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.
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.