In 1984 the Cavill family purchased the Beef Barron Restaurant in Labrador, a few miles from the site of the hotel (which by that point had been razed to make way for a shopping mall). The restaurant was gutted and given a distinctive design, which remains to this day and might be most accurately described as bovine hacienda chic.
A life-size trio of slightly weather-beaten fiberglass cows once stood outside the restaurant on a three-level podium, Olympic style, but these days they rest with their heads over the white wooden fence, leaning a little to one side, as if slightly intoxicated. Inside, a long butcher case greets diners, showcasing the available steaks. To the back of the huge room, another cow stands over a large chair, wearing a cowboy hat and pursing its alarmingly red lips. You sit in the chair and take a photo with the cow, because of course you do.
Drinks are ordered at the table from a wait staff that, at least during the summer, seems to be made up mainly of shy but eager teenagers. I can imagine that working at Cav’s is a first-job rite of passage for certain local high schoolers. The bulk of your meal is ordered at the butcher counter: You tell them your table number, the steak you want (pointing is encouraged), the sauce you want (mushroom, chili, pepper or Dianne), the sides you want and anything extra. The most expensive steak is a 350-gram, grass-fed dry-aged eye filet (or filet mignon in American parlance) for $47.90. The larger, more flavorful T-bone is $38.90. It’s a lot of meat. And it’s a bargain.
Cav’s is serious about its meat, so much so that a retail butcher shop operates in a small building separate from the restaurant. The provenance and aging details of each steak are given; eating and comparing them is a basic lesson in the variances of affordable, quality Australian beef.
What Cav’s does best is food that is exceedingly familiar and nostalgic to many Australians, particularly those of Anglo or European descent. The sausage platter, which can be ordered as a starter, is made with the same beef used for the steaks, but it tastes like a slightly fancified version of the all-Australian snag, the sausage you’ll find at every cookout and notoriously on weekends in front of Bunning’s Warehouse, the national hardware chain.
Steakhouses may have gone out of style, but steaks never did, especially not as the counter meal of choice at the thousands of pubs that form the heart of Australian social life. The steaks at Cav’s are better than your average pub steak, but the sauces and sides are familiar. The bread and butter pudding served for dessert with whiskey sauce and vanilla ice cream tastes like pure childhood. This is not a bespoke dessert. There is nothing artisan about it. It would do very well at Outback.
It is not a good idea to order anything at Cav’s much beyond those tried-and-true Australian classics. The mac and cheese is kind of wonderful in a gooey, tawdry way, but other forays into Americana are worrisome. Do not, under any circumstances, order the ribs platter. Even the Caesar salad is pushing your luck. A steak, a bread pudding and a picture with the cow are what you’re here for.
In 2016, Richard Cavill announced plans to raze the stucco building and put up a gleaming new 13-story mixed-use building. Those plans have yet to come to fruition. But the strongest hunger in this part of Queensland is for real estate, not steaks, and certainly not history. If you want this particular taste of Australia, you’d better act fast.
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