You might expect your culinary options to stop at chicken sandwiches and an okay-cuppa in the middle of the desert. Not in Alice Springs: here, you can expect specialty coffee and fresh-baked sourdough as cafe culture reigns supreme.
It’s 8am on Saturday in Alice Springs as Quebec-born Catherine Simard sends a steady stream of flat whites out to alfresco tables bathed in morning sun. The boutique-label The Little Marionette single-origin coffee served at Epilogue Lounge, where Catherine works as manager, is more likely to be associated with Sydney’s hip inner west than Alice Springs. But specialty coffee is in fact in demand here, explains Catherine, thanks in part to the creative makeup of the community.
“Alice is quite special,” she says. “There are a lot of artists and cultural activities here. At the same time, many people are orphans – they’ve come from all over the country or all over the world. And, when you’re together in the middle of the desert, you band together.”
The result is a community full of quirk and artistic expression, and the atmosphere at Epilogue Lounge inside Todd Street Mall – the town’s central hub – is a great example. It’s a fulcrum for musicians and music fans, with electro gigs a regular feature at its rooftop bar while, come morning, locals gathers for what Catherine describes as a typical Aussie brekkie.
Down the road, still in Todd Street Mall, sit two newer arrivals to Alice’s burgeoning cafe scene: The Goods and The Bakery. Former youth worker, Aoife Milson, started the funky, colourful The Goods when she was just 26 years old. With a modest budget (and vision) for the interiors, Aoife scoured Alice’s tip shop for two weeks, hauling in old couches, wooden benches and a set of vintage produce scales for decoration. This simplicity carries through to the menu, which started with just tea, coffee (using local roasters DuYu Coffee), breads and spreads, but later evolved to include freshly baked muffins and muesli. As more and more foot traffic flowed through the door, Aoife expanded her offering to include jewellery, ceramics and clothing from local artists.
Co-owners of The Bakery, Neil Rilatt and Mel Darr, have a similar story of the community getting behind their new venture. “We started off selling bread at the Sunday markets,” Neil says. “It was an experiment because there was no proper bakery in Alice. We made sourdough from scratch, as well as French-style pastries to rival any big-city bakery.” The town’s folk, it turns out, went crazy for it – The Bakery moved to a shopfront in Todd Street Mall and Neil and Mel have never looked back.
The first items to sell out each morning are The Bakery’s almond croissants, but the local art on display flies off the walls, too. “It’s all sold, we don’t have any of it left at the moment. The walls are looking a bit bare,” explains Neil.
“The Alice cafe scene is so special,” he says, echoing the words of Catherine, of Epilogue Lounge. “It’s a very welcoming space, surrounded by a stunning environment. There are a lot of people here doing wacky things and, of course, there’s a vibrant art scene; that filters down to the food scene. There are so many artisan things going on – a brewery [Alice Springs Brewing Co.] just opened, for instance – and it’s amazing.”
Our pick of Alice’s best cafes:
The Goods provides great coffee (on ice if you’d prefer), homemade muffins, breads and spreads, served in a funky and homely space. Browse the local art and craft on display while you’re here.
Address: 13/11 Todd St Mall
Hidden down an alleyway in Todd Street Mall, Page 27 brews The Little Marionette coffee and makes poke bowls, creative salads and juices.
Address: 89 Todd St Mall
Set within the grounds of Olive Pink Botanic Garden, Bean Tree Cafe caters particularly well to vegans. After your meal, take a walk around the garden and up Annie Myers Hill for stunning views of Alice Springs, the Todd River and MacDonnell Ranges.
Address: Tuncks Rd, Alice Springs
Long tables shaded by trees outside Epilogue Lounge make for a lovely spot for a coffee and to watch the world go by. Menu options include pancakes with caramelised pineapple, banana and berries, or the Big Shebang for your typical Aussie big brekkie.
Address: 1/58 Todd St
Two former Northern Territory barista champions train Watertank staff in the art of making coffee. Time your visit to coincide with the cafe’s biannual ‘Moon Markets’ and pick up upcycled, recycled and handmade creations from local craftspeople.
Address: 16B Wilkinson St (Milner Rd entrance)
The Coffee Horse is a quirky outpost serving locally roasted DuYu Coffee out of a caravan. Try the Horse’s Mr Ed on a hot day: a blend of cocoa cashew butter and coconut topped with a shot of coffee.
Address: 8 Hele Crescent
Run by husband and wife team, Neil Rilatt and Mel Darr, The Bakery makes some of the town’s best sourdough, pies and croissants with native ingredients such as quandong served up with a touch of spice.
Address: 4/11 Todd St Mall
Housed in an aqua-painted weatherboard building, the House of Tallulah is a haven for vegans, vegetarians and paleo-lovers. Try the popular rainbow bowl with raw vegies, your choice of chicken, bacon or tofu, and hummus.
Address: 64 Hartley St