“Everything dies on Enmore Road!”
That’s what Piero Pignatti Morano was (cheerily) told when he set up his latest cafe, El Chapel. A local helpfully pointed out the high mortality rate of all the businesses that had optimistically tried to set up on this unforgiving stretch of Marrickville. I’m gunning for El Chapel to get a long life, because I really dig the place.
I guess I was bound to, as it shares DNA with Two Chaps, a real favourite of mine; the older-sibling cafe is only located blocks away, kinda like how responsible sisters shadow their younger charges.
So there are plenty of reasons why I don’t want El Chapel to be issued with a coroner’s report.
Sure, it’s tiny (with a small menu to match), but it’s big on promise and appeal. There are great dishes, like the Grilled Cheddar Baguette with Fennel and Red Cabbage Slaw, Dill Pickle, Apple and Walnut ($10) and Purple Corn Tortilla with Spiced Black Beans, Rapini & Prickly Pear Hot Sauce ($10); and El Chapel has recently given you more reasons to say “game on” to the cold weather by adding pies (a tenner will get you a beetroot and lentil flavour) and empanadas ($8 will land you a curried potato pastry with coconut chutney) and pizzas.
On Saturday, I warmed my hands on a paper bag that held a just-grilled Pumpkin and Mozzarella Pizza ($8) – dodging the rain while peeling back the paper, which was rapidly blooming into grease-transparent layers. The dough was a sturdy base camp for rustic chunks of roasted pumpkin, oozed-out cheese and a good slick of paprika oil. I simultaneously takeaway-juggled this with the home-made Apple and Chai Cold Brew Tea ($6), which is one of the many intriguing drinks you can score at El Chapel (like the surprisingly apple-like and delicious Green Tea Kombucha and there’s kombucha made with Sticky Chai, too, which is also run by Moratti). You can also get Cold Brew Coffee with a hit of citrus ($4.50), ‘cos vitamin C, why not? And the cold brew teas rotate – I previously may have “slammed down” a Honey Bush & Lime number.
The pastry game is really strong here, thanks to Hayley Thorncraft who is baked goods boss here and at Two Chaps (she previously was at Black Star Pastry). There’s a little help from the “fairly cumbersome” dough sheeter they’ve inherited from a friend, too. The specialty is the Morning Bun ($5), which can come in blueberry and banana flavours; I’ve tried the Neopolitan Dream Shortbread ($2.50), with its strawberry-vanilla-chocolate-striped gateway back to childhood raids of supermarket ice-cream tubs, and the Rose Pistachio Lime cake ($5), which evokes zero trips to the freezer cabinet, but is a pretty fine slice of pastry, nonetheless.
On Saturday, I had ordering indecision when trying to pick between the fresh-made doughnuts (Blackcurrant and Blueberry? Espresso Custard?) and finally walked away with a Chocolate and Cookie Crumble Doughnut ($5) stashed in my bag.
I also like how El Chapel (with some crossover help from Two Chaps) creates a damn lot in-house, in a non-braggy way (there’s no menu-gloating about it, the cafe just treats this all like a plain unhyped fact). So there’s the prickly pear hot sauce in the also-home-made purple tortillas (which you should definitely get heat-sealed with the $2 addition of smoked mozzarella), the shelf-stacks of just-baked bread, the rainbow-frosted and sugar-sprinkled row of pastries and the many brews (kombucha and beyond). You can also channel a bit of this DIY goodness for your own pantry, by buying the prickly pear hot sauce, the chai or the excellent jams (peach and plum, you’re souping up my PB&J sandwiches real nicely).
You know what else has me cheering El Chapel on? The cafe – like Two Chaps – happens to be all-vegetarian, but doesn’t use that for either bragging rights or as a scare tactic, it just pushes food that’s really good that coincidentally omits meat. This means there’s decent vegan options, too.
So far, El Chapel isn’t that big (there’s a small number of seats and it’s definitely not a place you’d want to stage some rowdy gathering or embarrassingly outdated flash mob), but it’s going to be transformed over time. As I wrote in Good Food, Moratti plans to introduce the Two Chaps night-time menu at this Enmore Road outpost, and Nicholas Jordan reported in Broadsheet that Alex Dowd (Tio’s, The Cliff Dive) is going to be enlisted in the bar set-up.
That’s a decent number of reasons to want El Chapel to stave off obituary status for a long time, right?
Black Star Pastry also faced a similar curse when it moved into its Newtown site and Christopher Thé partly named his patisserie Black Star as acknowledgment of its likely flameout (the fact it was also a Radiohead ref didn’t hurt). Of course, the location’s dodgy history didn’t hold Black Star Pastry back at all, so here’s to El Chapel proving that the Marrickville end of Enmore Road isn’t a business graveyard; that good things can conquer not-so-great expectations.