Kerry has been writing radio copy for donkey's years, & also dabbles in short stories & travel writing. She works, plays and explores largely in the CDB and inner suburbs, gets everywhere by public transport and is the self-professed Zone One Queen.
Published June 26th 2012
Located at the Footscray Arts Centre, the Happy River Café is a happy place—this I've noticed on many of my visits. Mainly, it appears, for its accommodation of large laughing family groups. Parents of young children look relaxed, allowing the kids to stretch their legs instead of being reigned in impatiently at a table.
And that is the café's immediate family appeal. Whereas several other family-friendly cafes might feature a sandpit or be next door to a playground, the Happy River has a spacious lawn scattered with chunky plastic toys and ride-on playthings for toddlers and pre-schoolers. On a summery day the place transforms into a giant picnic, with the café's woven plastic mats and colourful 'place-marker' boxes spread across the lawn. A fine weekend here is joyful, lively and chaotic; sometimes too much so. I've witnessed orders taking a while, and place-marker boxes being moved 'to play on' causing the occasional lost order. The staff are troopers though, and very patient, in my eyes, given that the cafe is heaving with families. Try a week day if you aren't constrained by work hours.
But don't avoid the Happy River if rug rats aren't your cup of chai. The attractive indoor area hosts quite a few tables for four (covered attractively with batik tablecloths), and a sizeable communal table that could seat a group of eight to ten. The far end windows offer views of the Maribynong River and the multiple colours of dockland cranes and containers beyond—an industrial landscape with its own strange beauty.
I adore the egg-centric breakfast menu here. Being a scrambled eggs aficionado, and someone who thinks there's no such thing as 'too much coriander', I frequently order the 'Huevos' - eggs shot through with my favourite herb. To enhance one's eggs on a variety of toast options, a list of fifteen extras gets the mouth watering—from bacon, sausage and salmon, to hollandaise, hommus, fresh chilli and more. Meanwhile a favourite of mine on the lunch menu, and one you won't find on many city menus, is the Ploughman's Lunch. Never fear, vegetarians, at least half the menu caters for you.
Ploughman's Lunch on batik cloth: only at the Happy River.
Needless to say, there's a Kids Menu, including delights such as the Toasted Cheese Squashy, Nutella Fairy Bread and Little Boys & Sauce. Note that the Happy River does remain closed for a few weeks after Christmas, so to avoid disappointment, check here before you make the trip. Not that a visit would be entirely wasted. You can always wander down the ramp to the right of the Art Centre's lovely bluestone building, browse the gallery above the theatre, and stroll down the sloping back lawn to the Maribynong River, while the kids caper through the centre's stone and grass terraced amphitheatre.
Arriving via Bunbury St? A crate man points the way.