8 September 2023

Hidden gem parked in suburban garden planning to expand into the city

| Eileen Mulligan
Start the conversation
Lena Zakharova with her community garden scarecrow dressed to support the Matildas.

Lena Zakharova dressed the community garden scarecrow in green and gold to support The Matildas in the Women’s World Cup. Photo: Eileen Mulligan.

A cute cafe van tucked away in a community vegetable garden is bringing a taste of Eastern Europe to East Corrimal.

Lena Zakharova and her son Dan Zakharov opened Saltie Dog Coffee & Crepes on 1 April this year at the end of Thalassa Ave near Bellambi Lagoon. Like the garden, it is thriving.

Lena bases her creations on traditional Ukrainian crepes, both sweet and savoury, which she cooks on a French crepe machine.

One of her most popular dishes is Chicken Elizabeth, named after her daughter who will turn 10 in September. It is filled with chicken, baby spinach, sauteed mushrooms, tomato, leek and cheese.

Other favourites are ham and cheese crepes, and fetta, mozzarella and spinach crepes, sometimes flavoured with fresh herbs from the community garden.

READ ALSO Five minutes with Elizabeth Burnett, The Quarry Cafe Kiama

“There is a new vegetarian crepe with truffle sauce which is becoming more popular,” Lena said.

For those who prefer sweet treats, Nutella crepes with banana or strawberries are popular accompaniments to a cup of coffee – Gusto coffee by Seven Miles which is roasted in Manly.

“We also sell special homemade cakes on weekends,” Lena said.

The cakes are made by a friend of the family and include oreshki – an Eastern European treat filled with caramelised condensed milk and walnut pieces, delicate honey cake, and Esterhazy torte, a Hungarian cake named after Prince Paul III Anton Esterhazy de Galantha.

Lena has created a charming venue for customers with her collection of vintage toys and curiosities. There are toy trucks, ride-on cars and a blackboard for children to play with, as well as a street library.

The cafe is frequented by nearby residents and visitors walking or cycling along the nearby bike track – and dogs are welcome. There are even ‘Doglato’ treats, gelato for dogs, available for purchase.

Lena tends the community garden when necessary and recently dressed the resident scarecrow in green and gold as a tribute to the Matildas.

For Lena, there is much to celebrate. On Mother’s Day, mums were treated with free coffee and, on Anzac Day, personnel enjoyed free coffee and Anzac biscuits. Lena is planning something special for fathers on Father’s Day, 3 September.

“We will have some Father’s Day specials. I have not decided what it will be but there will be something,” Lena said.

Before moving to Australia 10 years ago, Lena was a prosecutor in Ukraine and on her way to becoming a judge when war with Russia in 2014 disrupted life in her hometown of Sverdlovsk.

READ ALSO Five minutes with Daniel Fountain, Red Nectar, Helensburgh

Now, she is savouring the sweet life in the Illawarra. When she is not cooking crepes, her favourite food is fish, often cooked on a barbecue for family and friends. She loves anything with seafood, especially Italian cuisine, but also Thai and Japanese.

Saltie Dog has been so successful over the winter months, it is about to expand.

“We will soon be opening in Wollongong Central, where the food court is, near McDonald’s, from the end of September,” Lena said.

“I think it is very important to say thank you to everyone who supported us. Many people have supported us and are coming back and have posted some good stuff on social media. So, I would like to say thank you to them for supporting us a lot.”

Saltie Dog Coffee & Crepes is at 29 Birch Crescent, East Corrimal. Opening hours are Tuesday to Friday, 8 am – 3 pm, and weekends 8 am – 4 pm. Phone 0469 829 592, Facebook: Saltie Dog Coffee & Crepes, visit the website or phone 0469 829 592.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Illawarra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Illawarra stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.