Named after the mythical female pope who supposedly reigned in the 13th century, Ben Foster and chef Matt Wilkinson's buzzing eatery is anything but a measly legend (though it is fast becoming legendary amongst Brunswick East locals and cafe dwellers alike).
Sun streams through glass onto brick and solid floor. The clusters of wooden settings don't immediately excite, but Pope Joan is not the type to rely solely on its furnishings to impress.
Since 2010, Pope Joan has been ruling Nicholson Street, an unassuming sovereign serving up Allpress coffee by day and alcoholic beverages by night, as well as accompanying fare, of course.
The daytime menu is concise: brunch, sandwiches, specials and sweets from the cake cabinet. Savour a bagel lush with cream cheese, strawberries and lemon verbena ($8) or salmon pastrami with saffron potatoes, an enigmatic golden egg (crumbed on the outside, delightfully gooey on the inside), cucumber and yoghurt ($19). The crumpet with heirloom tomatoes, basil, poached egg and truffled pecorino ($18) is simple but undeniably flavoursome, the spongy, bready cake nothing like an oily supermarket equivalent and adequately soaking up the perfectly runny yolk. Sandwiches of pulled pork, pickles and cheese ($14) and roasted chook, stuffing and jalapeno ($12) make for hearty, reliable selections.
In the evening, snack on crispy prawn dumplings ($4 each), feast on slow cooked lamb with spiced eggplant, chickpea chips and tzatziki ($26) with a side of charred corn, chilli butter and parmesan ($9).
A notable absence from the set of choices is the oh-so-prevalent smashed avo favourite (or any sign of avocado) – at first, a potential disappointment to the masses of amateur breakfast diners, but ultimately a refreshing change and a detail overlooked due to the strength of the existing options and steadfast service.
All dishes are lovingly constructed with locally sourced produce, available to purchase at Hams and Bacon, Wilkinson's grocery store venture that has set up shop next door. A proffering of beautiful ingredients, a visit to Hams and Bacon is an apt way to complete the experience at Pope Joan.
Folklore aside, Pope Joan is a bustling hub of dependable dishes.