The Grounds of Alexandria know how to create a stir. For months now, streams of Bunnings-bound shoppers have been eagerly following the building progress on the massive café/roastery/bakery/kitchen garden. After a few delays the doors finally swung open in early April and Alexandria’s one-stop-shop has been going gang-busters ever since.
First and foremost: this place is about coffee. There are two separate espresso stations – one for in-house and one for take-aways – which churn through huge bags of the beans that are roasted about 10 feet away in the Research Facility. The roastery sits against one wall and is encased in glass and looks not unlike the inner sanctum of Dr Evil’s lair. The person sitting at the computer controlling the two massive Probat roasters could be roasting coffee or may just be planning world domination – who's to say?
They aren't setting out to reinvent the wheel here. The menu contains elements common to most Sydney cafés. It is the execution that puts this place ahead of the pack. The sandwiches are eye-catching – slow roasted, shredded lamb shoulder or American-style tuna and egg stand out – and the salads go a step beyond the Caesar/Greek/roast pumpkin trifecta. The service is also a cut above. They manage the crowds admirably and project an atmosphere of casual professionalism that makes the Grounds feel more like a restaurant than a café.
When it comes to lunch, not all schnitzels were created equal. The Grounds’ herb-crusted chicken schnitzel is extremely popular and it’s not hard to see why. Rather than a single, flattened breast that covers the plate, at Grounds they leave the meat a little plump so that it stays tender. They fry them up to a dark bronze and then add a swirl of forest green salsa verde and a lemon wedge. The side of red cabbage 'slaw balances out the deep-fried element. Instead of a creamy sauce, the cruciferous salad is dressed with a seeded vinaigrette. If it just isn’t a schnittie without chips, order a side of the crisp, battered fries with chilli aioli. Fair warning, though: you will be facing a substantial food coma for the remainder of the afternoon.
Alternately, you could build up your iron stores by ordering the Grounds' burger. All your common burger complaints have been addressed. The juicy, dry-aged Angus patty is slightly larger than the soft bun's circumference, meaning you aren’t left with any empty carb at the end. Sauce choice can often be the downfall of a good burger. Fortunately, Grounds have done away with this problem altogether by just using them all; tomato relish, hot mustard and mayo. Add the house-made pickles and you have a burger NYC would be proud to call their own.
And now for the bad news. This place is always packed. Always. On weekends, unless you arrive at first light, you are looking at an hour’s wait for a table, and even on a weekday the lunchtime crowds from the neighbouring businesses fill the café – though the wait on weekdays is more like 10 minutes.
You have to hand it to them, though; the people behind the Grounds knew full well that they’d be attracting families by the minivan load, what with their huge kitchen garden, complete with chicken run. The simple solution? Petting zoos and jumping castles have both made an appearance on weekends with more surprises to come, keeping kids out from underfoot while parents mung down on a three- cheese toasty with rocket, tomato and balsamic and a coffee.
Right now, visiting the Grounds of Alexandria may take some military-style logisticising, but your patience shall be well rewarded. The service is friendly and efficient, the food is excellent, their thumbs are green and they are brewing up a storm of locally roasted coffee to top it all off.