some deep-fried super-crispy Hushpuppies. I’d never tried hushpuppies before – to me, they were just a brand of extremely comfortable footwear that your grandparents would buy because it was good for the corns on their feet. Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when I realised that hushpuppies were actually delicious deep-fried balls of cheesy cornmeal batter – a vastly superior form of corn.
I’d wanted to order some of the sliders that they had on their menu back then, but unfortunately the kitchen had run out of sliders by the time we sat down to eat. In their place, I ordered the Shrimp & Grits. Again, though I had heard of grits and hominy before in my reading of classic American literature, I didn’t have a clear picture in my mind of what it actually was. My Big Stuff’s interpretation of grits is extremely creamy and cheesy, with some tangy salsa and fried shrimp on top. I personally would have preferred a few more shrimp as our table of three really only got a single shrimp each.
I didn’t have to think twice about ordering the Fried Chicken and Waffles as soon as I saw it on the menu. I love classic sweet and savoury pairings like this – maple syrup & bacon and salted caramel are some of my favourite flavours. This was a fantastic dish of crispy crunchy battered fried succulent tender chicken and pillowy soft buttery sweet waffles drenched in syrup. I couldn’t get enoough…so it’s lucky that I don’t currently live in Melbourne as I could definitely see myself going back to have this dish again and again. My waistline would definitely suffer!
The last savoury dish delivered to our table was the piping hot Mac & Cheese which had been baked in the oven until the breadcrumb topping had browned and the cheese was golden and melted into a gooey mess. My father absolutely loved this mac & cheese – while he claims that he doesn’t like cheese, his appreciation of the saganaki at Gazi and then this mac & cheese says otherwise! Personally, I liked the mix of textures in this dish – unlike other mac & cheese which tends to just be soft and gooey, I liked the crisper textures offered by the breadcrumbs and top layer of cheese.
We finished our meal with the Chocolate and Pecan Tart which came with a healthy dose of pumpkin puree and caramelised pepitas. I enjoyed how more-ish this tart was – it wasn’t too sweet, and the mix of the creamy gelato, the hard and sticky pepita caramel, and the crumbly pecan biscuit base really made this tart a dessert to be enjoyed to its fullest.
I really enjoyed our visit to Mr Big Stuff, and my father and brother did too – though Dad still rates the Merrywell over My Big Stuff. While I may not be back to Mr Big Stuff for a big meal any time over the next few months, I may just find an excuse to pop in for the fried chicken and waffles as a snack to share with a friend…