11 ways Bundy's smashing it when it comes to food and drink
IT MAY be revered for its rum, but today Bundaberg's culinary scene offers so much more, boasting everything from internationally award-winning gin distillers to sourdough that draws lines around the block.
From the air, Bundaberg evokes a giant poke bowl, with fields of avocado, sweet potato, zucchinis, tomatoes, strawberries, macadamias and figs fanning out across rich red soil.
On the ground, its cafes and restaurants are revelling in this cornucopia of fresh produce, creating a vibrant food culture. And it's not just rum on the drinks menu - the city built on sugar cane, about 360km north of Brisbane, is becoming a hub of "tipple tourism" ranging from gin to cider and beer.
Here's a taste of the burgeoning culinary scene taking over Bundy:
CHEEKY TIKI CIDER - OHANA CIDER HOUSE and TROPICAL WINERY
5 Alexandra St, Bundaberg East
An industrial apple juicer can't crush pineapple. Josh and Zoe Young worked that out after damaging the blades while trying to make pineapple wine. So they decided to make apple cider.
Two years ago, they launched Cheeky Tiki, with the dry and semi-sweet varieties now sold at Dan Murphy's.
Last year, the young couple opened Queensland's first cider house in Bundaberg's old Schmeider's Cooperage, offering tastings and selling small batch creations such as chilli and lime, or orange and ginger cider. Fresh apples are sourced from Stanthorpe and crushed and fermented at their new premises.
The couple arrived in the region from Perth in 2014 after buying a tropical winery at Childers, 50km south of Bundaberg.
Josh is finishing a degree in wine science and Ohana Tropical Wines makes liqueur and port from the Brazilian grape tree, jaboticaba, and lychee and pineapple wine - just not in the apple juicer.
BARGARA BREWING COMPANY and THE BREWHOUSE
10 Tantitha Street, Bundaberg
By day, Jack Milbank, is an agronomist and the rest of the time, he's at the helm of the beer company that he founded with wife Jacinta in 2014. Milbank's close association with local farmers means he knows when vegetables or fruits are in oversupply - just the right time for his chief brewer, Andrew Clark, to make beer.
Enter the Funky Pumpkin, a pumpkin ale with nutmeg and star anise which is an occasional guest, along with limited release beers such as the Sombrero, a Mexican-style beer with native lemon myrtle leaves and an alcoholic ginger beer made with the aromatic root from Bunda Ginger.
The regular range include the local macadamia nut and bush honey infused Drunk Fish Pale Ale, the subtropical, hoppy Ray XPA and the crisp Thirsty Turtle lager, all made with rainwater. Enjoy them at The Brewhouse, a groovy part of the Bundaberg bar scene with its industrial-chic décor, live music gigs, and pizza and bar snacks.
WATER STREET KITCHEN
85 Water St, Walkervale
Alex Cameron has never worked with zucchini flowers so fresh and plump.
"I picked them at 6.30 this morning from Marto Farms," he says. "[Farmer] Andrew Marten tells me which block to pick and says, 'Go for it'."
Diners will go for what Cameron creates with them, too; a filling of creamy ricotta, lemon and basil wrapped in a light tempura batter, with tomato ragu.
There's local prawns in Szechuan and honey on avocado from nearby Simpson Farms and a kedgeree made with smoked blue mackerel from The Seafood Smokery at Burnett Heads. (Buy the Smokery's range at Learmonth's Foodworks, 56 Walker Street).
Cameron was the head chef at Moo Moo Wine Bar and Grill, at Broadbeach and BSKT Café at Nobbys Beach before moving to Bundaberg - hometown of wife and business partner, Jennifer - after the birth of their daughter Sofie, 3. The cute weatherboard cottage with a white picket fence and courtyard seats 52 with plans to extend to 80.
80 Bourbong Street, Bundaberg
This is where Bundaberg's embrace of fresh, local food delivered stunningly began and while the owners changed more than two years ago, the standard remains.
Mitchell White is the man at the pans today, having learned the craft at the side of Amanda Hinds, the powerhouse who ran this small-in-size, big-on-style cafe for 13 years.
Every ingredient in the tempura broccoli dish was sourced from One Little Farm, run by fourth-generation farmer Anthony Rehbein and his wife, Kate.
The couple own Bunda Ginga as well as growing turmeric, eggplant, melons, cucumbers and micro herbs and have just opened a beautifully displayed shop at 133 Bargara Road selling a host of local produce and cooking essentials. The pretty broccoli dish is dusted with gamashio salt and sprinkled with pickled ginger and micro herbs.
The Pick of the Crop is a locals' favourite, with smoked bacon from Rick Elliot's The Chop Shop in North Bundaberg, local avocado and macadamia dukkah on top of organic sourdough from The Pocket Storehouse at Bundaberg East.
THE POCKET STOREHOUSE
Quay St and Scotland St, Bundaberg East
It's not just hype; the line, as the locals foretold, is out the door as organic sourdough lovers arrive to get their loaf on a Saturday morning. Or a scrumptious Reuben sandwich on organic spelt, or the Bundaberg Rum-soaked fruit and nut sourdough with local macadamias and golden syrup, perhaps a sourdough almond croissant.
Rick Nelson was a banker with a baking habit before encouragement by Hinds at Indulge led him to ditch finance and open The Pocket two years ago.
Using his own sourdough starter perfected over years, his slow fermented bread takes more than 24 hours to make and is soft in the middle with a chewy crust. Distressed VJs, polished timber floors and cushioned packing crate chairs give the space a ye olde bakery feel.
While you're there, try a kombucha flavoured with local dragonfruit or passionfruit from Hoti, the local fermented fizz made by Helen Tricarico who sells from a corner of the shop. Only open Saturday.
BUNDABERG RUM DISTILLERY
Hills Street, Bundaberg East
For a twist on this world famous product, head to the distillery and concoct your own rum in the seductive, dark room of brick and barrels dubbed the Blendatorium.
Heavy charred American oak barrels, plus barrels that once held sherry, port, bourbon and scotch, have been filled with white rum.
Have a taste of each and marvel at how the same spirit takes on a different flavour depending on the vessel it was in. Then, blend your unique rum - and take home two bottles, with a name of your choosing on the label.
KALKI MOON GIN
22 Commercial Street, Svensson Heights
He set out to make rum, which is understandable given Rick Prosser is a former master distiller with Bundaberg Rum. But with rum required to age for at least two years, Prosser needed a product that would get the cash registers dinging while the rum matured.
Enter Kalki Moon Gin, the white spirit range that after just two years of production has a slew of awards, including gold at last year's International Wine and Spirit competition in London for its London Dry Gin.
The juniper berries come from the UK but other botanicals such as lemon, cinnamon myrtle, ground ginger and native finger lime are sourced locally.
Free tours and tastings are offered, with the Gin Gin Mule cocktail a refreshing mix of gin and Bundaberg Ginger Beer poured over ice in a glass of muddled lime.
The range includes its award-winning Navy Gin and Chocolate Liqueur, and its Pink Gin - made with elderflower and rose - is being marketed as a perfect match with Brown Brothers prosecco.
The family-run company's rum turned two in March but its gin is doing so well, the rum release will have to wait until mid next year.
BUNDABERG BREWED DRINKS
147 Bargara Road, Bundaberg East
Did someone say mixers? Head to this long-running family business's tourism attraction, The Barrel, and pick up the famous Bundaberg Ginger Beer, or its pineapple and coconut, blood orange or lemon, lime and bitters to go with your favourite tipple.
Of course, the soft drinks are popular unadulterated, or take home a six-pack of sarsaparilla to give the kids a taste of yesteryear with a sars and vanilla ice-cream spider.
The Barrel's display has recently been revamped to include a smell test - Is that passionfruit or mango? - and touch screens that run videos of the inner workings of the factory. Finish with a taste test of all 16 flavours, now sold to 56 countries, plus a cola produced under licence and only available in Australia at The Barrel.
THE WINDMILL CAFE
12 See St, Bargara
Kids play in teepees on the lawn, a pyjama-wearing whippet sits at an outside table with its owners and this quirky Bargara landmark is packed with the Sunday breakfast crowd.
Trained chef and owner Joey Caruana flits about welcoming diners to the café that he bought 18 months ago after owning an eatery in Canberra, and spending years managing restaurants in the UK for the Restaurant Group as well as stints in Singapore and Hong Kong.
A perfectly poached egg from nearby Surfie Chicks Free Range Eggs sits atop a chilli and coriander spiced corn fritter, served with haloumi and local avocado and roasted tomatoes. Add a side of mushrooms cooked in Well Loved Worcestershire sauce made in the region's town of Gin Gin, or award-winning bacon from Barritt's Butchery.
Grab a gelato or sorbet - there's a Kalki Moon Pink Gin flavour - to go for a walk along the beach.
BUNDY FOOD TOURS
36 Avenue St, Bundaberg East
For a paddock to plate experience, take a ride with Suzie Clarke, a gastronomic tourism specialist who has been running foodie tours since 2016.
A number of farms and businesses are visited, with one tour finishing with a lunch at seafood restaurant Grunske's by the River, another offering a farm-based afternoon tea by Indulge and the Saturday morning tour including a stop at Alloway Farm Market for a local Barking Dog Coffee and homemade morning tea.
The farm market is run by the Emerick family who own RedRidge, the label for their nearby avocado, tomato and fig farm (a hothouse means year-round figs).
After wandering the fields and learning about the growing cycle, stock up with local produce, jams, oils and vinegars at the market.
This tour also includes a trip to Kalki Moon so here's a tip; buy a bottle of fig jam and lemons at the market and mix a teaspoon of jam and a good squeeze of lemon with some gin, shake, strain and hey presto, fig cocktail.
363 Branyan Dr, Branyan
This sprawling bush property was Jeff and Liz Lennox's family home before the January 2013 floods that swamped the city led them to a radical rethink. The architect-designed, timber and tin homestead-style buildings were raised and extended and a cafe, restaurant and functions centre in landscaped grounds was born.
A stylish restaurant with high ceilings and big windows is open on Friday and Saturday nights but the café on the deck is open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week.
The roasted local sweet potato wedges with baconnaise sauce are a triumph, with a touch of rosemary from the property's picking garden. The Seafood Smokery's mackerel is the star of a flatbread with ricotta, rocket and salsa verde.
Taste Bundaberg Festival has events on July 5-7 and August 16-18.