It’s a misty Saturday morning in the Dandenong Ranges and you’re hoofing your way up the 1000 Steps Kokoda Memorial Track. Sweat’s pouring down your face, the ferns all seem to be mocking you, and it doesn’t help that the grandpa in knee socks has lapped you twice already.
The only thing keeping you going is the thought of brunch. And not just any old Dandenongs tea-and-scones brunch. We’re talking Lorna Cafe in Ferntree Gully, a short 5-minute drive from the Kokoda carpark.
Lorna is fast becoming the unofficial caffeine sponsor of the 1000 Steps. It’s kind of strange that no-one thought to do this before—take the best elements of Melbourne’s cafe scene, throw in a little Mexican heritage and some A-Grade Tasmanian produce, then plonk it down in Ferntree Gully at the foot of the Dandenong Ranges. Swing by this place at 10am on a weekend and you’ll spot walkers at every table, red-cheeked, sweaty-haired, tucking into chilli scrambled and fried halloumi like their lives depend on it.
Lorna is the brainchild of co-owners Omar Viramontes and Josh O’Brien. Omar is American by birth, with a strong Mexican heritage, which finds its way into the menu in the form of chilaquiles with tomatillo salsa, Jack cheese and a fried egg, or maybe a plate of gnarly fried chicken and savoury waffles (highly recommend).
By contrast, Josh is a Tassie boy (Lorna is actually named after his Grandma). That’s why you’ll spot Apple Isle ingredients like Olde Spikey Bridge Peanut Butter (AKA the greatest peanut butter of all time) and Cape Grim Beef in the slow-cooked brisket toasties.
Together, they’re a pretty potent combo, and the locals seem to agree.
The fit-out in Lorna is straight outta South Yarra (which is a bit like Straight Outta Compton, except no-one needs to rap their way out). Beautiful sun-dappled natural light hitting white-washed walls, chunky oak timber benches, custom artwork and some stag ferns growing on the walls. It’s crisp and breezy and unpretentious—more of a blank canvas for the food (which is what good design should be, really).
The menu is broken down into Something Light, All Day Breakfast (yassss) and All Day Mains (double yassss). So whether you feel like a 9am porridge with rhubarb compote and fermented milk...or a pulled beef brisket burger with housemade smoky BBQ sauce, you’re covered. If you’re after a grab-and-go bite, we recommend the toasties, pressed to crunchy golden perfection and stuffed with flavour combos like pulled pork, Emmental cheese and pickles, or avocado, zucchini and Brie (surprisingly good).
For brekky? It depends how virtuous you’re feeling. If you just walked the 1000 Steps, reward your tired legs with a helping of the turmeric scrambled eggs—spiced and spicy, gently folded with butter, chorizo and banana peppers.
If all you’ve done is get out of bed, watch some Black Mirror and drive to Lorna, maybe go the Health Bowl—an immune-boosting mix of coconut kale, quinoa, pickled cauliflower, broccoli, tofu, nori, nuts, seeds, poached egg and soy dressing.
Drinks-wise, you’ve got a few options. The cold drip is bloody potent, or the baristas can whip up soy, almond, coconut, lactose-free or decaf espresso using the Niccolo’s house blend. There’s also a brewed prana Chai (nice touch), handmade organic tea, bottles of kombucha and a couple of cold-pressed juices (go the Cloudy Apple).
All in all—Lorna would kill it on Toorak Rd or Cecil St; It’s just Ferntree Gully’s good fortune that Josh and Omar live in Kallista. Check it out next time you get your ass kicked by the 1000 Steps. It’ll make all the pain worthwhile.
Image credit: Lorna Cafe