Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published August 13th 2011
Crossways is a difficult place to characterize. It can't be a café, since it doesn't serve coffee or anything resembling light snacks, but it can't be a restaurant either, since they serve only one kind of meal each day. There are too many suited businessmen to call it a grimy cut-price food joint, but you can get a gigantic main course, drink and dessert for under seven dollars (five dollars if you're a student). Perhaps the best way to describe it is as "food for life": a place that has the lofty goal of nourishing the soul along with the body.
Let's get something out of the way: Crossways is run by the Hare Krishnas, those robed and sandaled people that dance up and down Swanston St on occasion. While it's clearly a religious place – pictures of Krishna are all over the walls and there's a bookcase full of spiritual guides and cookbooks – there's not a trace of preaching or sanctimony. Instead, the cooks and servers, all volunteers by the way, are perpetually smiling and good-natured. Deliberate or not, it's an excellent advertisement for their religion.
The entrance is up a flight of stairs on Swanston St, underneath a sign that advertises the best value lunch in the city. Turn into the door on your right and you'll see the main area, including the counter and some large tables. You'll have to join the queue, but since everyone's eating the same thing it moves very quickly. Pick up your plate of curry and pappadums with one hand and your bowl of dessert with the other. Use one of the trays provided if you want to carry anything else – like a drink or, say, cutlery. While there's probably free seats downstairs, try going up another flight of stairs to the upstairs seating. There's more light from the windows, a better view of Swanston St, and a charming TV that seems permanently on the Krishna channel.
After a few visits you'll know which dishes they serve off by heart. There's a different curry and dessert flavour every day of the week, and it's a good idea to work out which one's your favourite and plan your visits by that. If you're into tofu, Wednesdays they have a delicious Malaysian Tofu Curry; all other days it's some combination of beans and vegetables. Everything's vegetarian (and vegan, if you skip the desserts), so don't worry about non-meat options. One issue with the food: it's salty enough to require a decent amount of water on hand, so bring a bottle yourself or be prepared to keep going back to the water jug next to the counter.
The dessert is a bowl of halava and custard – probably less healthy than the main course, but still delicious. Pace yourself with the main course, as a common Crossways mistake is to be too full to sample the halava: a frustrating situation, considering how tasty it is. There are three drink options: orange cordial, water and lassi. Lassi is an Indian yoghurt drink that goes really well with the salty curries. It's a little watery, but excellent value considering that you can refill your glass as much as you want.
All in all, it's hard to get better value for money than a Crossways lunch. The portions are so large that you won't need much – if anything – for dinner. While other restaurants or cafés might provide more variety, few match the cheery demeanour of the Krishnas. The unassuming entrance makes Crossways the kind of place you can walk past a thousand times without going in. If you're in the area at lunchtime, give it a shot. One thing's guaranteed: you won't walk out hungry.