Croatian cravings sated

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Ragusa Republika, 139 Nelson Place, Williamstown. Phone: 9069 6690

There’s good food to be had on Nelson Place in Williamstown.

Good food created and served in good places by good people.

But, sadly, the overall vibe is rather downbeat when it comes comes to tasty high times.

CTS has discussed this seemingly unchanging situation with many Willy locals and other westies over the years.

Yet no one quite seems to know why it is so.

But in that context, we applaud what Eva Maddox and her crew are doing at Ragusa Republika.

 

 

Here there are no shortcuts, cutting of corners or scrimping.

Everything is high class and stylish, the dining room itself elegant and warmed just right on the chilly night we visit.

That hands-on approach extends to just about every aspect of the food, from house-made stocks and on up – everything bar the ice-cream.

Eva and wine expert Pino are enthusiastic out front and Team CTS – Kenny, Bennie, Nat – very much enjoys taking up the invitation of a complementary meal (see full disclosure below).

The prices here are on the high side –  but punters most definitely get what they pay for.

The building is gorgeous, extending out the back to a high-ceilinged cathedral-like former chapel.

 

 

A forerunner had been running for several years before briefly closing as some behind-the-scenes changes were effected, re-opening in April with “Republika” added to the name and a bright new look – but pretty much the same food line-up.

 

 

Our Croatian food adventure starts with a bang and hardly ever lets up.

These warm, fresh-baked rolls are sensational and served with olive oil and (house-made) ajvar (relish).

 

 

Zagorski štrukli are traditional baked pastry pillows filled with ricotta and truffle oil ($19).

We get one apiece – and it’s almost like they float to our eager mouths.

 

 

The squid ink dumplings that come with crni njoki ($20/$39) are almost as light, though it is the fresh-as calamari with garlic and chilli that truly grabs the attention.

 

 

Amid richness, it is the plain that triumphs for us.

The chicken noodle soup is the big hit of the night.

It has just the right amount of oil to lend every mouthful a velvety feel.

And, yep, the noodles are housemade.

We are each served a less-than-full bowl for reviewing purposes.

A full bowl goes for $15 – making for a lovely light lunch when teamed with the complementary bread rolls.

 

 

Bennie is very satisfied with his svinjska rebra iz paca sa satarašom ($44).

He reports that while the marinated and roasted pork belly meat is not fall-apart tender, it remains moist and “just right” to his way of thinking.

The accompanying jumble sautéed eggplant, capsicum and tomato is fine.

 

 

Ribarska popara – traditional seafood stew with paprika, chilli, tomato and polenta ($42) – juggles the delicate and the lusty just as well as I have been expecting.

The mildly seasoned broth turns from red to a sort-of orange as the polenta gradually blends in.

And the plentful seafood is very, very good.

 

 

The one dish that falls short of delighting us is Nat’s lignje u prošeku of roasted calamari with potato, capers and prošek ($41).

For all we know, this could be an outstanding rendition of this dish.

But the combined sweetness of the onions and dessert wine leaves us more puzzled than anything.

 

 

Are we up for dessert?

Yes we are!

Well, the Weir portion of tonight’s Team CTS is.

Štrudla od višnje (sour cherry strudel with hazelnut ice cream, $17) and …

 

 

… knedle (plum dumplings with plum sauce and sour cream, $17) are every bit as perfect and sweet-with-some-sour as father and son were hoping for.

Will we return to Ragusa Republika under our own steam and as paying customers?

Yes we will – for more of that chicken soup.

Though I also fancy getting stuck into the sarma/stuffed cabbage leaves.

Check out the Ragusa Republika website – including menu – here.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Ragusa Republikat as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meals. We were free to order whatever we wished. Ragusa Republika management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)

 

Making Aussie pizzas better

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Cheezy Pizza, 75 Gamon Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9078 9392

Consider The Sauce likes pizza.

But not that much, other eating-out options in the wonderful west usually pushing our buttons much more often.

And when we do opt for pizza, there’s two kind that take our fancy.

One of them being Lebanese pies – they’re cheap and wonderful, though in Australia they’re not what readily springs to mind when the word “pizza” is bandied about.

Our other pizza affection is the real-deal Italian style now able to be found freely.

In our experience, they’re pricier, but are worth because of the care put into them, with an accent on high-quality ingredients – but not too many of them.

Your Aussie pizzas?

Not so much.

Sure, they have their place – and we’ve eaten plenty.

But we just don’t reverberate with joy at the thought of messy, greasy piles of poor-quality makings.

Processed ham especially rankles.

But one thing we do love is absolutely love is reader feedback, suggestions and tips.

One such tip leads us to try Cheezy Pizza on Gamon Street in Yarraville.

 

 

Here Steve Evagora and his partner have set up shop in what has been a pizza joint like forever.

It’s a bare bones pizza place, though quite comfortable.

And it is ALL about pizza.

Aside from garlic bread, two dessert pies and choc mousse, it’s all pizza, pizza, pizza (see menu below).

No sign at of salads, pasta, steaks or schnitzels.

We like that.

And we like Steve’s gameplan.

“When we were setting this place up, we decided we want to take Aussie pizzas – and make them better,” he says. “There’s no processed ham here.”

This strikes us a wonderfully laudable aim.

And, after sampling the Cheezy Pizza wares on two dinner-time occasions, we reckon they’re nailing it good.

 

 

Of the four Cheezy Pizza pies we try, the champion is our large American ($15.90).

It’s a simple affair – mozzarella, tomato and salami.

But it’s the tomato sauce that is the winning key – this is plentiful and has depth of flavour and texture foreign to most Aussie pizza places.

“I’m in awe of how good this is,” Bennie enthusiastically opines.

He’s not kidding.

 

 

On the same visit, we also try a small capriciossa ($9.90).

Sporting tomato sauce, mozzarella, leg ham, mushrooms and olives, this is good – though doesn’t have quite the same tasty flavour hit as our American pie.

 

 

The following week, we phone in an order and pick it up ourselves.

The eternal popularity of home delivery for pizzas puzzles us, as they seem to suffer in the process just as much as hamburgers.

Our large New Yorker (tomato sauce, mozzarella, prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, feta and rocket, $19.90) is excellent.

 

 

With it we get a small pesto chicken (pesto, mozzarella, chicken breast, pine nuts, olive oil, fresh basil, $12.90).

This lies outside our usual purist pizza inclinations.

But it’s also a winner – and we love that the pine nuts are generously festooned across our pizza.

Little things like that make a big difference.

Well there you go.

Looks like we’ve found an Aussie-style pizza place that will become a regular haunt for us.

 

Westie eats goss 13/6/19

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In Anderson Street, Yarraville, the shop next to Alfa Bakehouse, most recently used for secondhand clothing and associated stuff, is being fitted out for what I am told will be a dumpling palace of some kind.

 

 

Right across the road, the now closed Commonwealth Bank premises is being gutted.

Seems a bit institutional for food/drink purposes, but maybe …

 

 

Further along Anderson Street, the shopfront that was most recently home to Inspired Cafe now houses a “bar lounge eats” business.

 

 

And a few doors from there, the former home of Heather Dell bakery remains on the market.

 

 

On Barkly Street, West Footscray, the shop next to the barber is being fitted out for some sort of food/drink action.

 

 

Directly opposite, and right next door to the coin laundry, a Vietnamese dessert house is taking shape.

 

 

Elsewhere on Barkly Street, new hopefuls have set up shop in a couple of places in a bid to break into the area’s fiercely competitive sub-continental food scene. 

Biryani King, right opposite the library, will be the subject of a CTS investigation – the prices here, from my look at the menu, are significantly cheaper than those of its competitors.

For example, most biryanis are listed at $10.

 

 

Up the other end of “Little India”, Night Spark is offering Pakistani food.

 

 

On Hopkins Street in Footscray, the Curators Lounge is now operating under the name Chip’s Loft.

Same management, but a cool makeover has been undertaken.

 

 

Where once the bar was are now booths.

 

 

Where once was the in-house barber is now the bar.

 

 

And an alfresco area – with super dooper views of the street life beow – has been created.

 

 

Food, drink, Keilor Park

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Consider The Sauce has celebrated in recent weeks the arrival of nifty food option at its place of regular employment, the Star Weekly newspaper office in Keilor Park.

But now things have gone from edging towards sublime to outright sublimely ridiculous.

The new arrivals, providing tasty options to those who live and work in the area, include The D’s Souvlaki and Theo’s Greek Cakes.

But where those two food outlets are walking distance from my office, 5 NY Bite And Brew will be right across the road, under a minute’s walk and on the corner of Keilor Park Drive and Thompson Road in the new industrial estate there.

Now on any ordinary day, if you said to me that a New York-themed bar heavy on dude food was simply not my thing, you’d be dead right.

But being shown around by the instigator of this enterprise, Steve Raftellis, I am won over by his drive and enthusiasm.

Steve is bringing his experience with similar outfits to bear with spectacular vision.

It’s fair to say that these fit-out photos will bear hardly any resemblance to the finished venue when it is opened some time in August, so ambitious are his plans for deocr and artwork.

Steve reckon he’s on to a good thing – and that includes the location.

He wants to serve the greater west and even right up to Sunbury and Ballarat, access is easy and parking will be a breeze.

It’s a gamble surely, as all new businesses are, but Steve already has about 20 function bookings for December.

As he says, there’s a lot of sports clubs and other organisations around here.

It will be open 11am-midnight, seven days a week – with longer weekend hours on the agenda.

 

 

The ground floor of 5 NY Bite And Brew will feature a dining area with regular seating, a long bar backing on to the kitchen, booths …

 

 

… and a “VIP area”.

 

 

The stairs leading to the rooftop alfresco area will be done out in New York subway style.

 

 

And up on the roof, there will be more booths, a “rain forest” of plants and a bar constructed out of a shipping container.

There will be live music up here – and Steve assures me it will not be of the lame cover version variety.

Drinks and food?

I’m told there will be 100 US craft beers, 49 by American-style cocktails and 10 mega shakes.

CTS has been shown a provisional menu.

Here’s just some of the items included:

Pork belly “thingies”
Empanadas
Lobster mac n cheese
Buffalo wings
Loaded fries including curds and gravy
Coney Island and chilli dogs
Half a dozen burgers
Crispy chicken with velvet waffles and maple syrup
Beef and baby back ribs
Lobster roll

Bennie’s eyes lit up when saw that lot!

Steve tells me almost items will be priced from $5 to $25.

 

Footscray star’s makeover

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Hien Vuong Pasteur, 164 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 9698

The many shoulder-to-shoulder eating houses of Footscray are forever in a state of flux.

Old ones close, new ones open, stayers are overhauled, new names and a lick of paint are applied to the tired – and some disappear forever.

It’s a fascinating cycle, one experienced – often subliminally – by anyone who spends time there.

And so it is that our fave pho joint has had a makeover.

We’ve always favoured Hien Vuong Pasteur – for the high-quality of its food, but also because it’s a smallish family operation that can relied upon to always have a seat or table to spare.

So in some ways we’re sad to see its old-school formica/utilitarian/white classic pho house appearance give way to something hipper.

But in truth the revamp here has been done with more class than most in this neighbourhood – its stylish and welcoming, a central high table with stools surrounded by orthodox tabling.

And it appears to be working!

On both our recent visits here, the place has been bustling.

 

 

And the food?

Well that hasn’t changed – still top-shelf pho house classics.

Including superb medium pho with sliced chicken and beef ($12).

 

 

Like most of its kind, Hien Vuong Pasteur has a smallish range of more exotic dishes, including bo kho (beef stew, $12).

This one – served with both egg and rice noodles at my request – is a bit different from others in the west, in that the beef pieces are smaller and there are no bones.

But the keys, as always with this dish, are the soup/broth (very good) and the carrot.

The carrot is invariably in big chunks – and hopefully holding together yet on the verge of disintegration.

As is the case here!

 

Bar won

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Littlefoot, 223 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9396 1282

What an ornament to Foostcray Littlefoot has become.

Was it the first bar to set up shop in Footscray central?

I think it was.

In the years since, it has been joined by a bunch of others – and they all appear to have something of their own to contribute to the local scene.

But Littlefoot continues to set a high standard – not only in food and drink, but also through deep immersion in the community through live music (beyond covers), a plethora of DJs and all sorts of “special” events.

As well, Littlefoot continues to carry a kitchen, unlike most of its neighbouring bar fellows. The Cheeky Pint, a few doors away, also cooks.

We are happy to accept an invitation to take the new winter menu for a run (see full disclosure below).

On this night, Team CTS consists of myself, Bennie, Justin and Will.

We eat well and deeply, coming away happy and satisfied.

Some of the tucker is right there in bar food mode – the sort of things you’d be happy to get a bite of if you were imbibing at Littlefoot anyway.

But some things we think are on another, higher level – making Littlefoot a food destination in its own right.

 

 

The charcuterie board ($25) is a good starter for us – tonight we are hungry lads.

It’s mix of  sour, salty, oily and chewy would also be an ideal light meal for two.

 

 

The DIY taco board ($18) is a hit – the undoubted highlight that elicts admirational comments all round.

The fours fish pieces – snapper – are superbly crumbed and deep-fried, holding together beaut even under the strain of taco construction. The flesh is both firmish and delicate.

Of the bits and pieces, it’s the red cabbage that adds tangy contrast. It’s is joined by guacamole, jalapenos, lime and swathes of fresh coriander.

This is a bargain – and zooms into Great Dishes of the West reckoning.

 

 

Just as expertly fried are the mac ‘n’ cheese croquettes ($12) – this is glorious stodge. Could’ve done with a bit more seasoning, IMO.

 

 

My friends seem a little less enamoured of our two burgers than I.

Perhaps we’re all a little burgered out?

But I reckon they’re both good, solid efforts.

The burgers are available in three modes – Littlefoot, Wild West and Bulldogs.

The beef burger ($20) comes in Bulldog garb of cheese, pickles, red onion, pickle, lettuce and “special burger sauce”.

This handy handful is accompanied by good chips.

 

 

If anything, our jackfruit burger ($20) is more noteworthy for the simple reason it offers an alternative to lentil patties and the like.

It’s done out in Wild West style – and that means a zingy combo of jalapenos, sriracha, caramelised onions, mustard, cheese, tomato and lettuce.

 

 

Another flavour hit – of the snacky variety – is provided by the lip-smackingly good edamame ($7) with garlic and black pepper.

Beer food supreme.

 

 

Unfortunately, amid this avalanche of food, the nachos ($14) and the fries loaded with pulled pork and slaw ($16, not pictured) get a bit lost.

Perhaps at another time with liquid redreshment in hand?

(Consider The Sauce dined at Littlefoot as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meals. We were free to order whatever we wished. Littlefoot management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)

 

Sweetness!

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Theo’s Greek Cakes, 11 Fosters Road, Keilor Park. Phone: 0434 099 450

We are delighted to herald the arrival of new Greek baking emporium on the smallish shopping strip on Fosters Road in Keilor Park.

Theo’s has all your sweet Greek dreams covered at great prices.

Parking is no problem.

And it’s simply a cool place to be.

 

 

We suspect most customers treat it as a shop, taking their goodies home.

But for eating-in purposes, the place is set up in simple cafe style.

 

 

Theo’s is very much about the sweeter side of life, but there are limited savoury options available.

We love our slices of spanakopita ($6).

Rich and flavoursome in a home-style way, they eat bigger than they look.

And at a place in which we would’ve been unsurprised about being presented with plastic plates and implements, we are very happy to have our lunch accompanied by real-deal unplastic gear, along with water.

 

 

For dessert, Bennie opts for this profiterol creation ($5).

He enjoys it, but perhaps not as much as he’d been hoping – likely because the chocolate is not the dark, more bitter kind he likes these days.

He plainly envies my politiko ($5, top photo).

And in that he’s right on the money – as this is superb.

It’s bit like a heftier Greek version of tiramisu, the base of syrupy semolina cake topped by a layer of cream and plenty of powdered coffee.

It is wonderful – and so healthy, too!

Our $4 cafe lattes are a fine foil for all this sweet heaven.

As an added bonus, a delicious trek to Theo’s can become a one-stop outing that includes, a few doors away, Frank’s Supermarket, a happy business a bit like a scaled-down version of Altona Fresh or Mediterranean Wholesalers in Brunswick.

Though, sadly, it is closed during our Sunday visit.

Theo’s joins the D’s Souvlaki is building a whole new food vibe at Keilor Park.

Long may they both prosper and the trend continue.