One of my earliest “eating out” memories conjures images of massive oval-shaped plates laden with crumbed Wiener schnitzel, stodgy potatoes and boiled vegetables. Big shiny cutlery wrapped in a paper napkin off to the side and a glass of fizzy raspberry-flavoured drink within my short arms reach. This was the ritual whenever the folks felt like treating us dinner at, the then local, German Club in Wollongong. For some reason I don’t remember ever going to a Croatian club, something a lot more fitting considering our immediate heritage. I guess there is German in my heritage as well.
The beauty of community clubs is they provide a social place for members and locals or anyone else that’s really just there for the cheap food and booze. Come to think of it, I’m sure my dad just took us to the club so that he could sit around smoking and drinking with his mates in the “No children allowed” room as my siblings and mum had our own quiet time after eating. I’m onto you, old man.
I thought it’d be fitting to take my parents to a couple of clubs when they hit town for a long weekend. In this century, not back in the German Club days of the late 1970’s. Old times, you know. Except now I’m the one ordering the booze and keeping my dad in his place.
Not all that far from home I have a couple of clubs I’d been meaning to get to; one I had visited previously and the other, the Sydney Portugal Community Club, I’d wanted to try. Getting there may be a little puzzling to some. It’s located in Fraser Park; a park that resembles railway wastelands rather than something manicured and filled with beautiful trees. Just head under the railway bridge on Marrickville Road and hook around to the right. It’s kind of like a sports ground in the middle of nowhere.
The restaurant entrance is off on the right-hand-side of the building via a small door and hallway. The main entrance is just for the bar. Inside the restaurant it’s as if you’ve been transported back a few decades. It’s a small room, very quiet with cloth-covered tables already set for service. The menu reads like your typical club menu; the basics of rather large portioned meals that make you feel like you’ve stepped into a Portuguese family home. Nothing fancy, just home-cooking and a lot of it.
Bife a Portuguesa (21.5) is a dish quite similar to the bife com cogumelos (22) except one comes with fresh potato crisps and a fried egg, and the other is surrounded by French fries and lays beneath a creamy blanket of mushroom sauce. Mum declares the latter as being the best steak she’s eaten for a long time and whilst I can’t concur, mine was supremely tender. The bacalhau a legareiro (22.5) was a celebration of dried and rehydrated cod and a whole lot of salt. In fact a whole lot of garlic and oil as well. This is not one for the high blood pressure-types as the sodium levels will seriously nudge you closer to a 000 phonecall.
Dessert was as light as a cloud, literally, easing the overload of garlic and salt on the tastebuds. Molotof (5) is basically a big wedge of soft and billowy meringue doused in a sugar syrup.
Merely a kilometre away is another club that’s been going strong for many, many years. Down by the Cooks River in an old croquet clubhouse is the Condordia Club, home to cheap German brews and a meat-fest that’ll make almost any carnivore happy. October brings the oompa bands whilst the rest of the year it’s the Inner West locals catching up with mates and families taking advantage of the relaxed surroundings and cheap food.
As far as German food goes, I doubt any awards will be handed out for the rustic, yet generous edibles. The deep-fried camembert (8) wasn’t the oozing cheesy mess I was hoping to create when I took to it with a fork. Instead the cheese was hard and ordinary. The pork schnitzel (18), a bit well done and nothing to wet your lederhosen over.
For old-times’ sake, Mum goes for the leberkäse (16), a meatloaf of sorts made up of beef, pork and liver. She didn’t seem ecstatic about this particular one, coming with sauerkraut, potatoes and fried egg. The hands down winner at the table, four of us ordered one each, was the schweinhaxe (25). Clearly it gets ordered a lot judging by how many I noticed coming from the kitchen. An impaled roast pork knuckle, almost big enough for two, with mash, red cabbage and pan juices. Awesome crackling, if you’re lucky to get one that is burnished enough.
A few hits and misses at both venues but if you’re into your clubs, they still worth checking out.