The East, as it’s fondly called by regulars, is unapologetically simple and unpretentious. It has inexpensive, classic beers on tap (plus Five Seeds cider) and is equally as famous for its vegan and vegetarian pub fare as it is for its various kinds of chicken parmas (interesting tidbit – P!nk visited the East twice on her Melbourne tour and had the vegan parma both times. She even tweeted about it). As well as being considerate and all-inclusive with their menu, their atmosphere appeals to all kinds of people. There’s the pub-like indoor dining area (including Fox Sports-enabled large TV screen) and a delightful beer garden in an enclosed courtyard, complete with red picnic tables as well as wooden booths with crazy-patterned cushions.
Although The East serves your usual pub meals such as parmas, nachos, pizzas, burgers and fish and chips, it’s far from boring or average. With three kinds of chicken parma, an assortment of gourmet pizzas as well as vegan pizzas (plus vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free options for many other dishes) and a fancy (well, fancy by pub standards) warm chicken salad, The East obviously takes pride in its food. The prices aren’t exactly cheap (most meals range from $14-$21), but as the saying goes, you pay more for quality.
We began with a bowl of nachos, which The East proclaims are “the best in Brunswick”; and they might just be right. The corn chips were toasted to a pleasing crunch, and the slow-cooked black bean chilli married wonderfully with melted Egmont cheese, fresh corn salsa, sour cream and house-made guacamole. Topped with pickled jalapeno peppers and hot sauce, all the flavours in the dish balanced out well – the refreshing toppings cooled the mouth while the chilli, hot sauce and jalapeno peppers provided just the right amount of kick.
Next up was a half-Calabrese, half-vegan veggie pizza. The Calabrese is definitely one for those who like their flavours strong and salty, with its salami, green olives and plenty of parmesan cheese. The crust was surprisingly similar on both vegan and non-vegan pizzas; thin, crispy and softer in the middle. The vegan pizza was covered in assorted marinated and chargrilled vegetables, the most notable of which was the delectably tender eggplant. Of the two, the vegan pizza came out on top. Also sampled was the potato pizza (double the carbs!), which was bit like eating chips on top of a pizza base, but the potatoes were divinely roasted (soft and pillowy inside, with a golden crunch on the outside) and seasoned with rosemary oil, garlic, bacon and vintage cheddar.
The warm chicken salad was another favourite; the marinated chargrilled chicken was tender, the potatoes soft and seasoned nicely with herbs, and the pieces of apple, celery, walnuts and cos lettuce provided a contrasting texture, complementing the chicken and potatoes. The wholegrain mustard mayo and cranberry glaze dressing brought out the sweetness of the apple and tied all the flavours together.
The vegan parma – mock chicken (milder yet sweeter in flavour than real chicken, with a softer texture) topped with soy cheese, black beans, mock ham and mustard – is no comparison to the real thing, but that’s not to say it isn’t tasty in its own right. The traditional chicken parma was packed full of flavour, covered in rich Napoli sauce and topped with a thick layer of melted cheese. No matter how well its elements are balanced, a great parma can be ruined if the chicken is the slightest bit overcooked. Luckily, this wasn’t the case, as the chicken was just right – its crumbed exterior was very crunchy, but not teeth-hurting crunchy. It was a very heavy dish, and has the potential to be a bit overwhelming for non-experienced parma eaters. But then again, there’s no such thing as a ‘light’ chicken parma, is there?
We didn’t have to wait long for our meals (although it wasn’t exactly a busy night) and the service was laid-back, to match the venue’s vibe. If you go on Mondays after 6pm, the burgers, parmas and pizzas are only $12, and there are $12 jugs available too. Tuesday night is trivia night (and it’s free to enter) and parmas are once again $12. Pizzas are $10 on Wednesday nights, and on weekends between 12pm-3pm pizzas are $10 and parmas are $12, with $12 jugs of draught before 6pm. Write down these deal times because it’s definitely worth the tram ride up Lygon street for such a yummy, affordable feed. The nachos and pizza are highly recommended.