In preparation for my (possible) upcoming (fantasy?) trip to Australia, I decided that it was time to eat some kangaroo salad. You know, since I’m all about stereotypes and stuff, I figured that the national dish of Australia has to be marsupial meat of some kind… so why not chop up a kangaroo and put it in a salad? Luckily (or not) there’s a pub in Midtown Manhattan called The Australian that conveniently serves a kangaroo salad… and plenty of strong beer so that I could kill the taste if I needed to.
Judged by NYC pub standards, The Australian is an attractive, comfortable place, with a deliciously excessive array of televisions tuned to various sports stations. Both of the servers had cute Australian accents; the female bartender was just plain cute. I mean, really—what’s not to like? (The accents were infinitely more convincing than the dude who pretends to be Australian on the commercials for the Tampa-based Outback Steakhouse chain—which, oddly enough, has six locations in Australia and two restaurants on a single block in Seoul, South Korea.)
The Australian had a nice atmosphere, but the food was pretty darned disappointing—though not necessarily for the reason that I would have expected. I figured that ordering kangaroo salad ($14) was a little bit risky: I had no idea what kangaroo meat might taste like, and worried that I might hate the stuff. At the very least, I could be sure that the salad would be good—you can’t go wrong with raw vegetables, at least not in my world.
I had it completely backward. I was nervous about eating such a cute, bouncy, golf-loving animal, but it turns out that the little cubes of grilled kangaroo meat were thoroughly non-threatening. The kangaroo meat was about as tender as an average cut of sirloin, and only a little bit gamier than beef; if you’d told me that I was eating beef, I might have believed you. If you told me that a lamb and a cow had a lovechild, I probably wouldn’t believe you, but I’m pretty sure that the grilled lovechild would taste somewhat like kangaroo meat. (If anybody out there has eaten the lovechild of a lamb and a cow, please let me know.)
The salad itself (chickpeas, julienned cucumbers, some sort of lettuce relative, tomatoes, red onions) was horribly disappointing, even though the kangaroo meat was perfectly good. I love chickpeas and cucumbers as much as the next guy, but the entire salad had a vaguely acrid taste to it, as if they’d opened a can of chickpeas, let it soak in vinegar for a few days, and then served it in all of its acidic, not-so-fresh glory. We also ordered an Australian meat pie ($8.95), which was small, soggy, and boring. New Zealanders have warned me that meat pies are never spectacular, so I wasn’t too shocked, but it was still a pretty lame meal overall. But at least we got a notch on our food blogger belts for eating kangaroo, right?
Since I’ve now had bad experiences with overpriced Australian and New Zealand-ese food in NYC, I thought I’d give the region’s cuisine one last chance before I decide to spend three weeks in Australia. The day after our trek to The Australian, I headed to Tuck Shop in the East Village in a desperate attempt to develop a taste for Aussie pies.
Mercifully, Tuck Shop is awesome. The meat pie ($5.50) was a completely different beast than the soggy, salty version I ate at The Australian—the crust was flaky, the filling had a nice peppery bite to it, and the meat wasn’t cloyingly greasy. We also munched our way through two different versions of Tuck Shop’s brekkie pie ($4 each… and if everybody in Australia uses the word “brekkie”, I think I’ll love the place), which were dense, flaky, cholesterol-filled bricks of heavenliness. Really: a pie stuffed with eggs, beans, peppers, tomatoes, cheese, onions, ground beef, and potatoes? And topped with bacon, if you want? Brilliant.
Each pie was barely larger than my fist, but probably weighed a pound. Two of us shared three pies, and we both had food comas that lasted about four hours—a sure sign that something had gone desperately right with our $13.50 Aussie brekkie. Thank you, Tuck Shop, for restoring my faith in Australian food.
The Australian NYC
20 West 38th Street, Midtown Manhattan
Subway: Bryant Park (B, D, F, M trains) or 5th Ave. (7 train)
68 East 1st Street, Manhattan
Subway: 2nd Ave-Lower East Side (F train)