Yes, we know, American barbecue is all over Melbourne at the moment. But can you blame the ongoing excitement? Smoky, flavour-filled, slow-cooked meats with hearty sides of corn bread and mac and cheese have had tongues wagging for at least a year now, and we're happy to say the trend shows no sign of slowing down. I'm sure plenty of you have tried a few different establishments, settled on a favourite, and hence become a regular at your local barbecue haunt. But if you're yet to pick a winner, may we introduce a solid contender? Everyone, meet The Gem: a friendly Collingwood pub with live music and exceptional food.
We should point out that American barbecue is not all they do here, but they do it very well nonetheless. The menu here is big on meat — from fish of the day to a wagyu cheeseburger ($20) — but having said that, vegetarians don't miss out. For $16, they do a mean vegetable strudel. If you're not ravenous for a massive meal though, there's no need to stress. They do a wonderful mix of cheap and cheerful tacos ($6-8), and an impressive list of smaller dishes to top up your tank without sending you into a food coma. We couldn't help but eye off the fried mac and cheese balls over on someone else's table. We will be back for them.
Fortunately for us, we arrived during lunch on a weekend, which means the super hot and Texy Weekend Barbecue was available and, hot dang, we were happy about that. For $28 you can get two types of barbecued meats, such as smoked ribs, brisket, pulled pork and hot links sausage. You also get two sides, and all your favourites are there like cornbread, 'slaw, corn, barbecue beans and mac and cheese with bacon bits. We went for the ribs and the brisket, which both fell apart beautifully, and we had plenty for the two of us. For some unknown reason we decided to order their kefalograviera saganaki as well, which was totally unnecessary but still very tasty. No regrets here.
It seems a little odd to us, but the bar almost seems secondary when compared to the food on offer here. Prices are reasonable, there's plenty to choose from, but there's no extravagant cocktail list (if that's what you're after). We settled on a pint of cider, but if you really want to embrace the Americana, you can't go past a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
We'd happily come back after dark for some live music or DJs, as The Gem has a very warm atmosphere and the staff were exceptionally friendly, patient, and helpful. We can easily see a late Sunday lunch turning into afternoon drinks, turning into a night session watching a few bands. Can't you?
Images: Griffin Simm