The Gem Bar & Dining
289 Wellington St, Collingwood, Melbourne
I thought I knew my shit pretty well when it came to BBQ. I thought I knew all the big players on the Melbourne scene. I thought I was relatively up to speed. Then I found The Gem.
Husband and I both had a craving for BBQ a couple of weekends ago. I was coming down with a cold, neither of us could be bothered cooking (or dealing with dishes), we just wanted some soft, fatty, melty brisket and pulled pork. I’m really growing to love the Zomato app (except for the fact that I still can’t get to an eatery’s direct website through it yet… come on guys!), particularly the map functionality – basically, you can pull up a map on it, draw a circle around the area you want to eat in and it lists everything in the area. LOVE IT! Anyway, I drew a circle around the general Collingwood area that’s not too far from home, filtered to BBQ, and The Gem came up as an option (and a highly recommended one, at that). 20 minutes later, we were changed from trackies to socially acceptable clothing and pottering around the front door counting down the minutes to the 1pm opening.
Seated with menus in hand, we decided to just get a bit of everything, because why not? You can see the ridiculously sized spread we ended up with for just over $50 above, but let me give you a bit of a breakdown…
Pulled pork ($15.00) and beef brisket ($18.00) to be exact. They were deceptively big servings for the cost, and oh so good… The pulled pork was absolutely phenomenal, slow cooked to perfection and falling apart with ease; I’d have to honestly say that I found it better than Le Bon Ton’s, personally, because it wasn’t drenched in the syrupy sweet BBQ sauce that so often accompanies American BBQ. Instead, the bottle of BBQ sauce was brought to our table to add as we pleased. When the pork is cooked that well, I don’t want it drenched in BBQ sauce, I want to actually taste the meat! Bonus points for the pile of house pickles that came with the pork – they were fantastic. The brisket was a tough call – I think Le Bon Ton’s had the edge here, but it was a catch 22; husband and I both LOVE the burnt ends of the brisket, and being some of the first customers through the door on this particular day, we managed to scored those first few cuts of beef that held all the burnt goodness. However, that meant that the meat was a little more dry than the inner bits. That said, a jug of gravy was served with the brisket, and once poured over the top, it was juicy and moist once more, with the added hit of the most amazing gravy I can remember having in recent times. And those crispy burnt bits…. damn..
Sides involved ranch style beans with brisket ends ($4.00) which I wouldn’t bother ordering again – there really weren’t any burnt ends in there, and that was the main reason we ordered them. A small serve of hand cut chips ($5.00) with chipotle aioli ($1.00) was a snap decision at the last minute, and the best decision of the day. Best chips I’ve ever had the pleasure of demolishing. There was no fighting over the crispy ones, because they were all crispy. Don’t even consider not ordering these, you need them.
And last, but most certainly not least, we grabbed a few little brioche rolls (3 for $5.00) to stuff some of the meat into (DIY sliders is fun), and the mac & cheese with bacon crumb ($4.00), because how can you possible NOT order that?! The rolls were actually a great decision, not only to make sliders out of, but also to mop up the greasy meat juices at the end. We’re filthy animals, we make no apologies. The mac & cheese was magnificent – that bacon crumb… oh my God it was SO good! And again, deceptively decent serving size for $4!
We ate like two crazed vulture/hyena hybrids, grinning manically the whole time while we alternatively stuffed food down our throats and recounted all the great BBQ we ate in America like Southern Hospitality in New York and The Joint in New Orleans. Must have been the pig that got us all philosophical; we were talking about how insanely powerful food can be in bringing you back to a certain memory, and how important a role it’s played for us. Some days I’ll find myself thinking of a certain place and wishing I was back there, and the closest I can get is re-creating the food that I ate there, in Egypt or Vietnam or Spain (**side note – currently working on a project that’ll be centered around that theme…), and those smells and flavours bring back a rush of memories in a way that simply looking back over photos can’t. Anyway, we’d just been talking about that when one of The Gem’s lovely ladies came to clear our table and ask how it all was. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said it was amazing, and she wasn’t surprised. The big surprise though came when I asked how long they’d been BBQing for – “since 2012!” What??! How, HOW could I possibly have not known about this?!? Turns out they’d only been doing BBQ on weekends, and when they realized that BBQ was in fact their biggest money maker, they decided late last year to have it on the menu all week instead. Since October, they’ve made the transition to every day BBQ, slowly shifting the focus of the menu more towards classic Texas style BBQ, and it’s been an absolutely brilliant shift.
Once again, Melbourne with it’s hidden gems (hahaha just realised as I was typing what an absolutely horrendous pun that was… but I like it so it’s staying!) surprising and delighting the taste buds… It’s a gorgeous little space, the old wooden fit out and creaking floorboards are perfect, warm and homely. It’s small enough to feel like you’re almost visiting a friend’s family in Texas for lunch or dinner, but big enough to cater for a crowd (they’ve actually also got a small dining room for bigger groups out the back). Pretty sure you’re now understanding my craving for BBQ last weekend. You should probably get out of your trackies and head over to The Gem this weekend, too…