At last count, there were 19 blog reviews of Pope Joan on Urbanspoon. So I’m far behind with my visit and now I’m not sure why I’ve waited so long.

Pope Joan is the kind of neighbourhood cafe for which you’d be willing to travel. Which is why it has found success despite being located in the most non-descript, smoggy section of Nicholson Street. The names behind it probably help draw in the crowds too – Ben Foster (ex-Kent Hotel) and Matt Wilkinson (ex-Circa) own it.

There are lots of different spaces for diners depending on your mood. The front room is cosy timber and houses the most amazing carved lantern from the centre of the ceiling. Through the sliding doors is an undercover corridor of high wooden benches, communal picnic settings, wrought-iron park benches and Astroturf, with a cul-de-sac kitchen garden blooming a giant rainbow chard centrepiece.  The crowd is just as eclectic, ranging from families with young kids to ladies-who-lunch to construction workers.

The menu specialises in breakfast/brunch/lunch options, with a whole section dedicated to eggs proudly sourced from Green Eggs. On my lunch visit I decided to bypass the eggs for a sandwich – it was a difficult choice but you had me at ‘slow cooked’ then ‘pork’ then ‘Cuban style’ ($12). Next time I’m trying the The Cornish: Milawa chicken, stuffing, jalapeno pepper ($12).

On the plate was a fat La Madre ciabatta stuffed with tender roast pork, lettuce, carrot, gherkin and some sort of mayonnaise/aioli. It was a-mazing. Really. I could have had a second one.

But instead I decided to fill up my remaining appetite with bread and butter. Not just any old bread and butter, but two slices of spiced, lightly toasted gingerbread with a pot of smoked maple butter (although I confess I couldn’t taste or smell any smoke or maple flavour).

The cake cabinet presents more temptations from brownies to muffins to cookies. I nursed home a high-topped carrot cake ($4.50) which was very moist and nutty with a sweet lemony cream cheese frosting.

I will be sure to return to Pope Joan – the menu is a step away from standard brunch fare and it’s obvious that they care about the quality of the ingredients they use. They’ve just received their liquor licence for the next door space (to be called Bishop of Ostia) and will be opening for dinner soon.

Pope Joan, 77-79 Nicholson Street, Brunswick East +61 3 9388 8858

Pope Joan on Urbanspoon