UPDATE January 2016: Obsessions has new owners.
“What is your obsession?”
It’s the question I put to Chris Vakanas, owner of Obsessions restaurant on Chevron Island.
“Food. Definitely food!” he replies, his eyes sparkling.
Many of us could concur with this response. We may live other lives, do other jobs, but bring out a photo of a magnificent piece of cake or seafood plucked from salty water and groans of ecstasy escape our lips. We’re food obsessed.
As the wait staff deliver food to surrounding tables, it’s easy to see one of Chris’ obsessions. Burgers.
“I grew up in takeaway shops. Dad had opened his first one in 1966; he’s best known for Capse, where Lock ‘n’ Load is now in West End. But, like many other kids who grew up working in their parents’ cafés, I had other plans for my future. For years, I worked in the construction industry. Four years ago I opened my first café, OMG, opposite Q1. Eurobite and the nutritional store One Nutrition followed. I built places up and sold them, but I got sick of moving around. I sold my three shops and started looking for a place to settle. I’d been trawling around to find that special location when this place popped up.”
Obsessions forms part of the rejuvenation of Thomas Street, Chevron Island’s main thoroughfare. Always a convenient location due to its centrality and ease of parking, Chevron has too often been a rollercoaster ride for restaurateurs who struggle to get the formula right. Cater for locals, late night hospitality trade, tourists, as well as drawing in a wider coastal audience with your point of difference and you’ll have a winning mix! But it’s a hard gig!
“I learned many lessons from Dad along the way,” Chris tells us. “Look for location, passing traffic, and a tight-knit local community. Chevron has all that.”
With his brother Peter on board as chef, Obsessions started as a tapas bar, whose legacy is still there with Smokin’ Sides (wings, baby back ribs and fish bites etc.). But the brothers soon realized the market for burgers as the food of the moment. Chris’ gym and body-building clientele from the shop certainly approve of the change of direction.
Obsessions’ fame spread, first of all, through their burger challenge. Named the ‘7 Circles of Hell’ it’s not the largest burger on the menu, but it is the hottest! In fact, it contains the hottest chilli in the world. After signing a release form and donning gloves to protect their hands, over 300 people have attempted the challenge, scoffed the accompanying yoghurt and milk, but few succeed. The champions’ names are etched in history on a board at the back of the restaurant: 24 men and one woman who have been bitten by the scorpion-like heat of the hottest chilli in the world and still finished the race!
“So, what’s the trick?” I ask Chris. “Have you tried it?”
“No. They all have their own trick, but you should feel the vibe around here when someone gives it a go. The whole restaurant is involved and everyone joins in, clapping and cheering them on.”
Shaking his head at our conversation, The Main Squeeze is sitting looking at his ‘I Heart Greece’ burger – the guys’ own signature brioche bun chock full of BBQ lamb strips, salad, feta and olives topped with ‘Mum’s Greek salad dressing’. Served with sweet potato curls, it’s a nod not only to the brothers’ Greek heritage but also to their mum, who works in the restaurant on many days. And it’s big! At $15.50 it’s monster value!
“How am I supposed to eat this?” It’s far higher than a mouthful.
“Just attack! No easy road on this one,” I say.
Before long he’s taken a few bites and is wearing it, the juices dripping down his sleeve onto the table. He’s murmuring unintelligible nothings about deliciousness as I devour my salad, checking out the menu and surrounds.
Big burgers. Funky burgers. All priced under $20, each one has a name to match its bold personality. Many of the burgers boast American heritage: What the Pork (a must with 4-hour slow-cooked sweet and smoky Louisiana pork belly, house coleslaw and potato ribbons), the Hannibal Lecter served on a black brioche bun, Funghi Town (a wagyu burger with deep-fried mushrooms and sweet cheddar), or Jack ‘o’ Lantern presented on skewers with burnt lime and a capsicum head stem.
Blink and you’ll find new burgers on the menu, inspired by the larger than life characters of America’s streets and screen. They’re there on the walls watching us in this dude bar, all stylistically rendered by graffiti artist Jamie Body Graffiti: Al Capone on a Chicago street in the 40s, someone in his bi-plane. Cool… and that’s not counting the eye candy male customers. Buffed, ladies, buffed!
“I was lucky that when I started Obsessions, that Peter was able to come into it with me. He’d been working as a chef at the Treasury Casino, and together we form the perfect team. He’s a perfectionist, in early to prep the fresh produce that arrive every day. Every detail must be correctly made, with nothing missed.”
It’s the individual touch that makes the difference in this menu: hibiscus flower salt, the fifteen sauces made in house (many surprisingly similar to our favourite chain store sauces) as well as a signature presentation for each burger and cocktail.
There’s also a real attempt to please customers in both the pricing and menus. Cocktails are priced to please at $14 – $16 with a $10 cocktail of the week, $6 beers and a bucket of beer for $20. The menu contains gluten-free and vegetarian options; even a bunless burger bowl and a choice of salads which could be shared with starters.
As if burgers aren’t enough, the restaurant opens at 10.30am with a Kickstart menu of juices and smoothies, featuring low fat, dairy free protein blend options and (of course) Giancarlo coffee, served ‘Greek café style’ with plenty of milk and a square of Turkish delight.
We don’t have room for dessert but there are some wicked options there for cheat day or to share: Chicken waffles, Malteaze You and the ‘Sorry not sorry’ – nutella and peanut butter logs dipped in doughnut batter and fried to perfection, topped with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, white chocolate sauce and fresh strawberries.
We’ll leave that sweet obsession to someone else, but the burgers? In our books, they’re worth obsessing over – absolute attention-seeking, pinped up winners!
37 Thomas Drive, Chevron Island Ph: 07 5570 1221 Open daily 10am – late