Critique is an art form that requires a light touch, with a splash of irony and good humour to soften the blows.
Published March 28th 2014
Is it the Best Bar in Burleigh Heads? You decide
Ze Pickle is a 'craft beer and burger' joint perched at the end of a leafy avenue in the heart of Burleigh Heads. The brainchild of JD and his mates, who also own the Crust Pizza franchise up the road, this current incarnation has been operating for about 18 months.
The tiny space looks like it wants to be a niteclub and not a café. The front of the bar is clad in what looks like pressed metal sheeting with a collage of American number plates. Tracks of copper piping run up the walls and across the ceiling, cleverly acting as decorative conduit for the spot lighting. Blackened timber wall panels provide a perfect backdrop.
The overall impression is one of hillbilly copper moonshine and the junkyards of American Pickers. The place feels edgy but also luxe, being very much on-trend with modern industrial design. This is slick.
Unfortunately, this very intriguing space is only enjoyed by the staff. Most patrons are relegated to the outdoor highchairs and benches that have been intentionally distressed to an unpleasant rusty hue that threatens to ruin any good clothes.
The alternative is to huddle on low milking stools at a narrow ledge running around the open window, with nothing to stop the dripping food from landing in glops on your feet. The only element of comfort is the padding on the stools. There is a single low-slung table on the inside, but it's not enough.
To make matters worse, the burgers and sliders arrive on narrow timber paddles that fail to provide a catchment for the juice and other detritus to drop before landing on you. I think I will scream if another café or bar shoves a paddle down in front of me, on which food has been unceremoniously dumped. I realise that eating off timber paddles is increasingly popular with those who think Jamie Oliver is a trained chef, but if I'm eating out I expect my food to be served with some care and attention on a pristine white plate. At least then I know that the risk of cross-contamination and salmonella is in some way mitigated.
The décor is interesting, but the food is not. Two over-sized sliders on a scratched timber plank for $15 should provide something more than hunger relief. The Pulled Pork (10-hour slow-cooked pork, mum's slaw, hickory BBQ sauce) was a mound of dry and thinly-shredded meat. The Jerk (jerked chicken, iceberg lettuce, tomato, roasted pimento, house aioli) was bland and tasteless. The chicken had none of the hot Jamaican spices the name suggests, and it was drowning in a bland aioli that dripped everywhere.
It was my first meal of the day and my taste buds were ready, but I could not tell what I was eating. It was a filling meal and the right textures were there, but the taste was missing. It was lunchtime, after all, so I washed it down with a Mirror Pond Pale Ale, one of the American brews on tap. Not to my taste, as it turned out, but a good experience all the same.
Their signature dish is the $15 Pablo Escoburger (ground Wagyu, cheese, guacamole, Queso spread, jalapeno, aioli, corn chips) which I'm told has an amazing crunch from the corn chips, but it looked sloppy and uninviting.
Sweet potato or white potato chips can be ordered as a side. They have a range of other bar snacks which patrons can choose to share, such as the intentionally misspelt $12.50 Buffalo Waangs (chicken wings with blue cheese dipping sauce). But again, the plastic basket would not make it through a dishwasher, so a ceramic bowl would be a better way to keep bugs and bacteria where they belong.
For the environmentally-minded, Lillydale free-range chickens are used in the chicken burgers. A vegetarian tofu slider is also listed, but this was not available on the day.
However, this is not the place for expectations of healthy eating. The desserts are sure to add a kilo or two just from reading the menu. If you're game, try swallowing the $12 Ice-Cream Spring Rolls (fried peanut butter ice-cream spring rolls with hot fudge sauce) or try the $10 Oreogazm (fried Oreo biscuits in donut batter with chocolate sauce and ice cream).
If that isn't enough, try a cocktail like the Bubba Hubba Hubba (wild grape bubblegum vodka, lime, lemonade, maraschino cherries), or the Luv U Loong Time (vodka infused with chili, ginger, lemongrasss, served with coconut, lime, lemonade). This is after all a 'craft beer and burger' bar, and they do have a few beers and burgers to choose from, but the beers are not cheap. Most range between $9-12 from the tap or in a bottle.
Ze Pickle has been operating for about 18 months, and by late afternoon on a Saturday, it is the only place still trading along this café strip. I can see why the young girls might be attracted to JDs charm, but two waters and a shared $12.50 Buffalo Waangs will not keep this place going. Similarly, the beer prices are fairly steep for this working class area, so I cannot imagine attracting too many heavy drinkers.
In fact, I am surprised that they have a liquor license that allows them to open late, as the only toilet facility along this strip is 'out the back and up the stairs'. If you intend drinking here, I suggest you join the bowls club across the road for $5 and use their lovely clean facilities. I know it's not fair to them, but it's better than ducking behind a tree.
The North American influence is very strong in Ze Pickle, from the choice of beers currently on tap, to a menu of burgers and their much smaller 'slider' cousins.
Even the barman/owner looks like he is channelling the American college kids backpacking across Europe more than 20 years ago. And yet, despite appearances and accent, 'JD' says he is in fact a well-travelled Kiwi. He worked in Scotland for a while before heading here and going into business with a couple of mates. Together, they own Ze Pickle and Crust Pizza up the road. As you can see, everything is not always what it seems.
In fact, I find it remarkable that so many of the fillings listed on the Ze Pickle menu appear to be the same as those on the Crust Pizza menu. For example, I cannot imagine, even in my wildest dreams, that 'Pulled Pork' and coleslaw appears on both menus by pure coincidence.
While I respect and admire their ingenuity, I feel that they have failed to understand or appreciate the needs of their prospective clientele. I could see Ze Pickle doing much better in a frat area like Varsity Lakes, where there are lots of international students with pockets full of cash and credit cards, or with all the tourists in bustling Acland Street in Melbourne, but not here in this sleepy hollow.
'If you build it, they will come?'… well, not always, and even less likely in a sleepy little corner of the Gold Coast. However, I give them an A for effort and wish them well.