325 Lygon St, Brunswick East. Phone: 9078 9223
If we are to resist the deeply seated urge to always head west when embarking on a food adventure, then what I call the “bottleneck end” of Lygon St is just the sort of promenade to inspire a foray east.
From the “bottleneck” itself, where the road narrows to two lanes and a plethora of interesting eateries and shops are to be found, to its northern end, where the Liberty cinema used to live, upper Lygon St mixes ethnic funkery, solid working-class ambience and inner-city hip with style.
Like nearby Sydney Rd, it’s one of our favourite non-western destinations.
So cool are they both that we’re happy to confer upon them honourary western suburbs status. And besides they are no more of a drive than the likes of Deer Park and St Albans, both of which we’ve been visiting regularly of late.
This Sunday we are headed for Mankoushe and Lebanese pizzas/pies.
This is done over Bennie’s objections, he desiring Lebanese of a more substantial kind in Sydney Rd, but in the end he’s delighted with his dad’s choice.
As he should be, as the goodies at Mankoushe are truly sensational.
We heard about Mankoushe from the nice people at GRAM Magazine, but I suspect there are a bunch of online reviews out there, for this is the kind of place that makes foodies drool.
What the family that runs Mankoushe does – building on the standard Lebanese pizza/pie formula with imaginative and tasty flights of inspiration – takes true audacity.
That they do so by producing food that is cheap to buy, fabulous to look at and heavenly to eat – all the while admirably retaining a strong sense of authenticity – is testament to culinary wizardry that approaches genius.
There are some 26 pizzas/pies on the menu, all made with organic spelt flour.
They range from you bog standard zatar for $2 up to $9 for the most expensive, but most are in the $5-6 range.
Crucially, the use of non-traditional ingredients is restrained and extremely well thought out. In this, the Mankoushe meals resemble the new wave of Italian piazzas to be had around town – except, of course, in the matter of pricing!
The bases are amazingly light and moreish.
My order of spicy fetta – feta, fresh tomato, capsicum, onion and a dash of lemon and chilli for $5.50 – is the only disappointment. My parcel is fine and fresh, with a quite agressive chilli hit, but there is little or no salty tang or flavour from the feta.
Bennie fares a whole lot better with his beef kafta – mince meat, parsley, onion and “seven spices” for $6.20.
The meat is more substantial and flavoursome than the usual shallow smear found on Lebanese meat pizzas, while fresh tomato slices and heavenly, creamy mayo top off this masterpiece.
Having foreseen that one pie apiece would not be sufficient, I am happy for us to split a third – at these prices, who’s counting?
Our sojok – spicy sojok (salami), cheese, fresh tomato, onion, olives and pickled cucumber for $6 – is another terrific pie. We gobble it up without arguing over the final two slices – one large (Bennie), one small (Kenny).
By this time, our hosts realise we are a couple of mad bloggers, so present us with a complementary and fabulous housemade Lebanese sweet – a crumbly pastry shell encasing chopped nuts and more, highly perfumed with rose water.
Happily that little bit of “langniappe” relieves us of the need to pursue gelati down the road, so we saunter next door to Blue Attic.
This is a beaut shop that specialises in “independent artists, designers and craftspeople, predominantly from the East Brunswick area“. We have a fine old time checking out the hats, T-shirts, soaps, dragons and other goodies, all while keeping up a rambling conversation with Tani, the joint’s owner, as she makes us fine a latte and a hot chocolate. Among the many topics canvassed is Club Penguin, with Bennie giving Tani tips to hand on to her own kids.
Heading home, we pass Montgomery Park on Albion St, so can’t resist having another crack at the slide.
On a previous visit we’d found that despite its long and gleaming length, it had insufficient incline to really do the job.
This time we use a plastic bag retrieved from the car boot to assist us – with much more satisfactory results.
The heavens open, so we head home for the A-League grand final and red beans and rice.
Fabulous food, coffee, conversation, silliness – it’s pretty much a perfect Sunday.
Meanwhile, we are looking forward to eating our way through the entire Mankoushe menu – even if it does take us out of our western suburbs comfort zone.
Two of my favourite places! I have to say though, that the spicy feta is actually one of my favourites on the menu. I think its delicious! I too am hoping to one day work my way through the entire menu, but I keep going back to the spicy feta… the chicken one is also very good.
Ho Joolz! Thanx for dropping by. Checked your site out – is your stuff at Blue Attic? Hey, I’m glad someone really digs the spicy fetta pie. But as you no doubt guessed, my somewhat mild disappointment in no way lessens my admiration for the great things Mankoushe is doing. Nice folks, too, eh?
All the stuff you’ve written about Lebanese pizza, and you haven’t spruiked that al Nada joint outside the train station in Spotswood? That was the first Lebanese pizza I ever ate. Didn’t know there WAS such a thing. It was touted in a book titled “The Foodie’s Guide to Melbourne” that I bought in 2006 in the gourmet-ish foodstore on Anderson Street in Y’ville. Great resource, with more of a range of places than The Age resto guide. I wonder if they’re publishing updated editions. Maybe that’s some work for you!
I’m sure you’ve been to al Nada. I liked the pizzas, but what I liked even more was the daft bloke who runs the place. I’m not sure if he’s cracked, or just has a weird Middle Eastern sense of humour, but he’d always make the same cheesy jokes about “mother-in-law pizza” and such in a thick accent. Bantering with this oddball was part of the fun of going there.
Also, did you know that the Phoenecian grocery store on upper Sydney Road in Brunswick, across from Balha’s (best Arab pastry shop in the world, insofar as I’ve been able to determine) has an operation inside that makes Lebanese pizza? The prices are not bad, they taste good, but toppings are not as ample as other Leb places.
North America still makes better pizza than Oz though, mate. It’s the cheeeeeeeeese. Pizza up here is a bloody cheese-fest. I like it thick. One of the many factors that thickens Seppo waistlines.
Actually, I had lunch at al Nada yesterday. Ordered what he calls the “man pizza”, featuring lots of meat. Sadly, it was a bit sloppy. Great guy, though. You’re right – he’s a bit mad. We like having variety of Lebanese pizza joints from which to choose. I have two more lined up for write-ups – one in Coburg, another in Glenroy, Mankoushe is something else again – not better than our other faves, but just as good and bit edgier.
I’m eager for our blog to generate work somehow, but is likely to be indirectly.
Being an Urbanspoon regular, you’re probably aware that sites such as it and blogs have pretty much left the printed reviews behind in terms of breadth, immediacy and so on. Though for top-end eating they still rule in terms of prestige. Not our go, anyway! The two Age guides pay paltry attention to our west and seem already out of date when they hit the streets.
The thick meal you’re describing may pass for pizza by your definition, but not ours. We like it thin – Lebanese or the more expensive Italian.
Mankoushe is our local – glad you like it! but one small point, which is that you have to pay extra for spelt (which of course we do happily because it’s so fantastic). And we find a hoodie is pretty good on the long slide. The next time you’re visiting the bottlenose end of Lygon Street with a short person, check out Jones Park where Albion Street curves into Nicholson Street – a fantastic playground and a great place for a Lebanese pastry picnic.
Huh? Maybe we didn’t get the spelt versions? Bloody fine though regardless! We’re overdue for a return visit. Bennie always goes, “I don’t feel like going that far”. But St Albans et al are as far, they just seem closer. Thanks for both tips!
Maybe next time order one of each (spelt and not spelt). The normal wheat is mild, almost sweet, flavoured; the spelt is deep and slaty with a chewier texture. It’ll put hair on your chest!