Food trucks – Altona, Williamstown readers have your say!

3 Comments

alwill1

Disclosure – the two reporters who filed this Maribyrnong/Hobsons Bay Weekly story about food trucks in the west are colleagues of mine; I am quoted in the story and the newspaper has used a photograph provided by CTS.

But I confess to being bemused by the comments in the story by the spokeswomen for both the Altona Village Traders Association and the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce.

Of course, it is the job of such groups to promote and protect the businesses they represent.

But the idea of “running food trucks out of the town” seems a little, um, confrontational.

There are places we like to eat in and shop at in both Williamstown and Altona. We will discover more.

But I can only go with what numerous residents and readers from both suburbs have told me in the years CTS has been operating – that while there is plenty of choice, people in general think there is much that is “average”, over-priced or both.

So Altona and Williamstown readers, what do you think … food trucks, do you want them?

 

 

 

 

 

REAL old-school in Altona

Leave a comment

alex5

Alex Take Away Food, 11 Ford Rd, Altona. Phone: 9398 4267

“If you aren’t paying for a product, you ARE the product.”

Such is the charge often levelled at Facebook

We’re not blind to the creepier aspects of the social media behemoth.

But while keeping them in mind, we find it almost impossible to remain unmoved by the connectedness it can foster.

Take the Altona, I lived there FB page for instance.

In its short life, it has quickly racked up more than 2500 members and become a lively, entertaining focal point for all sorts of stories, photos and reminiscences about Altona.

And it’s how we found out about Alex Take Away Food.

alex4

The address has nothing to do with what most of us non-Altonians think of when we think of Grieve Parade – the freeway exit after the Millers Road one.

Nope, this part of Grieve Parade requires taking the Millers Road exit, heading right down past the refinery, turning right on to Civic Parade and THEN  turning right on to suburban – as opposed to industrial – Grieve Parade.

On the early week night we visit, the place is mad busy.

There’s a heap of customers in-house and there seems to be just as many phone orders coming in.

Everyone but us is a regular. We feel like strangers gatecrashing an intimate gathering of friends and families.

Certainly, the pace is sufficiently frantic to preclude any chit chat and inquiries about just how long this community asset has been doing business right here.

But judging by the funky decor, I’m guessing at least since some time in the 1970s.

We’re in no hurry though, so happily enjoy the vibe until our order is taken.

alex6

There are zero tables or chairs, inside or out.

And unlike almost all the other customers, we can’t simply whisk our goodies home – and even the beach, while reasonably close by, seems a stretch that will ruin our dinner.

So we prop on the footpath right outside the shop, get stuck in and make small talk with some local youngsters while we’re at it.

alex7

Bennie loves his “with the lot” ($7.50).

He’s enough of a burger maven to understand and appreciate that there’s a difference between more American-style burgers and the Aussie variety – and that there’s a time and a place for both.

alex8

My calamari rings ($1) are the of the surimi variety and just OK.

My deep-fried snapper ($7.50) is much better and a real classy piece of work.

The batter is crisp and deep brown, and adheres to the fish pretty good.

The snapper itself is a huge chunk of seafood and has juicy depth of the sort we’ve rarely encountered.

Our chips orders ($4) got lost in the hubbub somewhere, so we end up with some that appear to have been sitting for a while – they’re barely warm and a bit leathery.

But as we saw heaps of chips of what appeared to be excellent quality and appearance be prepared as we waited for our food, we wouldn’t let this minor lapse deter us from returning to this amazing and obviously much-loved neighbourhood joint.

Alex Take Away Food on Urbanspoon

alex2

These foulish things in Altona

6 Comments

seaside34

Seaside Flatbread Cafe, 34 Borrack Square, Altona North. Phone: 9391 6655

It’s a lovely Friday but dad’s not working; nor is son at school.

He’s smashed his right foot something dreadful at school, to the extent we’ve had to get X-rays done.

But the news is all good – no fracture, no further treatment needed than the course of time and the natural healing process. And no need for spending the rest of the day in hospital, waiting to have a cast applied.

Still, he’s earned a nickname for the day – “Hoppy”!

Time for a well-earned lunch break at one of our favourite places.

Since rumour mongering about its imminent arrival and then writing about Seaside Flatbread Cafe and its food, several pertinent things have occurred.

For starters. we’ve become regulars. Not once a day or even once a week regulars, but often enough to satisfy our cravings for Lebanese goodness.

Then both Consider The Sauce and Seaside Flatbread Cafe scored generous, righteous mentions in a story by Nina Rousseau in The Age.

seaside33

Along the way, yours truly helped the business – for a small fee – in getting its Facebook page up and running.

That particular avenue of a career-like future generated by this blog is proving more tricky than anticipated.

I still think a lot of western suburbs eateries really, really need help with social media.

But convincing them of that fact – and that it’s worth paying some cash for – is something else entirely!

In any case, Seaside Flatbread Cafe seems to doing a fine FB job all on its own these days … and besides, we love Rouba, her family, their food and their business so much we’d do what we’ve done for free!

And with any suggestion of conflict of interest dispensed with, we can go back to telling you how much we dig the place.

The week previous to the foot injury, we’d visited with another youngster in tow for a fine lunch of pizzas, including divine Nutella pizzas for Bennie and his wee mate.

In the process, though, we noticed a couple of Lebanese blokes chowing down for another kind of lunch entirely, one we did not even know SFC was purveying.

So we’re back today with for the foul.

First, though, some of our usual faves …

seaside31

Tremendous stuffed vine leaves, this time – oh yes! – topped with slices of luscious, lemony potato I’m pretty sure have been part of the cooking process.

seaside32

Kibbeh ($2 each) tasty and tender, with the delicate lamb and onion mince so liberally studded with pine nuts.

Then it’s foul time …

Rouba tells us that normally she prepares her own fava beans, but as it’s Ramadan, the foul ($8) she whips up for us will be made using canned beans.

We don’t mind that at all.

And if anything, we seem to benefit from having a serve of foul specially prepared for us – the mix of beans, olive oil, garlic and tiny tomato pieces warmed through but not cooked is wonderful and more like a salad than a mashy stew.

On hand are pickles of the turnip, cucumber and very mild pickle variety.

But the real stars of our show are the one, then two terrific breads we are provided straight out of the pizza oven.

They’re big, round and inflated.

But unlike those of a similar bent we enjoy on Sydney Road, these are thin and crisp on top, thicker and moister on their bottoms.

This is a first for Bennie and he just loves the way the rotund breads emit steam when punctured!

Despite it being Ramadan, one other table is enjoying a foul meal.

So I ask Rouba why this dish is not listed on the printed or wall menus.

She tells me “our people” – meaning the Lebanese community – know foul is available without having to be told, and her family has been unsure whether such fare would be enjoyed or even desired by the wider community.

My sense of the situation is that Seaside Flatbread Cafe is feeling its way with what might work and that Rouba and her crew need encouragement to provide broader eat-in food than their very fine pizzas and pies.

In any case, asking what’s available beyond what is listed or otherwise obvious would seem to be a cluey way to proceed at this Altona gem!

One reader who commented on Nina’s story in The Age opined that making a song and dance about a Lebanese cafe in Altona was silly as the western suburbs were rich in Lebanese foodiness.

Well, that’s not my understanding of the situation at all.

Apart from SFC, there’s bakeries in Newport and Altona – and that’s it

If anyone knows otherwise, we’re all ears …

As ever, Bennie finishes with a Nutella pizza ($4).

Despite my skepticism, these really do work, the earthiness of the plain yet wonderful bread working hand in hand with the creamy richness of the saucey spread.

Seaside Flatbread Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Greekgrill

2 Comments

thegreek1

The Greekgrill, 43 Civic Parade, Altona. Phone: 9398 5335

Getting in early seems to have become something of a Consider The Sauce habit of late.

When I ask the staff at The Greekgrill how long they’ve been open, they say since about midday!

Yep, it’s opening day.

That would explain why we haven’t noticed this establishment before.

It’s smack bang in the middle of a small shopping strip that has previously been of little interest to us, save for hitting the ATM of the correct flavour before heading to adventures elsewhere in Altona and environs.

The Greekgrill delivers a variety of options – yes, you can order a burger or kebab wrap or charcoal chicken here.

But what intrigues me are the more substantial and traditional Greek offerings.

And especially at attractively low prices. (As previously noted, we love Greek restaurant food, but that style loses out when the prices are steep compared to more affordable options.)

How about a plate of chicken or lamb gyros with “chips, salad, warm pita bread and tzatziki” for $16.90?

Or “char grilled baby snapper served with lemon and herb scented rice and salad” for $17?

Mixed grill for two goes for $36 and the seafood platter for two costs $42.

I entered seriously contemplating some of these heftier items, but while ascertaining if the taramosalata is house-made – the answer is “yes”, but it’s not on today – I switch paths and figure a light meal is just the ticket for this early evening chow down.

My mixed mezze plate (top photo) is beaut – particularly at $14.

The dips, eaten with warmed and lightly toasted pita bread, are super – an apricot-coloured spicy fetta number with a swell and very cheesy chilli kick, a plain cucumber and yogurt combo, a garlicky eggplant delight, and a beetroot blend that is less sweet than most of its kind but packed with that earthy beetroot flavour.

Elsewhere on my plate are two kinds of olives, kalamata and stuffed green jobs, a few cubes of rather ummemorable fetta and some roasted red capsicum.

I’ve been given a few extras over and above the menu description – perhaps because it’s opening day and they’re looking to impress or perhaps because of the interest I’ve shown.

Small red peppers stuffed with a creamy blend of fetta and ricotta also have a nice chilli hit, while the marinated octopus is chewy but nice enough.

A serve of “dolmadakia” (“vine leaves stuffed with herb rice”) costs $6.50, but I’ve snagged a couple at 50 cents apiece. They’re plain but good.

Judging by the number of locals dropping in to grab menus, it seems The Greekgrill will prove a winner.

The Greekgrill on Urbanspoon

thegreek6

thegreek7

thegreek5

Seaside Flatbread Cafe

5 Comments

seaside24

Seaside Flatbread Cafe, 34 Borrack Square, Altona North. Phone: 9391 6655

Since first spying the soon-to-be-opened Lebanese food emporium in Borrack Square, I have driven by several times to check on progress.

And I have driven away hungry and looking elsewhere – until this Saturday lunch time.

Such is my excitement, Bennie suggests I keep my expectations in check.

Fair call that – but one that proves unnecessary.

We’re told the place has been open for three days and that it’s been a “madhouse”.

The word is obviously out.

Pizzas and pies are going into the oven and out the door at a hectic rate.

Multiple customers are coming and going. A few are hunkering down at the outdoor tables. But most are getting their pies and pizzas and heading for home.

We plan on inhaling something from that sector of what’s available, but we’re happily hungry and determined to see what else can be had as well. We grab one of the two indoor tables.

Such is our extravagant lunching enthusiasm, we keep only a partial check on pricing.

But a quick scan of your basic Lebanese bakery items fully indicates how things are here -  your basic oregano pizza costs $1.50, a cheese pie $2.50 and most of the rest of the pizzas $4, including our kafta number with “minced beef, tomato, onion, parsley and spices”.

seaside25

It’s a fantastic, delicate bargain – the meat and seasoning topping does indeed boast that distinctive kafta flavour.

Other pizza and pie varieties include spinach and cheese, vegetarian, soujuk, meat, shanklish and labne.

Our spread of other and more diverse Seaside treats is just as good.

seaside21

The fattoush and cabbage salad are unavailable at the time of our visit, but the tabouli makes a fine substitute – it’s wet and lemony, which is how we like it. Salads come in $3 and $4 sizes.

The stuffed vine leaves are advertised as costing $2 for three, but they’re quite small so we are given four. They, too, are exemplary, with the al dente rice tightly bound.

Our hummus and babaghanoush, mild and smooth, are fresh and delicious.

seaside22

Often the outer, bulghur-based shells of kebbeh can be old-boot tough.

Joyfully that is not the case with our two $2 delights – the shells are refined and a dark brown to match the scrumptious inner filling of lamb, seasonings and pine nuts.

Gosh, they’re good!

It seems inconceivable that Seaside Flatbread Cafe will not become a home away from home for us, just as there are already so many devoted customers.

Bennie is straining at the bit to get back there to try the nutella pizza ($3).

Me, I’ll be seeking an opportunity to ditch the at-home muesli routine to try the Traditional Lebanese Breakfast of “egg, soujuk, labneh, cucumber and served with fresh Lebanese bread” ($9).

Seaside Flatbread Cafe is open from 6.30am-5pm Monday to Friday and 6.30am-2pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

Seaside Flatebread Cafe on Urbanspoon

Altona Fresh

9 Comments

fresh9

Altona Fresh, 62-76 Second Ave, Altona North. Phone: 9399 1390

At the launch of Feasting In Footscray, invited guests were provided with showbags of goodies, among which were copies of The Foodies’ Guide To Melbourne by Michele Curtis and Allan Campion.

At home, I proceeded to nonchalantly flip through the book, homing in – of course – on content concerned with the western suburbs, somewhat smug in the assumption that any such content would hold no surprises.

I was wrong.

Altona Fresh – what’s that?

Yet when I googled the address and checked out the street view, I realised we had driven past Altona Fresh in pre-CTS times.

The world looks very different these days, besides which the establishment’s exterior is a tad on the dull side.

So it’s a joy to set foot through the automatic doors and discover a true foodie haven.

fresh11

I enjoy chatting with Sandra, part of the family that has run the business here for 20 years and an earlier generation of which operated out the premises that continues as The Circle Fruit Fiesta.

It’s interesting to discover how the store’s product range has evolved as the area has changed.

So while there’s an undeniable Italian-ness about the place, there are, too, many products of a more rounded and diverse range.

fresh7

The Foodies’ Guide To Melbourne describes Altona Fresh as “being “like a mini-Mediterranean Wholesalers”.

It’s true this place is more compact than the famed Sydney Rd emporium, but I think the comparison does Altona Fresh a disservice.

There are, however, two major differences – Altona Fresh sells fresh produce and doesn’t sell alcohol.

More generally, though, the range and breadth of what is available here seems to match or equal anything to be had at Mediterranean Wholesalers.

Sandra tells me the fresh produce is these days taking up less space than previously, but what I see is of excellent quality and pricing.

For this first visit I only have a small shopping list, so this story and the photos that accompany it are necessarily a somewhat superficial look at what is sure to become regular fixture for us.

fresh12

I buy some Maltese sausages from the bustling deli section – $10.99 for snags that appear splendidly rich and highly seasoned.

fresh10

We’re not a big cheese household, but the Altona Fresh line-up impresses.

fresh8

And how about this swell array of olives and antipasti?

Check out the Altona Fresh website here.

fresh13

fresh5

fresh2

fresh1

fresh6

fresh3

fresh5

fresh14

Altona Beach Bites

10 Comments

altona4

Altona Beach Bites, 137 Esplanade, Altona. Phone: 9398 1444

Alongside a range of your regulation soft drinks, there’s bottles and cans of Lemon & Paeroa in the fridge.

The blackboard specials line-up includes kumara fritters.

On a wall there is a number plate-style sign that says: “Kia Ora.”

Below it is one of the handwritten variety saying: “Uncooked mutton birds in brine.”

Yes, this is Kiwi territory – so naturally I feel right at home for lunch on a sunny day right next to Altona Beach.

The place used to be called Altona Ice, but has been run for the past couple of years by Kristen and Marty, the latter being the New Zealand factor.

It’s a cheerful old-school fish and chippery that also does souvlakis, burgers and even mussel chowder.

There’s only a single bench seat and no dedicated interior seating for eating.

There are, though, a handful of outdoor tables, and happily the one that is being shaded from the sun becomes vacant just as my lunch number is called.

altona1

My outdoor lunch is most excellent – and certainly a lot more toothsome than the pallid impression cast by my photo would suggest.

The very good chips are old-school, too, and of uniform crispness.

The calamari rings ($1 each) are actually “calamari rings” – that is, surimi-style, processed relatives of seafood extender.

I used to get a bit sniffy and even angry about this kind of thing, but since researching surimi last year I’ve mellowed.

These are well cooked and taste fine, though I’d prefer to be informed when I order.

In any case, Kristen later tells me that they often do have real-deal calamari on the go.

My butterfish ($5.80) is superb and delicious in every way. This is state-of-the-art battered and deep-fried fish.

It’s bloody big, too!

Encased in good batter that adheres really well, the fish is mild of flavour and both delicate and firm.

I suspect Altona Beach Bites probably gets a bit insane on sunny weekends, especially in tandem with the adjoining ice-cream parlour, so mid-week visits are probably the go.

Funny thing is, I have no recollection of what Lemon & Paeroa tastes like.

And I have no desire whatsoever to refresh my memory – even if the stuff is “World Famous In New Zealand”.

Altona Beach Bites on Urbanspoon

altona7

altona6

altona5

UCAN Cafe

Leave a comment

ucan2

UCAN Cafe, Altona North Community Library, corner Millers and McArthurs roads, Altona North. Phone: 9391 7929

UCAN Cafe, tucked away in the Altona North Community Library, is a low-key cafe and catering business set up “to provide a career path for those in the community who have a disability”.

The cafe’s siting – wedged between two wings of the building – hardly seems auspicious, but it’s a lovely sunny morning, for once I’m out and about for breakfast and I snag an outdoor seat.

Nor does the cafe itself look anything flash – if you’re looking for a westie new wave hipster vibe, look elsewhere.

Of course, none of that matters to me – I’m far more interested in my first coffee of the day and whether it’ll cut the proverbial mustard.

It does.

ucan1

One very fine cafe latte, slowly enjoyed as I read one of the newspaper thingies for whom I used to work and grabbed with a wave of approval by the librarian in the adjacent and just-opened-for-the-day library.

The cafe does the kind of food it looks like it may do – muffins, wraps, sandwiches and so on.

But there’s a few more substantial items on the menu, which you can check out at the UCAN website.

As well, daily specials of the soup and salad variety are scrawled on the tall glass doors that lead to the outdoor seating area.

My avocado with tomato salsa ($6, top picture) is a light breakfast treat.

I really appreciate the use of a lighter kind of bread – in this case two slices of nicely toasted and slightly chewy casalinga – rather than the sourdough that is usually utilised when avocado comes to breakfast.

The avo slices are perfectly matched with the light salsa that has just the right degree of oiliness and vinegariness.

I summon another cafe latte, which is just as good as the first. Like its predecessor, it’s not that strong but has great depth of flavour and achieves the neat trick of being neither tepid enough to down in a single swallow nor too hot to drink.

Excellent!

I’ve enjoyed my brief visit to this rather surprising but worthwhile Altona hideaway.

UCAN Cafe is open Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 4pm.

Ucan café on Urbanspoon

ucan3

ucan4

OMG, OMG, OMG …

Leave a comment

seaside1

It’s open – see review HERE.

We love the pies and pizzas we eat or buy at a couple of places in the west.

But we have long lamented the lack of a more broad and deep Middle Eastern food experience in the western suburbs.

In particular, we dream of the sort food provided by the likes of Al-alamy and Abbout Falafel House in Coburg – not full-service Lebanese restaurants complete with multiple kebab offerings, but instead offering an array of pies, pizzas AND divine dips served with pita bread, terrific salads and condiments such as salty, crunchy pickles and olives.

And all at super-cheap prices.

Well, now it seems as though those dreams are soon to come true.

Seaside Flatbread Cafe will be opening in “about two weeks” on Borrack Square, near the corner of Millers and  McArthurs roads, Altona, and tucked in behind Millers Inn.

That’s the word from a fellow named Sem, who I talk to as the fit-out work proceeds.

He seems a little bemused at the intensity of my curiosity, but when I gesture at the window art – containing images not just of pies and pizzas but the full ranges of dips, salads, falafels, pickles and more – and ask if that’s what his shop will deliver, he answers in the affirmative.

Yes!

There’s even pictures of the sort of gorgeous house-made flatbread served at Abbout that is served like a blown-up bladder, emitting steam as it is torn open.

seaside2

Dawat A Treat

3 Comments

dawat1

Dawat A Treat Indian Restaurant, 75 Pier St, Altona. Phone: 9398 8159

A non-meat thali for $14.90?

Sounds a bit on the pricey side to me … but I’m game, especially as Dawat A Treat is such a nice room in which to be contemplating lunch.

The rather anonymous frontage – the restaurant has been open only a few months but I have no recall what was here previously – gives way to a long, cool room.

The chairs are plush and comfy, and each and every table is crowned with a jolly, brightly coloured and ornamentally adorned parasol.

The long, regulation menu (no Indo-Chinese here) lists vegetable curry mains for about $15, meat varieties for $16-$17 and seafood for $16-$22, so the thali charge makes sense.

dawat2

My thali looks and tastes a treat, and is a joy in almost every way.

Crisp papadum joined by a fresh, moist naan.

Silky smooth spinach puree perfumed with whole cardamoms and a single star anise seed.

A bright mix of cauliflower, courgette, peas and potato in which the protagonists all retain a satisfying degree of bite.

A fabulous, smooth dal flavoured with curry leaves and mustard seeds.

All of the above seem to be of a spice level just a notch above mild. 

The only jarring note – and one easily discarded given the quality of the rest – is the overly sweet raita.

It’s only as I go to pay for my meal that I discover my fretting over a few dollars here and there has been misplaced if not completely out of line.

Because the $14.95 fee also covers the can of soft drink I have indulged in AND I’ve still got dessert to come.

For a meal of this quality and presentation, this is all starting to look like a bargain!

A single, gorgeous gulab jamun dumpling is a hot, plump and wholly scrumptious pleasure bomb residing is sticky syrup and topped with shredded coconut.

Dawat A Treat Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

dawat5

dawat3

dawat6

dawat4

Mo Jo La Coffee

Leave a comment

mojola1

Mo Jo La Coffee, Cherry Lake, Millers Rd, Altona.

Laurence has been running his coffee service at Cherry Lake since September.

He tells me the business is going fine, to the extent he’s even pondering an extension into food realms.

A carpenter in his previous life, he built his very cool cart himself.

He’s open seven days a week and from around 6am on week days.

That’s when he gets good custom from the commuters; later on in the day there’s an influx of mum with babes and toddlers in tow.

The cafe latte he makes me is terrific – hot and strong.

The business gets its name from Laurence’s daughters – Moana, Joanne and Lauren.

mojola3

Over by the lake itself, I get talking to a trio gregarious fishermen.

Vladimir, Paul and Vladimir are all from Altona by way of Slovakia.

They tell me they’re trying catch the pest species carp.

When they then tell me it’s not unusual for the anglers hereabouts to pull in carp weighing six, seven, eight and more kilograms, I frankly and rather rudely express strident disbelief.

Surely they’re winding me up?

So Paul sends me over to examine the contents of a big red bucket at the fishing pozzie of some fellow fishermen about 20 metres away.

mojola2

Peering in, I am gobsmacked to see a still very much alive fish that is at least a foot and a half long!

The boys tell me that the carp they catch here make good eating, but that they remove the oily skins and that the fish does have a lot of bones.

One of the Vlads cheerfully informs me that if he were to reveal the secret ingredients of his bait balls, he’d then be obliged to shoot me.

mojola4

mojola5

Just Sweets

1 Comment

Just Sweets, 26 Upton St, Altona. Phone: 9315 0553

You could go to the Just Sweets website to order their super rocky road, gingerbread houses and more online.

But to a large and loving degree, that would be missing the point.

Watching Enzo Amato preside over the 9am mummy rush hour for coffees and chats, in which he seemingly knows the names of each and every customer, it’s clear that this is a hands-on, community-based business full of passion and enthusiasm.

Like his wife and business partner, Maria, Enzo is Italian-born but was raised in Switzerland before coming to Australia.

His family background is very much of the shoemaker tradition, but here he found himself in the food industry, specialising in fruit and vegetables.

But he’s always had a sweet tooth, and eventually friends started suggesting that if produced his famed rocky road in salable quantities it would be a big hit.

He was very skeptical, but gave it a go – and after that first, and successful, outing at a Healesville market, they haven’t looked back.

Just Sweet sells a variety of sweet treats and candy from outside sources, but the prides and joys are the likes of the rocky road – 17 varieties! – and the gingerbread houses.

Nougat and individual chocolates are also made in-house.

I ask Enzo about the history of rock road.

He reckons it has its roots in the Great depression as a sort-of  “poor man’s food”.

Back home and online, I find some unsubstantiated information along those lines.

Yet an equally unverified entry on Wikipedia would have it that rocky road is very much a product of Australia’s 1850′s goldfields.

A mystery!

Just Sweets has been running for about three years at its Altona location, an old corner store that’s not actually on a corner, but is right across the road from Altona Primary School.

I suggest that such intimate proximity of a sugary shop and a school must surely be the principal’s worst nightmare.

Enzo laughs, saying Just Sweets and the school have a beaut relationship that stays on the right side of healthy eating habits.

Just Sweets even provides the supplied school lunches, including sandwiches and the like.

Enzo and Maria never envisaged their enterprise becoming a coffee stop and community hub, but after watching the business at work, their accountant advised to make precisely that move.

Yet the coffee machine has seen Just Sweets even more firmly embedded in the neighbourhood.

Waffee Waffles + Coffee

Leave a comment

Waffee Waffle + Coffee, 25 Harrington Square, Altona. Phone: 9398 1689

We do breakfast out less than a handful of times a year, so are quite happy to really indulge when we do.

As in lashings of rashers or, as in this case, wonderfully sticky and chewy waffles.

There’s another reason to check out Waffee at breakfast time – out first effort to do so quickly resulted in us learning there’s no Saturday lunch to be had.

That’s fair enough, as there’s no savoury element to be found here at all.

Waffee is a small and seemingly often busy and much-cherished cafe in Altona’s Harrington Square.

There’s a communal table for about six people, a couple of tables for two and some stools at the window bench, where set up shop.

We go for the “half dozen assorted” for $15, including blueberry, cinnamon, chocolate glazed, raspberry white chocolate and hot cross.

Each waffle is served tucked neatly into its own “open” brown paper bag.

They’re semi-crispy on the outside, with a lot more substance than your usual waffle. In fact, they’re quite dense and chewy. And filling …

These waffles are made, I am told, in the style of Belgian city of Liege and are fully meant to be heavier and chewier.

Whatever the girth dynamics, they’re delicious … and, unsurprisingly, where dad prefers the more austere cinnamon, Bennie fully loves the likes of the chocolate glazed.

The waffles go super fine with our very good cafe latte and hot chocolate.

Quite apart from the cool waffles and coffee, the service here is a strong reason to return – it’s very much of the smiling, friendly and door-opening variety.

Much obliged!

Waffee Waffle+Coffee on Urbanspoon

Sweet Rice again …

2 Comments

Sweet Rice, 102 Millers Rd, Altona North. Phone: 9315 3691

Having enjoyed our debut meal at Sweet Rice in Altona, with Consider The Sauce buddy Keri for company, we are keen to return to explore the menu further.

Truth is, yours truly dominated the ordering procedure on that visit, and not all that skillfully, either … we ended up with a lovely meal that was nevertheless dominated by fried items.

This time around, we’re joined by our lovely next door neighbours, Rob and Ming.

I am determined to order the green mango fish – for the simple reason it’s been tipped as the menu highlight by Andy of Krapow, which specialises in Thai food.

That’s good enough for me!

Other than that, I tell Ming and Rob, I plan to take  strictly hands-off approach – they can figure it out with Bennie.

So that’s what we do … and we have fine old time.

No entrees, five mains including a salad, rice.

The quantities and quality are all pretty much spot on, and our choices arrive in as quick time as can be expected..

Grilled beef salad ($9.90) has exactly the sort of zingy flavour, without much by way of a chilli hit, we are expecting.

But in other ways this dish puzzles us, as we are all used to Thai salads being made of much more finely chopped ingredients, or with meat that is finely shredded or comes in a crumbly mince form.

Here, the beef is simply larger slices of wok-cooked meat and the vegetables are equally large pieces of lettuce, cherry tomatoes and onion slices.

Nice, though.

Red curry chicken ($9) is smooth and creamy, with plenty of chicken and vegetables, including cherry tomatoes, capsicum and juilenned bamboo shoots.

But it seems almost shockingly mild in its seasoning levels.

Nice, too, but is this another case of an eatery catering to suburban takeaway expectations, perceived or otherwise?

Green mango fish ($12.90) – thanks, Andy! – is the big flavour hit of the night, even winning favour with the usually fish-hating Bennie.

A more than adequate array of crispy-battered and finely cooked fish fillets (we forget to ask what kind) are buried beneath a cheerful wig of mango strands, onion, chilli rings and coriander.

There’s a big lemon hit and everyone is happy.

You’ll be unsurprised to know that sweet and sour pork ($9, top photo) is a Bennie nomination.

But you may be surprised, as we are, that this dish – a Thai twist on a Chinese cliche – goes down a treat.

There’s little by way of sweet or sour, but the sticky sauce goes well with the light, ungreasy and nicely chewy battered pork pieces.

Prawns with chilli and basil sauce ($10.50) provides, at long last, the spice hit for which we have seemingly been yearning.

Indeed, the chilli levels are a bit too high for Bennie, but it’s all good and there’s plenty of prawns.

Oddly enough, I must have been suffering from chilli deprivation, because the remnants of the red curry chicken taste better after a run-in with high spice levels.

We’ve enjoyed a really nice meal that has never really reached stellar heights but that for sure places Sweet Rice in a niche significantly above your average suburban Thai restaurants.

Matched with incredible prices – our dinner for four, including three soft drinks, just barely tops $60 – and it’s easy and right to classify Sweet Rice as a true gem.

Thanks to Rob and Ming for the company and lending us their tastebuds!

Sweet Rice on Urbanspoon

Gulati’s

1 Comment

Gulati’s, 23 Harrington Square, Altona. Phone: 9315 9655

The process of stumbling upon Gulati’s had been an unusual one.

Reading online news stories about a shocking, brutal incidence of urban violence, on one level my mind had been in something akin to shock.

On another, it had been asking questions: “Book shop? Harrington Square? Altona? What?”

Some quick twiddling with Google maps soon verified the whereabouts of an Altona nook on which we’d never laid eyes.

More quick twiddling – this time with street view – allowed me to play cyber rubbernecker.

Ambling around the square with my mouse, I soon gazed upon the book shop in question.

And right next door – Oh, yes! – was an Indian restaurant.

A few weeks later, and I am standing in the car park of Harrington Square, a medium-to-small suburban shopping precinct.

Book shop? Check. Indian restaurant? Check.

Even better, on the other side of the eatery is a Thai joint, while another of Indian persuasion lies across the square.

Gulati’s itself is quite different from the cheap eats/takeaway shack I had in my mind’s eye.

In fact, it’s quite chic and a pleasant space to spend some time in.

Gawd – there’s even cloth napkins!

(This is usually taken by us a symbol of fine dining …)

This means I’ll be spending more than had been anticipated when setting out on my eat-and-run Saturday night adventure.

But what the hey – I figure a low-key Kenny treat is definitely in order.

The service is friendly but a little on the slow side to begin with – but that’s OK; it is early in the evening.

Gulati’s is pretty much a straight-up suburban Indian eatery with all the usuals, including tandoori goodies, and none of your dosas or Indo-Chinese options.

Meat/fish mains cost $12, vegetable mains $9.50.

I break my own “plain naan only” rule by ordering onion kulcha ($3) and am really happy to have done so.

The small onions pieces add a sweetness and complexity to a very good piece of bread that has a nice chewiness to it.

Machere jhol ($12), described as “fish cooked with eggplant – a taste of Bengal”, is marvellous.

There’s a goodly number of small, boneless and firm but beautifully cooked cutlets of what I subsequently discover is rockling mixing it with tender, delicious chunks of eggplant.

I later discover online numerous versions of this Bengali recipe, but there are so many variations I find it hard to discern any single theme.

And none that I find include the mustard seeds that provide such a fine pop and texture to the lovely and apparently unoily curry gravy of my dish.

My plain rice ($2.50) is OK, the raita ($3) thick and creamy and with scant cucumber quotient.

As I wrap up a most enjoyable dinner, Gulati’s has become companionably busy with locals.

I envy them having this place as a local.

In the meantime, I’ll have to return on another day to peruse the book shop.

Given the scarcity of book shops in the west, I’m excited by the prospect

Gulatis Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sweet Rice

9 Comments

Sweet Rice, 102 Millers Rd, Altona North. Phone: 9315 3691

We arrive for our early and long-awaited dinner at Sweet Rice to find a rather dowdy cheap eats cafe.

The atmosphere seems a little gloomy, perhaps because the place is empty except for us and is barely warm on a very cold evening. And even though the lighting glare is soon to play havoc with photography.

Happily, by the time we are well into our meal the room has filled considerably, presenting a much more merry impression.

We are delighted about being joined by Consider The Sauce regular Keri – for the fine company, for the extra breadth three folks confer on the ordering process and the fact she gets into the swing of things by reminding me on a couple of occasions to take photos.

I get that way sometimes when I’m hungry and excited about eating in a new place!

The food here is cheap by any standards – by the standards of Thai restaurants in Melbourne, it seems exceptionally cheap.

Making us more excited is the fact there are quite a few novel items on the menu.

Some things we want to order – spicy lamb roti, beef noodle soup (whatever that is in a Thai context) – are unavailable.

The vegetable curry puffs ($4.50) are nice enough. But they’re so tiny that they seem almost all pastry and the filling gets lost in the jostle.

Keri’s no big of fish cakes; neither am I, to tell you the truth.

But these ($5.90), in my experience, are as good as we’ve had.

In this case, the rubbery effect is rather pleasing and it’s obvious by the internal greenery of sliced spring onion that these are house-generated.

The chicken satay skewers ($6.90) are ordered by command of Bennie; the rest of the team is happy to go along.

He loves them; his dad finds the chicken meat OK but a little fibrous.

But it’s the sauce that impresses – not so much peanutty, but with a lovely flavour that has a tang of curry about it.

Soft shell crab (top photo, $12.90) is Keri’s choice and it’s an outright winner.

The tiny crabs are tender and a little crunchy at the same time, while the batter and seasoning seem very much along the same lines of those found on salt-and-pepper calamari and chicken ribs in Malaysian joints.

Chu chee curry fish ($9.50) is, I’m later told, like a cross between a red curry and a panang curry.

Some rudimentary online sleuthing indicates that is very much the case, while I find one reference that maintains that it “is based on a red curry sauce and distinguished by the use of kaffir lime leaves and basil – it is a thick spicy sauce that is different from other Thai curries because of the texture“.

In any case, it’s delightful that in our dish the battered fish (we forget to forget to ask the species) is both crispy and covered in the gravy.

The accompanying vegetables are both vibrant of colour and lovely to eat.

Only problem is the parsimonious quantity of sauce.

When I’d earlier asked about the pork shank ($12.90), I’d been told it is deep fried.

We thought: Why not?

Still, we are surprised by the sheer size and imposing presence of our dish. Definitely a first for all of us!

The whole thing has been rubbed with five-spice and cinnamon.

There’s quite a lot of meat, which is pleasantly tasty and chewy in a nice way but a long way short of fall-off-the-bone tender.

The crackling is dry but actually quite tough, but yours truly gobbles a fair amount of it anyway.

Just as well there’s three of us – this dish would be ludicrous for a single diner and a bit on the over-the-top side for a couple. It’s made, we suggest, for group dining.

The presence of some unusual items on the Sweet Rice menu may have led us – oh, OK, me! – astray.

Had we stuck with a more orthodox order that included, say, a tangy salad, a regular curry and a vegetable-heavy vegetable wok dish, we may have enjoyed a more well-rounded dinner.

However, despite some oddities along the way, we’ve seen and tasted enough to reckon Sweet Rice may provide not only some of Melbourne’s cheapest Thai food but also some of its very best. There’s a home-cooked vibe here that defies any expectations of sauce-out-of-a-bottle.

The service was obliging and our food arrived in good time.

It’ll be interesting to see what the experts at krapow think about the place when they get around to it.

Ms Baklover at Footscray Food Blog is certainly a fan.

Thanks to Keri for being part of the team!

Sweet Rice on Urbanspoon

Altona Beach Market

Leave a comment

Altona Beach Market, Pier St and Logan Reserve, every Tuesday.

It’s other business that has brought me to the Altona Beach shopping precinct, so it astounds that I walk right into the middle of a market – on a Tuesday of all days.

But here it is, stretching up and down Pier St and into some of the park places nearer the beach.

It surprises as much to learn it’s been going – every Tuesday – for five years.

Truth to tell, though, business is far from brisk, despite the beautiful sunny Indian summer weather.

Chris tells me his performance skills, which he utilises in the promotion and sales of his sooper dooper chopping and slicing contraption, are well honed.

But, today at least, he laments the total lack of an audience.

Other stallholders I talk to grumble good-naturedly about too much wind and too few customers.

By 1.30pm, several are already packing up well ahead of the advertised closing time.

Shishka Cafe

Leave a comment

71 Pier St, Altona. Phone: 9398 8580

This restaurant is now closed.

Authentic Lebanese food in Altona?

You bet!

We’d been alerted to the arrival of Shiska by flyers at the Lebanese Bakery at The Circle, also in Altona.

Foolishly, I’d neglected to take one with me and promptly forgot the name of the new venture.

Its newness – it only opened its doors about a month before Christmas – defied my online sleuthing, so as we amble up Pier St we are living in hope that dad has got the details right.

And there it is – right between a Viet place we’ve never tried and pretty good-looking charcoal chicken shop.

We’ve always found Pier St a bit of non-event in the fang stakes, but things are looking up.

We’ve enjoyed another fine day for cycling and another fine ride – under the bridge and around the bay, with the wind at our backs.

We stopped at the pier in Williamstown to have a chat with Julian.

He’s set up shop with a handful of quadricycles.

This is his first day and he has yet to snag a customer.

We wish him well!

We are certainly not without favoured options in our greater neighbourhood when it comes to kebabs, dips and salads of a Mediterranean nature, most notably at Footscray Best Kebab House and Flemington Kebab House.

But when it comes to the moreish and distinctive flavours of Lebanon, all we’ve found is Cedar Grill in Newport. We enjoyed it, but in truth it seems more set up as a takeaway joint doing good trade in pizzas, burgers and – yes – kebabs.

Based on our very fine lunch, Shiska is the answer.

The decor is a bit daggy, while menu items such as chicken parma and chips and some main courses that seem to fall into the Aussie contemporary bag show only wisdom that relying only on Lebanese customers  may not be sufficient to ensure success.

Even though Altona seems to be a stronghold for folks of that persuasion.

But there’s enough Lebanese specialties at the right sort of prices to warrant Shishka serious consideration.

Bennie goes for the very good value of the $9 kebab wrap and can of soft drink.

He loves every mouthful. He adores it. He rates it 9 1/2 out 10, but that may have something to do with the fact he got exactly what he wanted.

His dad orders the foul ($12) and the eggplant dip ($7).

When compared to the $7 foul at Al-Alamy, this may seem a bit steep – but it’s a big serve, and when combined with the dip, pickles and other bits and pieces it make for a ripper $19 meal for two.

Shishka Cafe brings a Lebanese flavour to Altona.

The beans and chick peas are served whole, swimming in their juices and olive oil.

We mash ‘em up and they go just right with the cucumber slices, black olives, pickled turnip, mint sprigs, tomato pieces and green onion strands – it’s plain, honest food and a delight to inhale.

The dip, topped with more olive oil and pomegranate seeds, looks like humus but has a nice texture and lemony flavour.

It’s a lovely feast, and even though Bennie has already scarfed his kebab he, too, indulges in the Lebanese vegetarian delights, making our order about right.

Next time we’ll be interested to check out the likes of the falafel (six served with pickles and pita for $10), kibbeh ($20) and chilli, coriander and potato salad, while the $25 platter of lamb, chicken, three dips and rice may also be a winner.

The kofta plate of three skewers with dip and “parsley salad” costs $15 and there is a kids’ menu of calamari, fish bites, lasagna or nuggets for $7.

The service is fine and friendly and we are not charged extra for more pita bread.

Bunnings sausage sizzle

5 Comments

Bunnings, 290-298 Millers Rd, Altona. Phone: 8331 5800

At just about high noon, as I depart the parking lot at the Altona branch of Bunnings, I am liberally adorned with the not unpleasant pong of Aroma de Sausage Sizzle.

This seems a small price to pay for the fun of watching the happy and hard-working crew from Seaholme Primary School going about the serious business of raising funds for their school via a Bunnings sausage sizzle.

Not to mention the scarfing of two delicious snags on bread, hold the onions, judicious dabs of tomato sauce and mustard.

The previous year, they’d raised $1200 and this year they’re looking to do significantly better.

I reckon their chances are looking pretty good.

There’s an ebb and flow to the sausage trade this morning, but it’s pretty intense, and there seems to be a rush hour, well, every 10 minutes or so.

Just about everyone who is done with their chores at Bunnings, and more than a few just starting, seems to stop by for snags for themselves and their families.

Bolstering the air of optimism among Team Seaholme is the fact that the following day is Fathers Day, so Bunnings is likely to be doing a roaring trade.

The school’s sausage sizzle co-ordinator, Suzanne Croft (that’s her in the pic above, with sunnies, third from right) fills me on the preparations required to get the show up and running.

The sausage sizzles are so popular and such an effective method of raising desperately needed money for all sorts of community groups that the waiting lists can often be longer than six months.

Bunnings supplies the cooking facilities and marquee, the community groups supply the rest.

Suzanne sourced the bread and sausages (at $4 a kilogram) from Aussie Farmers Direct. The local franchise holder is a school parent, but Suzanne tells me this sort of community engagement is what the company does anyhow.

She hit up various local supermarkets for vouchers she redeemed for canned soft drinks and condiments.

She estimates the cash outgoings for the school at about $50.

They’re selling snags for $2.50 and drinks for $1.50 – and it’s just about all profit.

These sausage sizzles are undoubtedly a good look and good business for Bunnings, but I reckon they’re pretty much a win-win situation all round – making a lot of people happy and doing good, too.

They’ve certainly become a colourful, notable part of the Australian weekend landscape.

Officeworks do them, too.

And as I head for Sunshine Fresh Food Market, I pass another in the forecourt of Tasman Market Fresh Meats in Brooklyn.

Sure seems to beat the drip-drip-drip and rather passive fundraising method of flogging sad-sack chocolate bears and other candy in workplaces!

***

Post-script:

Hi Kenny,

Just thought I’d drop you a line and let you know that on Saturday we made a profit of $1,553 from the Bunnings BBQ for our school – Seaholme Primary.

 I hope you enjoyed the sausage … we had many comments approving of them. It would be great if you could mention that Aussie Farmers Direct were the suppliers of those sausages.

 Cheers, Suzanne Croft.

The Circle revisited

6 Comments

Lebanese Bakery, 41 The Circle, Altona North. Phone 9391 7991

International Foods, 37-39 The Circle, Alton North. Phone: 9399 3434

Al Amena, 29 The Circle, Altona North. Phone: 9399 2526

Doing the Consider The Sauce has wrought various changes in our habits and lives.

For one thing, it’s made it tougher to regularly visit our favourite haunts. Though the eateries the made the top five we provided to Leader newspapers have certainly all been revisited since the story was published.

On a brighter note, we are looking at our vast and intriguing neighbourhood with new eyes.

We are taking more interest in the shopping strips and precincts we pass as we cruise around. This is a good thing!

More prosaically, blogging has altered our more mundane and earthy shopping habits.

To that end, The Circle in Altona has become our favourite. It’s a bit of drive from our Yarraville pad, but worth it for the breadth, cost and pleasure of the enterprise.

We’ve finally twigged that the hub has an IGA, at which we can pick up staples such as Black & Gold rolled oats to make muesli.

We get the dried fruit and nuts for the muesli at The Circle Fruit Fiesta, along with all the fruit and vegetables we need, and sometimes pasta and tinned tomatoes.

But before we get around to that sort of stocking up, we now routinely stop at The Circle’s Lebanese bakery for lunch, so’s to make sure we aren’t indulging in the folly of shopping on empty stomachs.

This place doesn’t seem to have a name as such – various searches revealed that out there in listings land it’s still annotated as “The Circle Fish and Chips”, even though it’s these days a spartan Lebanese pizza-and-pie joint that enjoys considerable business.


Eating in, we love the $2 oregano pizza topped with our choice of very fresh cucumber, green capsicum, tomato, black olives and onion at 50c per item. Rolled up and presented in a form that looks just like a takeaway kebab, these could technically be called salad rolls – but the deserve far better than to be compared with the insipid salad rolls dispensed by your average sandwich shop.

For taking home, bunging in the freezer or for school/work lunches, we favour the spinach and cheese pies and the fabulous chicken and tomato pies. The latter are stuffed with chopped chicken and juicy fresh tomatoes, and liberally seasoned with oregano. Careful, though – when heated the high fluid content can lead to scorching heat of the food napalm kind!

Next door is International Foods, which has a large grocery/dry goods section we are only starting to explore and a good range of fruit/vegetables that is nevertheless more modest than that of Fiesta next door.


But what we do like, a lot, at International Foods are the individually wrapped pieces of nougat, which come in a range of eye-snagging colours and flavours – several with pistachios, one covered in dried rose petals and one, we found recently, that tastes like cough medicine past its use-by date. No matter – these are another hit for lunchbox inclusion.

Also at International Foods are a range of wrapped Lebanese cakes for $2 a pop from Balha’s Pastry in Brunswick. Again, these are big on pistachios – dates, too. More fine lunchbox fodder.


A few doors further on is Al Amena, a small and typical halal butcher.

In due course we will surely be buying some of their affordable chicken and lamb, but in the meantime we are totally hot on their hot dogs. My ears pricked up when told by the staff that their hot dogs were made for them by a South African sausage maker, it being well-known that that nation knows a thing or two about snag manufacturing.

We love our hot dogs, and always have some in the freezer.

We especially love the heavily smoked porky varieties sold by the likes of Andrew’s Choice in Yarraville. Good as they are though, they’re sold by Andrew’s at exactly the same price as their ritzy snags – that is, nudging towards $20 a kilogram.

That works out at about $2 a single hot dog.

The hot dogs at Al Amena, by contrast, are an incredibly cheap $8 a kilo.

No pork, of course, and not smoked, but they have their own alluring beefy flavour – and at that price, we’re sold.