Newtown rock’n’roll bar Midnight Special has a new permanent food offering, with Lulu’s Tamales sliding into the kitchen for good, and serving Californian-style tamales and a bar menu that caters to vegans.
It’s a bold step for Monica Luppi, owner-chef of Lulu’s Tamales. She’s done stints at Midnight Special before, and has also held food stalls at bar-breweries Willie the Boatman, Young Henrys and Grifter. Now, she’s quit her day jobs at the Sausage Factory and Ozharvest, and can be found at the back of the Midnight Special cooking in the tiny kitchen (Luppi estimates it measures six metres square in total).
Sydney is becoming more familiar with tamales (Marrickville Markets’ La Casa Latina and Dulwich Hill’s Rosa Cienfuegos Tamaleria), the Mexican steamed cornmeal parcels stuffed with chicken, vegetables and salsa. But Luppi, who grew up San Francisco’s Bay Area, describes her tamales as “California style”.
“Having grown up in California I like fresh salsa and fresh pickles … I like punchy flavours,” she told Broadsheet.
The 12-hour pork chipotle tamale comes with pico de gallo (a fresh tomato, coriander and onion salsa) and cumin and lime sour cream; while the roasted sweet-potato tamale is topped with charred fresh corn, black-bean salsa and pickled onions. And like traditional Mexican tamales, these are gluten-free.
There’s also the option to add extra pickles; a spicy trio of radish, carrot and jalapenos; or bundle two tamales into a meal deal with plantain chips or “trashy chips” (tortilla chips, vegan avocado and cashew crema, pickles, corn and black-bean salsa).
Save for the pork tamale and a Mex-Japanese chicken-katsu burger, the rest of the menu is vegan friendly. There’s a sloppy joe (roll) filled with chipotle-spiced chickpeas, and a plant-based “snack pack” with plantain and tortilla chips, pickles and black-bean salsa.
“[A lot of vegans] are happy when they come in, and have an option that’s not just a lentil burger … It’s hard for vegans to get something tasty at a bar except just hot chips,” says Luppi.
Luppi, a self-confessed “weird social justice warrior”, says her food is made with ethically sourced meats and local ingredients. Her meat is from organic, free-range butcher Mr Baillie + Co in Rozelle, which sources its whole beasts from farmers; the bread, cheese and dry goods come from Bob and Pete’s Bakery, Vannella Cheese and Two Providores in Marrickville; The Vege Box (based in Otford) supplies the fresh produce.
“Just because it’s fast food, it doesn’t have to be super cheap. I use really good ingredients … This is what good food tastes like – you don’t have to do much to it,” says Luppi.
Lulu’s Tamales’ full menu is available Wednesday to Sunday nights at Midnight Special. A snack menu is available on Mondays and Tuesday nights.