When chef Emely Donegan moved to Portland, USA, she noticed something strange about sandwiches. They weren’t just a snack in the States, and they certainly weren’t a soggy lunchbox filler, full of despair and thwarted dreams. They were a freakin’ EVENT.
“They just think differently about sandwiches over there,” Emely says. “Here in Australia a sandwich is probably a snack, it’s not the main meal. We wanted to bring the American sandwich scene to Melbourne.”
The result is Big Dog’s Deli, Richmond’s new sandwich bar, a laid-back love letter to everything that happens when you put food between two slices of bread. Donegan opened Big Dog’s Deli in response to Melbourne’s overcrowded (but delicious) burger scene. She wanted something authentic, home-made and sustainable, where the humble sandwich could be treated with a little TLC (and maybe a pinch of swagger). When a lease opened up around the corner from The Corner, she grabbed it with both hands.
Big Dog’s Menu is basically sandwich porn for consenting adults. The flavours are big and bold, and Donegan takes a hands-on approach to prep: the team pickle their own kimchi and sauerkraut, hand cut their house crisps, roast their own meats and even produce a couple of sweat-inducing chilli sauces (add a few drops of the organic jalapeno, onion, apple and garlic for a serious kick). “Everything’s been carefully chosen. Everything sustainable,” Emely says. “I wanted a big focus on organic and responsibly sourced produce. We work with local farmers and suppliers as much as we can.”
Vegetarians will appreciate the rotating veggie sandwich (e.g. mung bean croquettes, honey labne, coriander and watercress) as well as a signature grilled cheese that changes every few weeks (no Coon here–think a bubbling trifecta of Comté, Petit Agour and gooey Jouvence Brie). But really, the meat is the star here. Take The Big Dog, the deli’s signature sandwich. Wafer slices of 36- month aged Prosciutto di Parma, salami, pickled peppers, shaved pecorino, lettuce, tangy aioli and (a stroke-of-genius) nduja paste, all caught between two crusty slices of well-toasted ciabatta. It’s ridiculously, disgustingly good. The sort of sandwich that makes you want to be a better person. We’re also eyeing up The Cuban Wingman (Donegan’s take on the classic Cubano): Mojo roasted pork, shaved double-smoked ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickle and mustard on a pressed baguette.
Big Dog’s layout is pretty no nonsense. Big bar up front for sandwich assembly and mixing Aperol Spritz cocktails. A gnarly-looking meat slicer ready to roll. Pickles marinating on the walls. You can sit up at the window, but we prefer the leafy beer garden out back; it’s the perfect spot for a Sunday morning ‘Bloody Maria’ (Big Dog’s hangover cure de jour–spiced tomato juice, tequila, sherry and house pickles.) It’s a fit-out that’s bang-on for the Richmond scene. Somewhere casual enough for a midweek bite, but with the makings of a serious post-footy Sunday Session. Technically the place shuts at 9:30pm, but Donegan says they stay open as long as humanity needs them.
“If people wander in at 10pm looking for a sandwich, we’ll be here.”
Image credit: Michelle Jarni