For a period last year, it felt like every Melbourne restaurant and their pop-up side-project was serving American BBQ in some shape or form. Needless to say, the quality was varied and, by the end of 2015, the last thing the Melbourne food scene needed was yet ANOTHER Americana-inspired joint.
With the boom in kitchens hawking brisket, charcoal chicken and pulled pork, only a handful stood out from the crowd. So, how do you spot the BBQ imposters from the bona fide pitmasters? A three-week research trip to Texas, that’s how.
The Gem Bar and Dining Room – Collingwood’s hotspot for most mouth-watering southern-style food and drinks – takes its Texan style food seriously. So much so that the venue’s owner Tonino Cordisco and recently appointed head chef Alto Priyadi packed up for a visit to the motherland of barbecue food in late 2015 to tap the southern state for its barbecue secrets. The results are one hell of a new menu to kick off 2016. Think jalapeno and beer cheese fondue, pork spare ribs, hot link sausages and some incredible vegan (yes, we said vegan) twists on American BBQ food that will have your tastebuds satiated.
When it comes to American BBQ in Melbourne, The Gem Bar and Dining Room takes the traditional approach. The team’s great Texan road trip spanned over a dozen of the state’s best barbecue restaurants, including Louie Mueller, Terry Black’s Barbecue, and Austin’s Freedman’s Bar –renowned for its smokehouse expertise – where they learned from BBQ authority Evan LeRoy how to get the most out of your meat. Not happy with meeting only one barbecue hero, The Gem also tracked down Australia’s own Jess Pryles – aka. Hardcore Carnivore – at her meat extravaganza “The Carnivore’s Ball’s Texas date”, as well as picking the brains of the industry’s finest at the prestigious invite-only Texas Monthly BBQ Festival. Talk about going hard when it comes to research!
Thankfully for us Melbourne barbecue fans, the trip’s paid off by way of a revamped menu. Old favourites including juicy pork belly, beef brisket, and pulled lamb and pork are joined by delicious newcomers such as The Gem’s BBQ smoked chicken and pit-smoked chilli beans. If meat ain’t your thing, you’re in luck: The geniuses in the kitchen have introduced pulled BBQ jackfruit as a vegetarian option - which tastes as good if not better than the meaty equivalent. Sides cover Elotes (that’s BBQ seasoned corn to you and me), house pickles, chipotle slaw and Cerveza Con Queso – jalapeno spiced beer cheese fondue served with fresh tortilla chips – and make for a feast worthy of any BBQ bonanza.
Texan style desserts are also high on the list, with the caramelised banana pudding blending just the right amount of fruit and sweetness together in a delicious ending to any BBQ feast … If you’ve managed to save any room, that is.
Welcoming a brand new team behind the bar too, you can expect the usual cracking selection of local and imported beers, summer cocktails and a couple of specials to boot. If you’re full of the Monday blues, the front bar is serving a Sanga and Sailor – a hefty vegetarian or smoked meat sandwich, and a pint or Sailor Jerry rum - for only $20. As per usual, the Gem continues to do one of the best happy hours in Melbourne, with $6 pints until 7pm every weeknight.
The Gem Bar and Dining Room is, hands down, serving some of the most authentic food out there - and thankfully, they’re keeping the snobbery to a minimum with a focus on premium meat, carefully selected wood, expert techniques and only the best seasonings. With their very own custom designed smoker in the pipelines, this Collingwood institution is determined to keep pushing the boundaries of barbecue food in Melbourne, which puts it firmly at the top of our list when it comes to all things spice-rubbed, smoked and grilled. Whether you’re in need of a quick sanga, craving an all-night BBQ sit-down, or simply curious to see how they really do it in Texas, lock in a date with this northside charmer, pronto.
Check out The Gem’s trip to Texas on Instagram via the hashtag #thegemgoestexas
Every Monday until 29 February, you can pick up a Sanga and Sailor – a vegetarian or smoked meat sandwich, and a pint or Sailor Jerry rum - for only $20 at The Gem.
Image credit: Gareth Sobey for The Urban List
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