When I have the three screaming kids with me, though, all the positives suddenly become negatives. The narrow doorway and mismatched retro chairs become hazards to ram apologetically with my embarrassing double stroller, the art or air-freighted magazines become liabilities to be smeared with hands made sticky with overpriced friands, and the tinkle of scintillating conversation is drowned out by the sound of smashing babycino cups. In a nutshell, I don't really bother taking the kids to cafes any more.
A lovely friend recently recommended the Pound at the Whitten Oval to me. Alarm bells started ringing - firstly, the name sounds like some outer suburban nightclub with free Midori Illusions for the ladeez. It is at the Western Bulldogs' home ground just over Gordon St, in Footscray.
Now, my memories of eating at the football are "potato planks" at the MCG and those revolting udders you would squeeze to squirt dead horse (tomato sauce) all over your lukewarm Four n' Twenty pie, so the whole football-food association thing was not working for me. Nevertheless, my friend rated it, so I was game to check it out.
The cafe is just inside the doors, basically in the foyer of the Whitten Oval visitors' centre. Tables and chairs are neatly set out, and at the back there is a long, high-backed banquette. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out onto the oval. I admit, I was initially very doubtful - these sort of cafes that are within an institution, such as a hospital, university, or a museum, tend to be terrible as they have somewhat of a captive audience and no incentive to exceed expectations.
The first thing that surprised me was the great value - $12.50 for parma, salad, and chips, or a Caesar salad with bacon, croutons, and poached egg for $11. Ordering is efficiently and cheerfully undertaken at the counter, which displays a selection of sandwiches, slices, and muffins. The location in the lobby means there was plenty of space to park our enormous prams without running over anyone's toes. Big points, too, for no EFTPOS minimum.
Open steak sandwich, $9.50
This was just lovely - the steak thin, yet tender and juicy. The onions were sweet and the bread was crunchy and substantial, holding up its end of the bargain. A side salad or chips would have cost just a mere $1.50 extra.
Lemon pepper calamari, $12.50
This calamari was so tender and juicy. It was very lightly coated in a zingy lemon, herb, and breadcrumb blend, and was totally moreish. I opted for extra salad instead of chips, and it was a crisp mix of julienned vegies, salad leaves, and snow pea sprouts. My only complaint was the dressing was a bit bland.
Fruit platter with passionfruit syrup and honey yoghurt, $7.50
This was from the all-day breakfast menu and was the ideal snack for my daughters. Everyone had a favourite and the yoghurt sweetened the deal. Perfect!
The food passed the muster, now for the final test - the coffee. Mmmm - well-made, just the right temperature, with silky milk. The coffee blend is quite mild, and though I do prefer a bolder bean, it really was a delicious cup of chino. Loyalty cards are available - get the 7th coffee free. Bonus!
The amount of space both inside and outside means the kids have room to breathe, the staff are not precious at all, and it's casual enough that you could slop down there in your trackies and not feel out of place. The menu doesn't push any boundaries, but I like that - it knows what it is and it does it well. They are fully licensed, so if it's been a particularly fractious morning, you can have a wine instead of a latte. Commendations, too, for no crappy kids' menu of nuggets and other rubbish.
The Bulldogs market themselves as "the community club," and I do commend them for their involvement in the local community, particularly with disengaged young people through SpiritWest (although their endeavour to build a pokies pub at Edgewater is strangely at odds with their mission). The Pound is a great addition to the local community and despite its lack of reclaimed industrial decor or emo-fringed, funky-aproned staff, I am definitely planning to become a regular.
Bulldogs fight, and bulldogs roar... and they make a nice coffee, too!
Whitten Oval, Whitten Avenue, Footscray (map)
Phone: 1300 GO DOGS
Hours: Mon-Sat 8am-5pm (closed Sun)