I begin with the following dilemma: Bread. We never have it in our apartment, because I am the only one who would eat it, and even then I really only need bread for making vegemite toast. Bread goes off quickly, and the nice fresh bread which I am always tempted by at the greenmarkets in Union Square and Stuytown really demands to be eaten that day (or the next day, at a push, if you are toasting it anyway). Both my flatmate and I are able to bake bread, and quite enjoy doing so, but never have reason to, except for this deep desire I have to have vegemite toast in the mornings. (Vegemite toast on homemade bread is one of life’s greatest treats – my favourite aunt used to call it ‘mummy’s special’, and would bake a new loaf at least every week, the vast majority of its consumption going in the form of vegemite toast). Even if I commit myself to five, six pieces a day, the loaf is still not going to be mold-free by the time I reach its end.
I was, therefore, very pleasantly surprised when I met a friend at Smooch in Fort Greene yesterday, and they had vegemite soldiers on the menu, with the amusing tag line “if you don’t know what these are, you shouldn’t order them”. Vegemite is the wonderfully salty Australian spread made of yeast extract (a by-product in the manufacturing of beer) which tastes remarkably unlike almost everything else, except for its inferior English and New Zealand counterpart, Marmite. It is an acquired taste which only seems to form in those who have eaten it since birth, and, therefore, is only liked by Australians. Soldiers are essentially just toast cut into strips – usually used for dipping in soft-boiled eggs.
The rules of making vegemite toast are subtle and complex: You need to spread the toast with lots of (salted) butter when it is still hot so it melts and runs into all the crevices. The vegemite must be somewhat evenly distributed, but not spread to thickly. The toast should be ideally served while still warm. And it appears to be a common consensus that mothers uniformly make the best vegemite toast (perhaps fathers too – though I wouldn’t know as my father is English, so he would certainly not qualify).
Smooch’s toast was very much up to scratch. Indeed, they have all the things that an Australian (or anyone) could want from a cafe in this city – ‘Melbourne’ decore (down to the fact that they do not have a sign or any hint of their name out the front); a very relaxed environment (relaxed enough that people are able to sit there for a long time, undisturbed, working on their laptops; so relaxed that the service was a little spacey – which is also a trait of some of the best Australian cafes); genuinely good coffee; and an amusingly cheeky menu, which is as organic as it can possibly be.
Now I am on a mission to find all other New York cafes that have vegemite toast on the menu. I heard that Ruby’s, the fantastic little Australian-style cafe on Mulberry street in Nolita, once had vegemite, but it sadly appears that those days are gone, and the toast options on the menu only extend so far as jam or nutella.
Suggestions are very welcome!