There’s a lot of noise surrounding the battle between carnivores and vegans, especially online, but imagine if there was a place where we could eat side-by-side, in digestive harmony; in one plastic basket a classic Mary’s burger with fries, and next to it, an identical burger, only this free from any animal products? This dietary utopia is a reality now thanks to the new Mary’s CQ, the ground floor burger bar that has opened as stage one of the great Basement regeneration in Circular Quay.
They’re still working on the restaurant and live music venue downstairs, but that’s not stopping the lunch and after-work crowds from cramming onto the tall tables upstairs and ordering up all the classics from the Newtown and CBD branches (cheeseburgers, fried chicken, trashcan bacon). But the big twist is that everything on the menu has a twin that’s starring veggies in place of meat.
Love the crunch of a fried chicken burger but not the agricultural practices? Here they’ve cooked big chunks of seasoned cauliflower and encased it in a thin, bronze shell that shatters with each mouthful. The American-style cheese slices for all burgers have a dairy-free equivalent that does an A+ job of simulating a Kraft single in texture; the buns are milk-free; and they’ve even made a vegan version of their creamy burger sauce. Tomato, lettuce and diced white onion stays put and you have yourself some killer junk food without the actual killing.
The patty in the beef burgers gets replaced with a mild-flavoured bean patty that is crunchy all around the edge, like a classic Aussie rissole cooked on the grill. And the vegan gravy on your mash is based on vegetable stock to give it that rich brown colour and earthy flavour.
If you’ve been to the heavily graffitied temple of metal and booze that is the OG Mary’s in Newtown, you might be surprised at how nice it is at Mary’s CQ. They’ve swapped the thrash for TV on the Radio; the graffiti is kept contained on blackboards; and while it does say ‘RATPISS’ in letter lights above a wall of burned down candles, it sits immediately next to an impressive and dangerously delicious wall of natural wines available by the glass. Sure, the drainage mats on the bar might say ‘Jack Lives Here’, but so does a bright, minerally Chilean pet nat and an oxidised French chardonnay for $25 a glass
Got no truck with all that low-intervention, new world winemaking coming out of the Adelaide Hills? Get a Reschs on tap, or a Yulli’s brew. Even the cocktails are designed to let you be the master of your own boozy destiny: there’s six full strength mixes, two lower ABV numbers based on gin, and two non-alcoholic cocktails that are more fun to order than yet another postmix Coke.
Sure, they’ve given the Mary’s offering a spit shine to cater to the office workers who fill the surrounding high rises, but once that new renovation shine wears off and the black walls bear a few more scuff marks what counts is that the food is good, the wine is great and their particular brand of patented jocular familiarity has made the journey from the Inner West to this most corporate corner of the CBD so that we can all rock out together.