Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Captains of Industry, Melbourne

I accidentally stumbled across this place a few weeks back - whilst I was on my way out from another cafe along the same lane.  With a curious name and an interesting signage, my friend and I were intrigued.  I made a mental note to come back for a lunch visit.  And so I did, this lovely sunny afternoon.

We walked up the wooden stairs, from which clothing patterns hung from the ceiling.  The stairs lead into a vast open room; full of wooden tables and chairs, and a little bar near the far corner with an espresso machine where a few sweet treats are on display.

We sat ourselves down by the window, looking out onto Swanston Street and across to the marvelous architecture of the GPO building.

I ordered a skinny flat white along with a chorizo, cheese and olive tapenade toasted sandwich.  The skinny flat white came in a cute retro red coffee cup and saucer with a Jubilee spoon.  It tasted delicious.  I was really quite impressed. 

Now, for those coffee snobs out there, I am no coffee aficionado, I only like what I like.  Which at the end of the day, isn't that generally what most food/drink critics go by?!  Oh but of course, they are well trained in the complex processes of seed to mouth, but really, we all do just 'like what we like'.  Some may say that is a bit of 'food for thought', and worthy of a good old debate...for a later date perhaps.

The chorizo with cheese and olive tapenade sandwich came along shortly.  The cheese had melted wonderfully and the chorizo wasn't chewy, but more like the consistency of a normal banger.  It was probably a little bit too rich for me though.  I could have done with half the sandwich with a bit of salad on the side instead. 

Staff are wonderfully friendly here; they dress like they have come from the 1940s and are super clean and slick.  This place is a gentlemen's outfitter as well.  Yes, that's right.  There's a barber, made-to-measure menswear, bespoke footwear and leather accessories and men's grooming products.  And the best thing of all, you can relax and have a lovely coffee whilst you wait.

Captains of Industry
Lv1, 2 Somerset Place, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Tel: +61 (0)3 9612 5013

Mon-Fri: 8am-5pm
Sat: 10am-5pm

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Little Mule Company & Café, Melbourne

This café is pretty brand spanking new.  In fact, it's only been open a few weeks or so.  My fellow cafe hound and I were pleased to be visiting a fairly new kid on the block so to speak.

We arrived at midday, expecting it to be a little busy, but we were the only ones there for about half an hour or so.  A trickle of other lunchtime revellers came in - a mix of office workers and casual looking types.  I suspect this place is still finding it's feet whilst word of mouth gets around.

Many bicycles adorn the white walls here and they sell buy bicycles and bicycle parts.  The bikes come in some deliciously funky colours and if I had any space to park one in, I would be rather tempted. 

Aside from the bikes, this place is light and airy, with communal tables as well as a leather sofa and smaller tables dotted about the place. 

I ordered a skinny flat white along with a tuna and cheese melt with jalapeños, and a pumpkin and chickpea salad.

It all seemed to be made with love.  The tuna and cheese melt arrived, and it was what it said it was - a tuna and cheese melt with jalapeños.  It tasted fine, but if I'm honest, I prefer my own home made tuna and cheese melt... 

The pumpkin and chickpea salad was nice and fresh.  Again though, nothing out of this world.  So I am just going to say it was fresh, tasty and seemingly healthy.

 A nice little cafe which probably needs more time to mature and develop.  Service is extremely friendly here, although my skinny flat white was forgotten about until I had to remind them.  This was a little strange since we were the only ones in the place at the time of my ordering.  Still, another lovely addition to the Melbourne café scene.

The Little Mule Café
19 Somerset Place, Melbourne, Victoria 3000
Tel: +61 (0)402 212 052

Mon-Fri: 07:30-15:30

Friday, October 29, 2010

Proud Mary, Melbourne

I must admit, I am loving the hunt for a good cup of coffee these days.  Having made arrangements to meet a friend at Proud Mary, I woke up feeling pretty excited about my visit to this auspicious North Melbourne cafe today.

After a sweat-filled workout session in the gym this morning, I was feeling ready for lunch and a good strong coffee.

I just needed to do a couple of chores before catching the tram and arriving at Proud Mary just before one o'clock.  It was already buzzing, but I managed to grab a seat by the window whilst a friendly waitress took my order for a skinny latte. 

The menu here is split into breakfast and lunch options, which I perused over with much anticipation and rumbling tummy.  Drinking my lovely latte - it was smooth, strong, but not so much so, and it went down a real treat.

My friend arrived just after I finished my latte, whilst at the same time, a table was being vacated which we grabbed.  We ordered the pork belly toasted sandwich ($15.50) to share.  

It came with a lovely rocket salad on the side.  Apologies for the partially eaten sandwich in the photo.  I was simply too hungry to remember to take the 'picture perfect' sandwich before digging in.  It was mmm, so utterly yummy, the pork simply melted off the fat (which I cut off) and the paprika aioli was the perfect accompaniment.  All in all, a yummy-licious, lip smacker of sandwich.

I finished off my lunch with another coffee - a skinny flat whiteIt came in a gorgeous retro blue coffee cup and saucer.  Retro blue and white being the colours of the salt and pepper shakers too!  In fact, there is a rather retro feel to this place which I love. 

Anyhow, back to the coffee, I loved my flat white just as much as the latte.  I think the coffee here is pretty darn good, if not great!   

Service is friendly and attentive here, which is always a bonus in my books.  And a definite thumbs up in terms of how I view a place.  Although not quite as funky and grungy as Auction Rooms or St. Ali in décor, Proud Mary is certainly worth seeking out for their food and their great coffee.

Proud Mary
172 Oxford Street (cnr Stanley St), Collingwood, VIC 3066
Tel: +61 (0)3 9417 5930

Mon-Fri: 7am-4pm
Sat-Sun: Sun: 8am-4pm

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Auction Rooms, Melbourne

OK, so one wouldn't naturally think of going to auction rooms for brunch, but this cafe really rocks.  Having been here a few weeks ago for lunch, I was so taken with the place that I had to share my new found cafe hot spot with my partner this lovely sunny Sunday afternoon. 

I love how this place is rather grungy in a such an uncontrived way.  I love the bare red brick walls and the music posters that plaster some of it; the open central bar area; the high warehouse ceiling with old fashioned ceiling fans; the laid back vibe and the most friendly of service from types that look reminiscent of students from my old uni days.  Love it!!

Being a gorgeous sunny Sunday afternoon today, this place was packed since all the other cool people in Melbourne had also decided to spend brunch at Auction Rooms.  So much so in fact, that we had to put our name down on a waiting list.  Estimated wait was twenty minutes, but in reality it was only about five.

We were given a great table at the back by the outside courtyard area and our order of flat whites taken right away.

A few minutes later, our flat whites came with the lovely swirly pattern.  As somebody who knows nothing about coffee, I will say that I find Auction Rooms coffee has a very distinct, bold flavour. 

From the food menu, I ordered the 'Coriander falafel and poached eggs on grilled flat bread with cumin & mint yoghurt, tabouli, dukkah and tahini dressing' ($16).  The falafel was crispy on the outside and fell easily apart when cut into.  The whole dish was a tasty combination, but I would have preferred a slightly smaller portion.

My partner ordered the pork knuckle sandwich only to be told that they had run out.  What a shame - I really wanted to try it.  So instead, he ordered the 'Opening bid - poached eggs on toast with field mushrooms, grilled bacon, wilted baby spinach & roasted roma tomatoes' ($16.50).  The smoked bacon was grilled just right, the mushrooms had been cooked in a little delicious butter and the eggs were poached perfectly.

We were both absolutely stuffed at the end, but not enough to be able to have another cup of coffee. 

With it's great vibe, cool interior, friendly service and all round fabulousness, I urge you to take the trip up to Auction Rooms in North Melbourne.

Auction Rooms
103-107 Errol Street, North Melbourne, VIC 3051
Tel: +61 (0)3 9326 7749

Mon-Wed: 7:30am-5pm
Thu-Sat: 7:30am-10pm
Sun: 8am-4pm

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mamasita, Melbourne

I feel like shouting 'ma-ma for Mamasita'!  Why?  Because I have finally found a place which serves delicious Mexican food, albeit with a modern twist.  And more importantly, without the usual mounds of guacomole and sour cream that is so commonfold of Mexican eateries.

My partner and I arrived early this Saturday evening; five-thirty to be precise.  Thinking that we might have to find somewhere for a quick drink, we rocked up only to see a small queue of people outside the doorway to Mamasita.  If people were queuing now, we thought we ought to join it. Having never queued half an hour for restaurant before, I was intrigued to see how good the food would be and whether the wait would be worth it.

As the clock struck six, the doors opened and the queue (which had now tripled in size) started to file up the stairs.  We were pleasantly greeted and taken to sit by the window.  The restaurant is light and airy, with an open kitchen at the end and a bar with stools for waiting punters.

The menu is split into starters, ceviche, tostaditas (fried tortillas with toppings), tacos, quesadillas, ensaladas and mains (described as comida para la familia - food for the family).  Oh and not forgetting sides and dessert.

Having never eaten here before, the waitress recommended for us to go through the sharing dishes which is akin to the Spanish tapas way of eating.

We decided to opt for the 'Ceviche de Yucatan' ($13) which comes either as a single in a shot glass or a large as we had ordered.  Described as market fish with green tomato, chilli, mint, lime and coconut milk, it sounded a little Thai influenced.  It came in a stemless looking wine glass with five crispy tortilla chips poking out of the top of it. 

The fish pieces were lovely and tender as one would expect from marinated raw fish.  The marinade was fresh and tasty and the tortillas were deliciously crispy. 

Next came the 'Elotes callejeros' ($4.40 each), described as street style chargrilled corn with cheese, chipotle mayo and a wedge of lime.  The corn was super sweet and tasted absolutely devine.  It wasn't drenched in butter which made for a refreshing change.  If you love corn, then you'll love these. 

Next up, the tostaditas 'de carnitas' ($14) - slow braised pork shoulder with pickles and jalapeños.  These crispy tostaditas were served on a bed of shredded red cabbage, all lined up on a wooden board.  The pork was tasty in every way and these bite sized pieces were just right.

The tacos 'de pescado' ($6 each) - grilled fish with achiote paste and red onion salsa with a wedge of lime.  Achiote paste originated from the Yucatán region of Mexico; using annato seeds and a combination of other spices, it is used in a variety of Mexican dishes. 

These wonderfully soft tacos were packed full of flavour and we both loved this dish!

We also ordered chicken quesadillas ($14).  It was served with a side condiment of 'pico de gallo', which had finely chopped pieces of cucumber, red onion, celery and coriander.  Although good, this quesadillas didn't blow our taste buds away.  It was a sort of take it or leave it kind of dish. 

The final dish to come out was the quinoa salad ($15).  This was a superb.  It was fresh, tasty and wonderfully light.  I had no trouble in polishing it all off and it has to be one of the top salads that I have eaten in quite a while.

Despite having eaten rather a lot, I was surprised to find myself with enough room for dessert.  I decided to go for the 'Tortilla de chilli chocolate' ($12).  Chocolate and chilli pudding (which was steamed) with chocolate and cinammon sorbet. 

The pudding had a real kick of chilli.  Probably a little more than I would have liked as I found it quite dry on the mouth without a spoonful of sorbet to go with it.  The sorbet was perfectly balanced with the cinnamon and wonderfully refreshing.  I'm not sure I'd have the pudding again, but for those who love the chilli and chocolate combination, then this may well be a winner.

The staff here are knowledgeable, the funky soul music provides a laid back ambience to the place which is informal, relaxing and just a great place to come eat some 'comida deliciosa'.

The place was buzzing tonight and the queue was, well still queuing when we left at 8pm.   With a no bookings policy (except for groups of 10 or more), if you're not one for having to queue and wait for long periods of time, I suggest getting here fairly early before opening time to guarantee a spot right away when the doors open.

1/11 Collins Street, Melbourne, VIC 3001
Tel: +61 (0)3 9650 3821

Mon-Wed: 12pm-12am
Thu: 12pm- 12:30am
Fri: 12pm-2am
Sat: 6pm-2am

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pope Joan, Melbourne

Today involved a trip out of the city on the number 96 tram.   As it rattled it's way along Nicholson Street, I was starting to get a little apprehensive about whether I would be able to find Pope Joan. 

Unbeknown to me, Nicholson Street is a pretty long street and Pope Joan is nestled amongst, well, not an awful lot by way of trade to be honest.

I got off at stop number 24 as instructed by Melbourne's metlink journey planner and wondered back down the street and alas, I had found Pope Joan.  The cafe doesn't look like much on the outside, but get a load of that cute copper pan letter box. 

Anyhow, my friend had arrived before me and was already enjoying a cup of coffee.  As I sat down, a waitress came along to bring us some water and take my order for a skinny flat white.

This place is only open for breakfast and lunch (Monday to Friday), and so the menu was really Eggs (cooked in many different ways) and sandwiches.  We opted for the chicken with stuffing sandwich and the curried egg and cress.  Mmm...they sounded yummy.

You can watch the chef at work just behind the front counter too.

We decided to order the chicken stuffing sandwich ($9) and the curried egg sandwich ($8).  The chicken stuffing sandwich came warmly wrapped in foil.  The curried egg was served between slices of sourdough.

The chicken stuffing was delightful.  The curried egg was just OK.  We thought it could have done with some oomph and I had to pepper mine to add some kick. 

There is outside seating to the side.  Babies more than welcome as was evident by the several mums and bubs sitting outside.  It's modern rustic with a good old splash of Britishness about it.

Pope Joan
77/79 Nicholson Street
Brunswick East, VIC 3057
Tel: +61 (0)3 9388 8858

Breakfast + Lunch 7 days a week.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Basement Café, Melbourne

The city circle trams rattles past this place on La Trobe street, near to the corner of Queen street.  It doesn't look like much from the outside, but enter this cafe and feel welcoming warm reception envelope you as sit down and relax. 

Décor has a musical theme.  Remember vinyl?  Well there's a vinyl decorated wall below the window counter, posters advertising bands and musicals on one wall, and lots of other decorative paraphernalia.

There are separate breakfast and lunch blackboards listing the days menu.  Service is super friendly in this funky cool cafe and also extremely efficient.

My lunching companion and I both ordered flat whites and they came with the much oligatory leafy pattern on top that I have become accustomed to whilst living in Melbourne.  And it still makes me smile each time I see it...

Food wise, we ordered a mushroom pizza with feta, pine nuts and rocket ($8); and also a pesto chicken salad with pine nuts and feta to share ($9).

Both came out at the same time.  Ingredients were fresh and tasty.  Pizza was thin crust, which is how I like it. 

The very generous serving of salad was yummy.  Gorgeous pieces of chicken breast, avocado and spinach leaves dressed with pesto; feta and pine nuts on top. 

They don't rush you here; they play some good background tunes, and they are more than happy for you to perch your bottom here all day if you wanted to.

A great find with fabulous service and delicious fresh food at amazing value!

Basement Café
350 La Trobe Street, Melbourne 3000
Tel: +61 (0) 9329 8000

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sheni's Curries, Melbourne

Today I was excited to be trying out the much read about Sheni's Curries.  Mentioned in The Age Cheap Eats guide, the cuisine is Sri Lankan and Southern Indian. 

Step down through the pvc strip curtained doorway to enter a small, but adequate curry eatery.  A counter full of delicious looking curries and other assortments await hungry diners.  Being a Friday, they offer Friday lunch specials and I decided to go for the mixed special - $9 for a small or $10 for a large.  Saving my stomach from too much consumption (and my little wallet from a dollar), I opted for the small. 

As you can see, I got three different curries, a popadom, various accompaniments and even a bit of salad.  Unfortunately I can't remember what everything was. 

All I can say is that my lunch had the spicy kick of typical Sri Lankan cuisine and managed to finish all but a few small morsels left on the plate, due to feeling rather full.  It was certainly delicious.

Lunch times get really busy with queues of office workers lining up.  If possible, grab a seat by the window to have a street view whilst reading one of the available papers on the window shelf. 

This place also does take out and I think they now open for dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings until 9pm.

Cheap, cheerful and good spicy value for money.

Sheni's Curries
Russell Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Tel: +61 (0)3 9654 3535

Mon-Fri: 8-9pm

Monday, June 14, 2010

Arintji, Melbourne

Arintji is referred to as a cafe-cum-restaurant by many who have reviewed the place.  Serving modern Australian fare in what can only be described as 'grazing' plates.

It was opened back in 2003 by renowned French chef Jacques Raymond.  But, it has since changed hands...

Arintji sits on in the heart of Federation Square and has casual outdoor seating with orange umbrellas.  Walk inside and there are orange cushioned donut shaped chairs in the cafe area to the right and a bar to the left.  Walk up a few steps to the more formal dining platform which is a roomy light space with views across the Yarra River. 

Our friendly waiter kindly explained to us that their menu is for grazing and sharing.  Thus, not to expect big plates.  Kind of surprising when some of the plates were $16 plus.  For that amount of dollars, I expect a substantial sized plate or at least something absolutely spectacular however small.

So, my companions and I all opted for a burger each, some fries, a salad and a tart.  When we enquired on the size of the burgers, our waiter grinned and hesitated before describing them as 'cute but really tasty'.  Hmmm, could that be a cover up for saying 'they are so tiny and probably won't fill you up unless you're a size zero with a baby appetite...but don't worry, they're so packed full of flavour that you won't even notice how small they are'.

A pair of burgers arrived, with one on its own.  I only took a photo of the pair and yes, they certainly were small.  At $6.50, I would have preferred them to be a little bigger..

Mmm, a generous bowl of french fries with ketchup ($6) arrived next.  And these were the small portion...

Followed by a healthy rocket, radiccio and grana salad' ($8)...which was very delicious. 

And my companion, Miss M's 'Gorgonzola and leek tart with crispy prosciutto' ($8.50) -  which was more like a slice of quiche Lorraine as we know it back in the UK.  It was certainly small with a token piece of leek on top.  Crispy prosciutto mixed with rocket on the side, which Miss M delighted in. 

Fairly friendly service, nice location, food OK, servings small.  All in all, a nice enough place for a get-together lunch, just don't expect to stay too full for too long afterwards.

Federation Square, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Tel: +61 (0)3 9663 9900

Daily 10AM-Late

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tia To, Melbourne

One may not automatically associate a casino with Vietnamese food, but the Crown casino has a Vietnamese eatery called Tia To located on the ground floor.  

Having been here a couple of times previously, I can say that I like this place for it's ridiculously close proximity to my front door - a mere five minutes or so walk; it's not too pricey, and service is welcoming. 

This place is an open eatery, meaning diners can sit and look out onto the gaming floor which is great for those who like to people watch and believe me, it really is fascinating watching gamers.  If I were to go back to my university days to write a thesis on the psychology of people, I would consider the subject of gamblers. 

Nevertheless, educational degrees aside, this place offers a generous array of sauces and dippings which sit neatly on a tray that adorn each table.  There's fish sauce, soy sauce, chilli sauce, chilli flakes, pickle, hoisin sauce and satay sauce.  Oh and not forgetting, a holder of toothpicks that all good Asian eateries offer.  Useful for picking out any awkwardly caught pieces of food, namely green herbs - not a good look if on a first date. 

My companion and I ordered a prawn rice roll each ($6.50 for both).  They weren't huge which was good, but they seemed pretty fresh and the sauce was thick and sweet with broken up pieces of peanut on top.  We both enjoyed them and looked forward to our mains.

As is typical with me, I wanted the beef pho noodles and those we got.  It took a while for them to come out, which didn't bother us too much.  But had we been starving, we probably would have been getting pretty cranky with me cursing expletives whilst picking my teeth with toothpicks for something to do...

Apologies for the blurred photo, but the thin slices of pink beef can be seen.  The rare paper thin beef slices were cooking naturally in the heat of the broth as they arrived.  Mmmm....

We mixed in the beansprouts, basil, chopped chilli and lemon juice which arrived before the noodles actually.  The beef was lovely, only I wish there had been more of it.  The soup was more beefy than aromatic though which was a little disappointing. 

It could have done with more oomph - I would have liked to have tasted more of the lovely spices that go into a good pho broth.  Pho-tastic it was not.  But it didn't stop me from gobbling up the beef, noodles and beansprouts splashed with spoonfuls of chilli sauce (which I think was Siracha - yummy!).

If I'm honest, I've had better pho broth elsewhere, but the rare beef slices are to die for!

The other dish we ordered came from Tia To's speciality dishes - 'Stir fried eggplant with dried shrimp and mince pork'.  All the speciality dishes come with a serving of white rice.  I rarely eat white rice (only when out and no other choice; even then, I eat only a couple of spoonfuls), but today, did I tell you I was famished?  Well, I was.  I had a good session in the gym and I needed to fuel back up, so I had four spoonfuls of rice...ooh, I was really pushing the boat out today!

Calories aside, this dish was lovely.  The eggplant pieces were deliciously soft and weren't bitter tasting at all.  The dried shrimp turned out to be fresh shimp, but we weren't complaining.  It was served on a bed of fresh iceburg lettuce and it wasn't too oily.  Overall, a great ratio balance of pork, shrimp and eggplant.  This was just what the doctor ordered and we polished it off with no complaints. 

Service was a bit slow today, not sure why as they weren't full.  But it has been better on previous occasions.  It may not be the best Vietnamese, but it's not bad and I'll definitely be back here for some more Tia To goodness.

Tia To
Crown Entertainment Complex, Main Gaming Floor, 8 Whitman Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Tel: +61 (0)3 9292 6989

Sun-Thu: Noon-11pm
Fri-Sat: Noon-Midnight

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

St. Ali, Melbourne

At 12-18 Yarra Place in South Melbourne is a hidden gem.  I say hidden because unless you're in the know, it's not obvious to a passerby looking down this street that there's a great little coffee place just a few steps and a skip away.  

St. Ali occupies a converted warehouse with wooden tables and mis-matched chairs.  Yes, this place is certainly quirky, but oh so good quirky!

I arrived at one o'clock today and was instantly greeted by a wide eyed and smiley waitress.  I instantly saw my friend sitting at the end of one of the communal tables and went to sit with her.

Another waitress came and offered to get us some coffees right away.  Again, with a lovely  huge smile.  Wow, with the amount of smiles we were getting in such a short space of time, we were becoming instantly enamoured with this place. 

We both ordered flat whites ($3.80 each); except I ordered a 'skinny' as opposed to regular.  There were a couple of coffee makers with brewing looking contraptions to the side, it all looked a bit like a potions class going on in the background. 

The flat white came with a lovely fir tree pattern on top.  It was beautifully smooth and oh so yummyliciously creamy.  Mmm, I think I fell in love with this place from the sip go!

This place has a breakfast menu as well as a lunch menu.  We decided to share a couple of dishes.  From their 'kitchen confidential' section, we chose the 'my mexican cousin' ($14.50) which is their secret recipe corn fritters with baby spinach, grilled halloumi and kasundi with our choice of poached eggs.

From the 'between the sheets' (sounds a little naughty), we chose the 'morrocan spiced chicken thigh burger' ($16), stuffed with tomato jam, tomato, avocado salsa and rocket.

They both arrived at the same time.  The burger came in toasted turkish bread - one of my favourites.

One can see the yummy filling - chicken, lovely fresh green avocado salsa, plenty of crunchy rocket and big beef tomato slices with lovely sweet tomato jam.  The ingredients were all fresh and tasty and after a good morning workout, it felt indulgent without being too glutinous (apart from the white bread...)

The corn fritters came with two lovely poached eggs on top with kasundi on top (sliced mango pickle).  The halloumi wasn't salty as some that I have had before, and the corn fritters were delicious and very non-greasy.  The poached eggs were just about runny, with the edges of the yoke cooked - a little more done than I prefer.  But all in all, a well rounded dish which hit the spot. 

We polished off the meal with a chai tea latte ($4.80 each).  The spices had been ground up and topped with hot milk in a one handle jug.  I asked for honey on the side and they gave me a generous shot glass of honey.  The chai latte was delicious, but it could have done with more oomph if I'm honest. 

Staff here are so super friendly.  We were made to feel welcome from the moment we set foot inside the place to the moment we left. 

St. Ali is just brilliant.  I love the concept and I love the fact that they take such pride in their coffee.  I think I've been persuaded to make the effort to come back here just to buy some ground coffee beans.  After which, I will just have to try to emulate their great coffee back home! 

St. Ali
12-18 Yarra Place, South Melbourne, VIC 3205
Tel: +61 (0)3 9686 2990

Mon-Tue: 7am-5pm
Wed-Sat: 7am-11pm
Sun: 8am-5pm