“People who love food really are the best people.” – Julia Child
The Mistress of the Kitchen was really onto something with this fine observation, and with more visitors to this region scheduling their holidays around a destination’s foodie options on offer, paradise never looked so abundantly tasty. Full of astoundingly good restaurants, bars and paddock-to-plate produce, the Tropical North is literally a stock pot full of delicious adventure.
Port Douglas has been a popular spot for serious foodies for many years, showcasing weird and wonderful local produce at the hands of some of the country’s most talented (and hidden) chefs, but recent times have seen a breath of fresh, hipster-cool and hops-driven air with both new venues opening and classic venues raising the bar to take this sleepy little fishing village to dizzying new heights of gastronomic delight.
Gone are the days of shoulder-pad high prawn-and-mango stacks from the 80s – welcome to Tropical Dining V2, where eating out is no longer simply about fancy tablecloths and piped music; from street corners to train stations, waterfronts to bakeries, good food is in abundance in every direction.
The word ‘icon’ gets bandied about fairly willy nilly these days – anything with a social media account has the potential to be #unique. Meat pies, however, truly are part of our iconic ‘Strayan identity, alongside CWA cook-offs, lamingtons and thong-throwing competitions, and this Port Douglas institution has been pleasing tastebuds for over 30 years with pies that pack a punch.
Taking meaty packages in flaky, buttery pastry to the next level is what this long-loved bakery does best, and nothing is off limits. Turning the coat of arms into a delicious filling is all part of the daily offering with pie selections including kangaroo & red wine and spicy crocodile laksa; for those in search of something a little more classic, you don’t get much more bonza than the Pie Friday Floater.
Taking in panoramic views over a rolling golf course and out to the majestic mountain ranges of the tropical north, this little café is open bright and early for those sparky morning types to get their caffeine fix from talented baristas. With coffee from the local roasters Origin Coffee and breakfast, lunch and snacks available all through the day, this pocket of peace is a local’s favourite. Throw in a tight wine list for afternoon tipples, and you’ve got an all-rounder destined to please.
Located at the St Crispins Train Station, sit back and imagine yourself in a vintage wartime train station scene watching the lovers’ arrivals and departures on the historic Bally Hooley train, or hitch a ride all the way through to the Reef Marina after enjoying the daily special including lunch, a glass of wine and a return train trip.
One of the new kids on the block, Hemingway’s Brewery is a bonafide microbrewery at the Port Douglas Reef Marina. Winning friends with stylish whitewashed floorboards, snappy staff outfits and strong game in the pub snacks department (you had us at the chili chicken bites), it’s clearly the brews here that are the stars of the show. Grab a pint of Prospector Pilsner (or a crowler of Hard’s Yard for the truly committed), add in a tropical sunset over moored superyachts, and you can stick a fork in us – we’re done.
In the wise words of Captain Jack Sparrow, “Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate”. And what a treasure this little watering spot is. With island-style interiors so cool they hurt curated by owner Wendy McWilliam, this boardwalk bar overlooking Dickson’s Inlet at the Port Douglas Reef Marina is tropical plantation heaven. Get in early to nab a daybed and settle in with a signature Tea For Two (spoiler: there’s no tea in it…) and watch the sun set magnificently over the mangroves and mountains.
It’s hard to think of a more picturesque lunching venue. Located on the corner of the main streets of Port Douglas surrounded by tropical greenery and overlooking the Coral Sea, this old-school Italian eatery is about as Italian as you’ll get outside of the rolling hills of the motherland of Abruzzo (and Melbourne). As the name, the polished cement floors and free-flowing aperitivos suggest, Sassi La Cucina & Bar is casual. But don’t think owners Tony Sassi and wife Di let anything slide. Service is disarmingly attentive and the food an embodiment of Tony's ethos of quality local produce presented with love and minimal intervention.
Seafood shines brightly on this contemporary Italian menu, not surprisingly, with the Coral Sea just a stone skip away. Crispy salt and pepper gamberetti come with local native finger lime; squid ink tagliatelle is laced cleverly with chilli, basil and local mixed seafood; and for those needing a little more Italian love, a Black Angus rib-eye encrusted with salt and pepper and served with an anchovy and rosemary crust is perfection in simplicity.
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