No one can say there's an oversupply of vegetarian cafes inside hardware stores – in fact, Little Indi in Alexandria is the only case study I can think of.
It's an unusual pairing – you don't immediately associate decking, paint tins or toolbox-filling accessories with raw food or tofu, but this eatery has a way of staying unpredictable. It's split in two: there's a stand inside the store's loading dock, where you sneak a look at the menu and order; then there's a deck outside, where you can sit near pallets upcycled into herb gardens or other rustic fixtures. All the furniture feels like the "after" shot of a DIY project. Little Indi's sustainability credentials are also evident in all the natural, crafted finishes and the composter nearby.
All this worthiness is admirable, but also helpfully backed up by an inspired menu. Produce, which is kept local as possible, is so bright and rich that it looks like it's been colour-graded. The Marinated Asparagus salad ($12 as main/$4 as side) is all salt, greens, sweetness and crunch: a lovely jumble of leek, sprouts, kale, pangrattato and goat's fetta.
The rolls, on Iggy's ficelle bread, are definitely worth trying. They come in great flavour-flirting combos, such as nectarine, ricotta, asparagus, lime agrumato and basil ($10) or egg, zucchini, relish, and avocado ($10). They're served with cutlery, but the bread is so rustic that you will spend hours earnestly sawing away with a (compostable) knife before you make much headway. "I feel like my cutlery is composting away right now," says Will, as he energetically tries to slice his ficelle. I went for the hands-on, napkin-destroying method instead.
There's also raw felafel (strangely sweet and delicious), bargain-priced Buddha rolls, vegan balls and all the health-conscious drinks to match (organic slow juice, whey cool smoothie or alpine green tea, anyone?). The only underwhelming item I've had is a brown rice miso, where the raw vegie shreds overpowered everything and just tasted joyless and crude.
Otherwise, Little Indi (which is run by the duo behind this year's Naked Indiana pop-up) proves that eating well doesn't necessarily mean being shortchanged on flavour. The eatery's close proximity to tools and garden hoses is still a mystery, but perhaps that's part of Little Indi's two-in-one appeal. Come for the power tools, stay for the inventive dishes.
Little Indi, 50 McCauley Street, Alexandria NSW instagram.com/insideindian