Mr Big Stuff is the latest restaurant to offer southern-style soul food to fill a niche that hasn’t really been nailed in Melbourne yet, though will it change now? Opening up next to San Telmo means you have a lot to live up to, but Mr Big Stuff performed like a pro.
Walking through the door (almost unmarked, except for the sassy faces on the door welcoming you in) the atmosphere was hopping, a DJ set up in the corner and warm lighting bouncing off the red toned décor made the place feel more like somewhere you’d see the next Step Up movie being filmed. The music was slightly loud which made it difficult to converse, but maybe I’m just deaf. Despite that, the tunes were epic in nature: rap and R&B from the 90s got even the chefs moving to the beat. It’s just that kind of place.The wait staff are dressed cool and sexy, with their bow ties and suspenders. The are friendly with lots of personality, up for a chat and are all very attentive to their customers.
The menu is no doubt very inspired by America and her south (note: the dishes are sizeable and you will want to try everything, so beware), with the first page featuring a variety of KoolAid and iced tea inspired cocktails. On top of that, there is a wide range of wines and beers.
I ordered a Cold Pressed Kool-Aid Soarin Strawberry Lemonade, beefeater Gin, cold pressed strawberry, fresh lemon juice & soda ($12.5, available as a non-alcoholic alternative $8.5 – not pictured) but most of it went to my eating partner. The drink tasted sour as fuck, despite getting the sweetest recommended drink. Apparently that’s due to the gin. Whodathunkit. I’ll stick with a non-alcoholic egg cream or iced tea next time.
We jumped right to the Pig’s Ear Chips, cayenne salt ($8.0) which were just so strange sounding we could not resist; they were so salty and fatty and so, so bad but so, so good. They were very oily and tasted a lot like crackling so don’t get this unless you loves dat phat.
Next up were the Ox Tail Slider, braised ox tail, slaw ($9.5) which were surprisingly juicy and tasted quite great. A darker Asian style sauce matched the radish and cabbage salad. Despite being a good dish, I would forego this for others on the menu.
The hot sauce provided on the table went so well with this (and most of the other food, though sometimes the spice blocked a lot of the meat and sauce’s flavour).
The Fried Chicken & Waffles, spiced maple syrup ($19.0) was something I knew I had to try. Despite thinking they would never go together when I first spotted this on a menu way-back-when, I have since given myself up to this classic southern dish. No one really knows how to combine sweet and savoury to my liking quite like American food. The waffles were toasted to perfection and the maple was thick, sweet and undiluted – together they were good enough to eat alone as a dessert or snack. However, with the chicken… Man. Those ‘muricans are crazy as. But it works so well. The deep fried chicken with maple drenched waffles are pretty epic. A lot better than Kodiak Club’s. Add that hot sauce and shhiiiieeettt guuuuurlll sexual healin’ (yeah the DJ knows my jam, it was played.)
The Pork Ribs, slaw, bourbon BBQ sauce ($28.0) were beautiful, the meat fell off the bone just so and the sauce on the ribs was great, though not enough! The slaw on the plate was crunchy and balanced the saltier ribs. They would be Newmarket Hotel worthy, especially since there was so much meat on the bone. Better watch out lads there’s a new kid on the block.
The waitress recommended the Corn Bread ($6.0) to go with the ribs, which was unnecessary I felt, but delicious all the same. The corn bread was definitely not as buttery as Bowery to Williamsburg’s, but still quite soft and crumbly. Suddenly, I saw a little corn pop out and I was like, ‘shit CORN bread’. And it all made sense after that. The flavour of corn definitely showed through a lot more in this dish, which is probably why I never made the connection previously. Anyway, this also tasted great with maple syrup, but maybe everything does…
The Kale Greens, candied yams, pecan ($12.0) were ordered to balance all that red meat; however kale to me tastes much like weird sea water, which is apparently what kale is meant to taste like. That being said, it did go down better when eaten with the ribs. I really enjoyed the sweet yams, and just wanted to pick them out and eat them alone, though I guess that would defeat the purpose of the green dish.
And then it was dessert time.
As soon as the Apple Pie, cinnamon, spiced rum ($10.0) dish touched down the smell of baked goods and cinnamon filled my nose. Yes. So much yes. Piping hot (don’t burn yourself) apple filling tasted just like homemade apple pie. The pastry is quite thin which was disappointing, and a lot of the fanfare was focused on the massively cinnamon-sugared coating. Ultimately it was a very sweet dish, but every time I bit I expected to taste a curry puff.
The Quince & Rhubarb Cobbler ($10.0) had a strong star anise flavour and was heavy on spices. I am not sure if I’m a fan, as there was not a lot of crumble but a lot of stewed fruit and rhubarb. Ultimately I think Mr Big Stuff definitely has stronger savoury dishes, and I may skip the sweets next time I’m back.
TL;DR Soul food is now my jam. I’d wish these guys good luck, but they’re not gonna need it.
The Da dined as a guest of Mr Big Stuff.