Critique is an art form that requires a light touch, with a splash of irony and good humour to soften the blows.
Published May 5th 2014
Update April 27th 2016
The Greek owners of this very successful Coffee Club franchise have sold and moved on. The new operators have maintained the CC franchise but without any of the special attention to detail that made it stand out from the crowd.
Greek comfort food comes to Cavill Ave
Rustic peasant-style dishes with an authentic Mediterranean flavour, cooked onsite daily by a Greek family chef. This is budget-friendly comfort food at its best.
Cafes and fast-food outlets run up and down both sides of the pedestrian mall at the beach end of Cavill Avenue in Surfers Paradise. The franchised food outlets 'cook by the numbers' and operators seldom have any real hospitality experience. However, the signage outside The Coffee Club in Cavill Avenue suggested something a little different, and they had me at hello.
The very thought of home-style Greek moussaka brought back memories of that year in Greece. I was captivated by the promise of soft baked eggplant layered seductively between a rich Bolognese-style sauce and a creamy Bechamel, fresh from the oven, steaming hot, and golden brown. The reality was not quite what I envisioned, but still excellent value for money.
I spied the spanakopita when I was paying the bill. It was sitting on the counter under a glass dome, and the memories flooded in. Ah yes, the cobbled laneways of Corfu Town, and snacking on this baked pie of spinach and feta cheese with its buttery-crisp filo pastry. That was it. I was hooked, and would have to come back for it.
I was a little disappointed when I did return, but it was still very tasty and good value for money. I think it needed a little longer in the oven when it was first baked, to soften the feta cheese and crisp up the pastry. Then they could serve it at room temperature instead of zapping it the microwave and serving it with a soft pastry. In Greece they sell it from street stalls, at room temperature, crisp and flaky, by the slice, in a paper bag.
Every time you pay the bill, the cake display is also staring you in the face. Surely only the strongest will could possibly withstand such a mouth-watering array of cakes, pies and slices. I had been here twice now, and I took photos on both occasions. Being weak, I knew I had to come back and try their cakes, so I did.
I can happily recommend the Banana Caramel Slice $7.90, with its luscious banana-flavoured custard filling, streak of salty caramel, topped with an oozing soft meringue. It really didn't need the extra cream or ice-cream, but hey, when in Rome. The coffee was good too.
Banana Caramel Slice ($7.90) cream & ice-cream ( $1.30).... Long black ($3.80) soy milk ($0.80)
It was only on my fourth visit (yes, again) that I even looked at the menu cards. I will definitely be coming back again and again to try my other favourites. I love the country flavours of Yemista (hollowed-out seasonal vegetables such as eggplant and capsicum, filled with savoury minced meat and rice, and oven baked). Another Greek family favourite is pastitsio (baked macaroni pie with bolognaise sauce and Bechamel topping) and a familiar site at any special occasion or family gathering.
This special Mediterranean menu also includes Italian family favourites such as the baked lasagne and arancini rice balls, but the Greek dishes hold my attention. Greeks are the best at seasoning and grilling meat, so the souvlaki and lamb cutlets both sound fantastic. However, my next visit will be to try a Greek dessert from this special menu. It's another favourite of mine from those days long ago when I worked at the Greek Club in Brisbane: galaktoboureko ($5.90 a creamy custard slice made with semolina, vanilla and honey). I can hardly wait.
Unique menu featuring Greek and Italian favourites
The family business The note at the bottom of their Mediterranean Menu card says it all (and I quote): "Dear customers, We have the great pleasure of offering you fresh Mediterranean food every day. Under the instructions of the franchisee, Mr George Papaioannou, with 40 years' experience in the hospitality industry, our chefs cook the most popular Mediterranean food seven days a week in order to give you the chance to taste Europe on your plate."
This is indeed a family business, with George Papaioannou, his wife Lourdes, and their two sons, Mario and George Jnr. Their first Coffee Club franchise was at the Parkmore Shopping Centre in Keysborough, an outer Melbourne suburb. Building on this success, they relocated to Queensland and purchased the Post Office Square franchise in Brisbane's central CBD. Sensing the time was right, they embarked on another challenge, taking over the franchise in Cavill Avenue in Surfers Paradise. That was 10 months ago, and they are attracting a steady stream of clientele when so many nearby cafes are often empty.
They are clever and experienced operators, leveraging off the recognisable brand of The Coffee Club, but still managing to be competitive in a tough local market by introducing their Mediterranean menu. The authentic Greek cuisine sets them apart from all the other cafes in the strip, and the moderate price points for these special dishes provide affordable options for everyone. Of course, the full Coffee Club menu is also available, but I know what I'll be choosing every time.
Management is a family affair, with brothers George and Mario
On a warm balmy night, take a seat at The Coffee Club in Cavill Avenue. Look up at the night sky, then down at your plate, and for a fleeting moment be transported to the Mediterranean. It's also a perfect spot to people-watch.