Walton St turns on charm
It’s the smell that hits you first. As you walk up the ramp to the cafe in Te Awamutu’s Walton Street, the aromas waft out, tickle your nose and draw you in.
There is a pile of onions caramelising in an electric frying pan, sending out waves of delectable umame scents.
The espresso machine is churning out smooth Rocket coffee and staff are packing the cabinet with all manner of savoury dishes and sweet morsels.
Trade is steady on the Wednesday morning that Hamilton
News visits; locals meander in with their usual coffee orders. Patrons sit alone reading the papers, others congregate together for chinwags and business meetings.
On Saturdays, Walton Street draws the masses from out of town...those who flock there for Walton Street’s version of eggs benedict.
But it’s not eggs benny as we know it. There is no choice of crispy bacon, salmon or other rich protein addition such as pork belly as we’ve seen on Hamilton menus.
This is vegetarian eggs benny, complete with vegan hollandaise. Manager Alex Towers says it’s a winner with the punters, along with the rest of the vegetarian offerings.
Alex has been with Walton Street almost three years, pretty much since it first opened. It began when Te Awamutu locals Carl Sheridan and Chris Lane had set up office space in the historic Burns Building as part of the Walton Collective. The building wends its way from the main street of town through to Walton Street, offering various spaces for lease for businesses that want to be part of the collective.
These days several creatively driven businesses operate from the building. To begin with, Alex says, it was Carl and Chris and they talked Zoe Anderson into coming in to do coffee and sweets.
They set about knocking out walls and opening the place up.
“Zoe was such a people pleaser... [the food offering] got bigger and bigger,” says Alex.
Upstairs used to be a brothel and when that came up for lease they took over that space too, cleaned it up, took out the mirrored ceilings and the showers in every room.
Alex says they still get people delivering boxes of questionable items intended for the brothel— they get to the top of the stairs and realise it’s no longer a brothel and quietly slip back down the stairs.
While Zoe has moved on, her influence remains: the toasties, soups and broths in winter, the avocado and kumara smashes in summer.
The sweets cabinet has Alex’s mark on it these days. Vegetarian for four years, Alex has been vegan since January and since then he’s been playing around with raw vegan sweets recipes . . . cacao balls, gooey caramel biscuits, freeze-dried raspberry bliss balls. There is plenty in the way of food that shuns refined sugar.
“People have gone way off sugar,” says Alex.
It seemsWalton Street was ahead of the game on the war against refined sugar. Since it first opened its doors it’s produced sweet treats without the addition of the white devil.
“Awareness [around sugar consumption] has grown and our numbers have grown because we stuck to what we believe,” says Alex.
There were doubts though. Punters weren’t keen on the seemingly foreign creations, but Walton Street’s philosophy was “try it and if you don’t like it you don’t pay”. They’ve never had anyone not pay.
Alongside the refined sugarfree sweets are those with sugar (oozy caramel slice etc) but they’re all gluten-free. They don’t advertise that fact; they don’t feel they need to. It’s just a given and Alex says you can’t taste the difference. Gluten-free baking used to get a bad rap because it wasmade with traditional flour minus the gluten, giving baked goods a chalky taste and cardboard feel in the mouth.
These days other flours are used with better effect.
They buy in Volare bread— it’s low in gluten as it’s sour doughbased— and pack the sandwiches and toasties with ingredients they’vemade from scratch.
The fridge is chocka with their own pesto, hummus, vegan hollandaise and vegan aioli. They make their own falafels and roast their own veges and use the crispy, caramelised morsels in everything from sandwiches to Buddha bowls. The latter is perhaps their most popular menu item. A Buddha bowl features rice, salad, a smoky bean mix or falafaels, seasonal greens, homemade pesto and hummus. As with all Walton Street menu items, the bowls benefit from the addition of whatever produce is in season.
The pesto, too, is made using whatever fresh herbs that staff can lay their hands on.
Alex says customers will regularly bring in bunches of herbs from their gardens, or lemons, and trade them for coffee.
“Andwe get the added value of it being spray free.”
Walton Street staffers forage at the Thursday Te Awamutu FarmersMarket and love to stumble upon interesting ingredients, giving them a chance to get creative in the kitchen.
Everyone who’s worked at Walton Street has contributed to the menu. They try the recipes out, tweak them where necessary. There is a well-worn exercise book that logs all the recipes, many dogeared with splashes of food over the pages.
“The recipes are an amalgamation of everyone,” says Alex, who visited the Vegan Food Fair in Auckland last weekend for inspiration for new recipes.
The cafe owners are big on work-life balance, something Alex appreciates.
Walton Street is open Tuesday to Friday from 6.30am till 3pm and Saturday from 7am till 1pm.
“That meanswe still get vitamin D at the end of the day . . . I can go to yoga class around the corner after work. That’s a huge deal for me.”
Walton Street is an eclectic mix of old and new architecture.
The furniture is a hodge podge of tables and chairs, which seems to work well.
Walton Street's recipe ‘bible'.
Walton Street's Buddha Bowl.
The eclectic vibe is evident as soon as you walk in the door.
This note to Zoe, who used to run Walton Street cafe, is plastered amid other haphazardly applied wallpapering.