Every February, the Australian Blues Music Festival is held in Goulburn. The Bloke and I have been going for several years now, first staying in a caravan park on the edge of town, and more recently at a motel in the centre of town. There are dozens of musical acts, from all over Australia, and they perform in the various clubs and pubs around town. There's workshops and jam sessions, and a market day in Belmore Park, and a shop window decorating competition. Most places do some sort of blue theme - this bakery's blue cup cake faces cracked me up.
The festival has downsized somewhat in the last couple of years. There used to be a big tent out the back of the Tattersalls hotel, but that stopped with a change of management. But it's still a terrific festival - and it really is an Australian Blues festival. All Australian acts, and all bluesy. No international acts, no pop, no hiphop - unlike some others I could name...
So what do you eat? Goulburn itself isn't exactly a foodie destination. The surrounding countryside is our own local region and has much good stuff, but wanting to get to various acts leaves you with very little time for lunch and dinner breaks. You're not about to drive off to a Lake George winery for lunch. The Saturday market tends to just knickknacks, jewelry and clothes, with no food. Sometimes a local vegetable and honey seller is there, and a Rotary Club does a sausage sizzle. But still, there's some quite decent stuff around.
We had dinner on Friday night at the Suwannee (how I love ya, how I love ya), Thai restaurant. It's pretty good food, and has quick service: we were in and out in under an hour. The chicken satay sticks were nicely moist with a good peanut sauce; the massaman beef curry was a bit too sweet for me, and the potato and sweet potato had been microwaved separately rather than cooked in it. But the beef chunks were large and tender and well-flavoured. The "hot" chilli basil stirfry prawns were probably frozen rather than fresh, but good nevertheless. They came with plenty of crisp veggies in the stirfry, though only a mild chilli.
I had breakfast on both Saturday and Sunday mornings at Cafe Book. This is new - last year there was some other cafe there, with dreadful slow service and very ordinary food. Cafe Book is a huge improvement: it's light and bright, with country style pale lime-wash painted tables down the centre. Dark wood and banquette tables line one wall, and bookshelves line the other. The books are second hand, for sale, and organised eclectically by author. There's no genre separation: China Mieville, Herman Melville, Val McDermid and Henry Miller all jostle in the Ms.
The menu is quite simple - variations on bacon and eggs and toast for breakfast; sandwiches, burgers, quiche, roast meat rolls and sausage in a bun for lunch. The coffee ($3.20) is not bad, as long as you remember that you're in a country town and ask for double shots. My bacon and eggs ($9.90) was served piping hot, with a baby spinach garnish, and the white toast served on the side so it doesn't get soggy. The eggs are free range, the bacon is short rindless rashers. On Sunday I had raisin toast and fruit salad, which was similarly sound without being flashy. Thick slices of toast, nice and hot, with butter. The fruit was varied and fresh - the apple was just starting to brown a little; they should learn the lemon juice trick. Good honest grub, friendly and competent service, and books, too! I'll be back. Beats waiting an hour for your coffee at the Paragon.
We also ate at the Astor, taking our food from the service counter to the upstairs bar where the music was playing. The electronic pager discs came in handy. The Astor had a makeover several years back. They seem to be aiming for upmarket pub grub, with some fancy presentations and interesting combinations. The menu reads well, but the execution is a bit patchy. I wouldn't choose to eat there purely on its merits, but it's not a problem if there's some act on that you want to see. Unlike the Bowling Club, which is very dire.
At the Astor, I had a chicken salad ($12.90) for lunch, which came with a mound of thin sweet potato crisps on top, and a generous sprinkle of sugar crusted kahlua pecans. A very nice combo in concept, and the chicken was nicely warm and moist, but the greens were a tad on the flabby side. The bloke had some bacon and cheese potato skins ($6.90) which he found over-greasy. They came in an edible bowl made of flat bread (I think) - a bit poncy and not so nice. We didn't eat the bowl and neither did a couple of other people around the room. Their pizzas ($13.50) were much more successful, I thought. The Astor kitchen has a wood fired oven, and the pizzas come out with a nice crust. The local cheddar mixed in the cheese topping gives them a bit of difference, the toppings are plentiful, and the tomato sauce has a strong oregano note that I enjoyed.