MELBOURNE | Brooklyn Depot in Melbourne’s CBD is an ’authentic American burger bar‘ in Melbourne, offering a menu ’inspired by old Brooklyn and their handcrafted, high quality and unique burgers, hot dogs, salads and desserts‘. Brooklyn Depot originated in Surfer’s Paradise in 2015, with a second location opening in Brisbane’s Southbank in 2016, and in Sydney’s Surry Hills soon after. We were invited to the launch of the Melbourne store and, being lovers of good burgers, and being quite fond of Brooklyn too, we were interested to see if Brooklyn Depot had what it takes to wow us in a very crowded space of the market.
When we arrived at the launch, girls dressed in cheerleader costumes, complete with pompoms, and guys dressed as American football players greeted us. Inside, the place was buzzing, with not just the usual suspects from the food blogging world you see at these things, but an assortment of other influencers – B grade celebrities, lifestyle bloggers and the like. The inside of the venue features a lot of exposed brick, a large central bar with lots of service area for drinks, low lighting, and an assortment of American paraphernalia. It replicates the feel of a typical American sports bar quite well, but there’s nothing particularly “Brooklyn” about any of it.
Drinks wise it’s a mixture of American and local beers, mostly Australian wines, and a large selection of cocktails. Interestingly, for a Brooklyn inspired venue, there are no Brooklyn Brewery beers on tap, although Brooklyn Brewery’s IPA and Brown Ale are available in bottles. American beers offered include Budweiser (St Louis), Pabst Blue Ribbon (Milwauke/Los Angeles), Samuel Adams (Boston), Coors (Denver), and Blue Moon (Denver). There are no other beers from Brooklyn apart from the aforementioned two, or any from New York State for that matter, which is disappointing. While there’s something for everyone between the tap and bottle selection, we would have expected to at least have seen Brooklyn Lager (which is contract brewed by Coopers in Australia) on tap.
The general gist of the cocktail menu is for sweet concoctions which isn’t really our thing but will certainly appeal if that’s what you’re into. If you don’t want beer we’d instead suggest looking at the wine list, which features some great drops such as the superb Running With Bulls Tempranillo from the Barossa Valley, and the tasty Pitchfork Chardonnay from Margaret River. The whisky and bourbon list also impresses. While small, it features some great drops such as Nikka From The Barrel, Knob Creek, and Pappy Van Winkle 15yo. A few not-overly-sweet whisky cocktails would be a great addition to the drinks list.
A lot of effort went into the launch party, and it certainly felt like a party – unfortunately the food for the most part didn’t hit the mark. Nothing we ate (there were four of us) was bad per-se, it’s just that it was merely ok. Three years ago in Melbourne it would have been another story but with every week for the past few years seemingly seeing a new American burger joint or comfort food spot open up, the market has become very crowded and the best venues in this space are pumping out some brilliant food.
For a place that’s inspired by ‘Old Brooklyn’ the menu really fails to reflect this. Do some research on ‘Old Brooklyn’ food and you’ll soon notice a trend of food that’s been shaped by Brooklyn’s immigrant communities: Russian pelmeni, Jewish bagels, Italian pasta with ‘red sauce’, a slice of New York pizza. Look at the menu of Brooklyn Depot though and it’s more a greatest hits of every on-trend American food item – Texas style beef short ribs, numerous burgers, mac & cheese, hot dogs, beef chilli. Does that sound inspired by old Brooklyn to you? Even the naming of certain items, like the ‘Harlem Chicken Tenders’ and ‘Philly Dawg’ (yes that’s how they spell Dog in their Hot Dogs) makes no sense in the context of a Brooklyn theme.
A cynic would suggest that Brooklyn Depot wasn’t inspired by ‘Old Brooklyn’ at all, but rather by an attempt to cash in on the perceived coolness of the Brooklyn name, New York street and hip-hop scene, and the current hot trend for American comfort food in Australia. And do you know what? We’re happy to accept all of this if, at the end of the day, the food is great. Unfortunately the food at Brooklyn Depot is a mixed bag. The Brooklyn Classic burger features grass fed beef, American cheese, oak leaf lettuce, fresh tomato, and Depot special sauce. It’s an acceptably tasty burger. The ‘Flip The Bird’ with pulled BBQ chicken, hickory smoked bacon, Depot slaw, guacamole & sweet BBQ sauce is much better, and one of the nicest things we tried that night, however the sweet BBQ sauce could be toned down a notch.
The ‘Skinny Fries’ were tasty enough fries but the second lot that came out which were ‘Brooklynised’ (yes, the menu says this) to become beef cheese and gravy fries aka poutine (I beg to differ), were disappointing. The fries were soggy, the gravy was unlike a proper poutine gravy, and the cheese was a squeezed cheese sauce that didn’t work. Thankfully the ‘Coney Island’ hot dog with a wiener sausage (pork or beef), beef chilli, cheese sauce, and salad onion topped with Depot special sauce redeemed things. Along with the pulled BBQ chicken burger it was the best thing we ate all night and in this context, the squeezed cheese sauce worked well.
A quick perusal of what’s been written on various websites indicates that the original and Southbank outlets appear to be very popular, with generally positive feedback, while the consensus seems a bit more mixed on the Surry Hills location. Whenever a popular venue becomes a chain, and expands far beyond its original base, it runs the risk of a decline in quality. It’s happened with a number of my once favourite spots over the years. Again, the original looks to have been very well received in the early days, so either standards and expectations in Surfer’s Paradise are lower than in Melbourne, or the original really is pretty good and the owners need to get down here and help get things up to that same level.
Brooklyn Depot is cool space, and the American sports bar angle, with as much a focus on the bar as the kitchen, is a good differentiation from the competition. Even the fact that there’s nothing really Brooklyn about this place, is ultimately irrelevant to its success if the food hits the mark. But to succeed in this crowded market you have to be offer food that’s at least as good as your competition, and as it stands, Brooklyn Depot fails to do that. If we had to make some suggestions, the first would be to simplify the menu – pick the 20 most popular items on your menu and focus on making them even better. The second would be to tone down the use of ‘New York’ slang. It’s overused on the menu to the point of being cringe worthy. Third, get rid of some of the overly sweet cocktails and put some more ‘adult’ drinks on there that don’t hearken back to our early clubbing days. You’ve got some quality spirits and a big bar, really make that a point differentiation.
And if we had a fourth suggestion, we would probably recommend taking a visit to Brooklyn sometime. Based on what we saw at Brooklyn Depot, it seems they could use a refresher.
4/399 Lonsdale Street
Telephone: (03) 9600 0488
Mon – Sun: 11:00pm to 12:00am