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.

Hamilton Metro News - - Front Page - Danielle Ni­chol­son

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'.

Photo: In­sta­gram

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.

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