THE country town of Wingham, near Taree, has long been on my radar. Not for its State Heritage Register buildings, although there are many, nor the beautiful Manning River that flows through the picturesque Manning Valley. No, I'd wanted to visit Wingham for one reason: Bent on Food. The award-winning cafe and providore has almost single-handedly put Wingham on the foodie map thanks to the tireless work of owner Donna Carrier, a relentless champion of regional produce.
On a humid Sunday morning over the Australia Day long weekend, the town of Wingham itself is so quiet we figure everyone must be in church.
Until we walk into Bent on Food that is, where we find groups of happy diners in the colourful front section of the cafe with its original floorboards, large communal table and shelves groaning with the Bent on Food label and other local goodies.
On hearing the garden houses not only a kids' cubby but baby ducklings as well, our five-year-old is adamant we sit out back, so armed with menus we wander out to the large pleasant alfresco space with its herb and vegetable garden and shady trees.
We take a seat and wait. And wait and wait and wait.
Eventually, we alert one of the staff members that we are there, and in a rush of apology, are quickly attended to.
A neighbouring table yells out that the Bent on Food bacon and egg roll - Turkish bread with two local free-range eggs, baby spinach, Rudi's locally smoked bacon, tasty cheese and Bent on Food tomato relish - is worth travelling for.
Struggling to choose from the terrific menu, we finally opt for free-range scrambled eggs with chives, dill, parsley, Hastings Valley fetta, baby spinach, house made relish and thick house loaf ($14.90) and take another customer's advice and order the fluffy pancakes ($12.50). These arrive golden and perfectly cooked as promised, along with Hastings Valley local honey yoghurt and seasonal fruit attractively presented on the plate.
The eggs are golden, packed with flavour and artfully arranged.
The house made relish is a tasty accompaniment to the eggs while the bed of wilted spinach tastes as if it has just been picked and thrown in the pan - which it very well may have been.
Bent on Food also offers a small kids' menu and our daughter is pleased with her ham sandwich ($5) and strawberry milkshake. The coffee likewise is surprisingly good.
Back inside the buzzing cafe, diners settle in for long leisurely lunches, sipping wine, while others tuck into the wonderful homemade cakes, brownies and scones.
We leave with Bent on Food pasta sauce as well as a local Comboyne Culture camembert and crisp flatbread, which we enjoy that night for dinner at our farm stay in nearby Hannam Vale.
There's so much to like about Bent on Food - its philosophy of fostering and selling local and regional produce, the super-friendly staff and its welcoming surrounds. But by far its biggest drawcard is the wonderful food. The only downside is that we don't live within cooee, but given it's only a few hours drive away, we plan to return and sample the rest of the terrific menu. After all, as the cafe rightly markets itself, Bent on Food is not just a cafe but a destination.
What: Bent on Food.
Where: 95 Isabella Street, Wingham; 65570727.
Hours: Monday to Thursday, 8am-5pm. Friday and Saturday 8am-9pm, Sunday 9am-3pm.
Chef: Nick Samaras.
Wines and beer: An excellent range of local and Australian choices.
Vegetarian: Four breakfast options, a couple of dishes at lunch and three to four choices at dinner.
Bottom line: About $40 will get two people a hearty breakfast and coffee. Dinner of two entrees, two mains and a shared dessert will set you back around $110, excluding alcohol.
Wheelchair access: Yes, and wheelchair-accessible toilets.
Do try: Steak sandwich with MSA-grade Manning Valley Scotch fillet, Bent on Food caramelised onion and thyme jam, tasty cheese, lettuce, garlic aioli on Turkish bread and beer-battered chips.