Bros on show

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Two Bros On Blyth, 51a Blyth Street, Altona.

Two Bros On Blyth in Altona has gone from agreeable neighbourhood cafe to something much grander.

A second storey has been added.

A much larger downstairs kitchen has been installed.

There’s two menus in place – see them both at the Two Bros website here.

A good deal of thought and creativity has been put into both.

Lunch runs to such attractive options as smoky spice rub chicken wings with bourbon BBQ sauce ($15 for half a kilo, $24 for a kilo), pulled pork and beef melts ($15), and reuben and cubano sandwiches ($16).

 

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But we’re here for dinner, my company on this occasion being Nat Stockley and his niece, Yaya.

Yaya is living away from her Thai home while she studies in Melbourne. She appears to be taking to Melbourne and its myriad ways with aplomb.

And given the company she’s keeping, it’s no surprise she is becoming a pro eater.

Eating Tim Tams for breakfast – like that.

I think it’s fair to say that she and I enjoy our meal more than her uncle – but overall we all have an enjoyable time of it.

 

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The upstairs dining room is far from ostentatious, but with its hanging greenery and roomy feel is a pleasant, tanquil space in which to dine.

The only downside we find is that our table is too small for the multiple dishes we order and which arrive simultaneously.

We order one entree, two sides, one of the big sharing-for-two mains and a dessert.

With a couple of non-booze drinks and a coffee included, the bill comes to a few bucks over $100, which I consider good value.

The service is fine.

 

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Lamb ribs ($16) are excellent – and significantly more meaty than other versions I’ve eaten recently.

The impact of the advertised salsa verde is negligible but the mild, tasty chilli concoction also included is worthy compensation and the cumin seasoning on the meat itself is ace.

 

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Hand-cut chips ($7) are good though there is only the scantiest trace of the listed “togarashi salt” seasoning. But I love the subtle pungency of the wasabi aioli.

 

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Broccolini with toasted almonds and preserved lemon butter ($7) takes care of the veg component.

 

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The dinner menu features three big, meaty share dishes – for two, the pork shoulder and brisket; for three or four, the whole braised lamb shoulder.

Our pork shoulder with chipotle adobo and coriander sports a heavy layer of fat, but I like it a lot.

The tender meat and its marinade/sauce have a fruitiness that is beguiling and overall this dish is a nice change from some of the drab pulled pork offerings that have come my way in recent years.

One of our trio grumbles a bit about the $48 price tag, but I figure that this dish is listed as a share deal for two and that $24 per person in that context is fine.

 

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Dessert?

Let’s indulge!

Chocolate brownie ice-cream sandwich with hot fudge sauce, Yaya’s selection, is a doozy.

It looks, somewhat necessarily, messy on the plate – and gets much messier very quickly.

But there’s no denying the intense pleasure to be had from the brownie’s crunch, the black-flecked vanilla ice-cream and the sticky sauce.

It’s worth every cent of the $12 we pay.

 

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Wonderful impromptu Italian

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Pier 71 Bar e Cucina, 71 Pier Street, Altona. Phone: 9398 8598

Bennie and I have an engagement in Altona – the launch party for a new place.

In truth, we’re not sure how – or if – this will work for us.

It’s a week night with school and work the next day, and it remains to be seen whether CTS will get enough of a look-see at the food to generate a story.

We get through the security cordon, stride up the stairs and find that, nope, this isn’t for us – it’s all about people standing around drinking, Bennie’s in his school uniform and we just don’t feel comfortable.

This place will have to wait for another day.

So around the corner we go, still chasing a dinner feed, to throw our lot in with Pier 71 Bar e Cucina.

This turns out to be an ace move on our part, as this very cool Italian has until now escaped our notice, even though it’s been around for a couple of years.

It’s all about casual Italian – something along the lines of Ovest in West Footscray or Mascalzone in Williamstown: Big on pizzas, pasta and salads, not so gung-ho about steaks and pricey seafood.

 

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The place is roughly split into three areas – a communal table at front, what amounts to a long hallway of both booth and table seating adjacent the kitchen/serving areas, and a flexible alfresco area out back.

We eat very well and find the service and timing fine for a busy mid-week night.

 

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Pizza Napoletana ($17.90) is as good as we could hope for – simple, very fine and expertly done.

There’s stacks of anchovies – good for me, not so good for Bennie!

 

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The chips that accompany our “hamburger (Italian style)” ($18.90) are superb – hot, crisp, plentiful.

The fried discs of chorizo atop seem something of an affectation to us, though, and our first conclusion is that we’d be happier if that effort had been put into putting more heft into our burger, which seems rather smallish for the price.

Bennie makes rude comparisons with the burgers we get elsewhere, but after eating I conclude he’s being unfair – because, as is so often the case, this eats bigger than it looks.

 

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And it is indeed in the “Italian style” – the meat is much more finely minced than is the case with burgers generally, be they old-school Aussie or the American style.

It’s a delight with its capsicum, onion, mozzarella and sauce.

We go for it in terms of indulgence by sharing the tiramisu ($10.90, top photograph).

It’s a dreamy, rich fantasy – much stiffer in terms of consistency than we’re used to, the booze-tinged cream a thing of grinning decadence.

Check out the Pier 71 Bar e Cucina website, including menu, here.

 

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pier716

Peak charcoal chicken

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pier3

 

Pier Street Charcoal Chicken, 73 Pier Street, Altona. Phone: 9398 6119

According to some people, charcoal chicken is about to “return”.

I concur to the extent of considering charcoal chicken goes unacknowledged for its central role in Australian life – I even think it’s a strong contender for our national dish.

But in other ways, to speak of a “return” is silly – as even the author of the above story admits – as charcoal chicken has nowhere from which to return.

On the downside, I find such ruminations a little disturbing as they conjure up visions of hipsterised charcoal poultry with fussy, over-priced side dishes and a food genre stripped of the spunk that makes it such a favourite.

Never mind – there will always be places that do it right.

Places such as Pier Street Charcoal Chicken.

Everything about this place is old school – the furniture, the salad line-up, the menu, the locals coming and going at a rapid rate.

The food, too, is old school – and very, very good.

This is peak charcoal chicken.

The coleslaw is fine and chopped more finely chopped than is often the case.

The chips are fresh out of the frier and beaut.

The tub of steaming hot gravy is wonderful for chip dipping.

I envisaged that the gravy would super, too, for dipping the dry breast meat.

This proves to be a pleasurable truth – but one that is completely unnecessary.

Here, the breast meat is moist and tender.

Yes – tender!

This is very unusual and to be wildly applauded.

The rest of chicken is equally fine.

The above meal, including a soft drink, costs me a handful of cents above $14.

AND it has been served on real crockery attended by metal cutlery.

 

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Altona’s new burger joint

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between3

 

Between 2 Buns, 26 Pier Street, Altona.

A new burger place?

Another new burger place?

Truth is, I am suffering burger fatigue – after all, there is much more wonderful and affordable food in the world, particularly in Melbourne’s west.

Same goes for pulled pork – probably more so, actually.

But then, within days of Between 2 Buns opening on Pier Street in Altona, I start to see some feedback on social media – and it’s all good.

So off I go for a Saturday lunch.

Even early lunchtime, the place is building up a head of steam of curious and eager punters.

They all leave happy.

As do I.

 

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The place is done out nicely in hip burger joint style with an accent on black and white.

But unlike some of the franchise places, this one hums with a family-run vibe and high pride in the what is being done and the food that is being prepared.

The menu (see below) doesn’t  explore any outer reaches of innovation or experimentation, but that’s fine, too.

There’s six burgers, six varieties of fries, hot dogs, “donut sundaes” and shakes.

How about dirty fries of a large fries, chilli beef, cheese sauce, bacon, M2B sauce and spring onion?

An $11 meal all on its own.

My ambitions are more modest, for this visit at least.

 

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I get a classic burger ($9.50) with beef, cheese lettuce, tomato, red onion, mustard and B2B sauce, with bacon for $1 extra.

And a regular of the beer-battered fries.

Initially, my hearts sinks when I see the fries – they appear to have been doused in chicken salt.

Another thing of which I’ve had my fill!

But to my surprise, they don’t taste of chicken salt – they taste simply like good, hot fries.

The burger, as suggested by its name, is a classic burger.

Nothing fancy – just top-notch, fresh ingredients stuffed between the covers of a nicely soft bun, all making for a very enjoyable two handfuls.

The slightly chewy, slightly crisp bacon pushes things from good to very good very nicely.

 

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What I’d like to see in such burger joints:

Hand-cut real-spud chips of the kind found at Woven, Dough! and Zigzag  – blemishes and all. As opposed to the reconstituted “beer-battered” variety – the potato equivalent of chicken nuggets.

At least one non-meat burger or sandwich – perhaps a nice, juicy, well-seasoned mushie burger? Vegetarians will never be a real important part of a set-up such as Between 2 Buns but offering at least one non-meat option would surely be a winning strategy for those families and groups with diverse eating habits.

(And I know of one Altona local – a vegetarian – who has already become an inevitable non-customer.)

Finally, if you’re going to offer hot dogs I most certainly consider it’s worth paying a bit more – and pricing accordingly – for a fine smoked frankfurter such as those sold by Andrew’s Choice in Yarraville.

Others mileage may vary.

We’ll revisit so Bennie can make his expert call on Between 2 Buns.

He’ll certainly go for one of the more grandiose burgers.

And, most likely, those sinful and seductive dirty fries.

 

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Altona cafe scores

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pit5

 

PitStop Cafe, 300-330 Millers Road, Altona North. Phone: 9391 1775

Bennie and I wait about 10 minutes for a burgers and chips.

Here’s the thing – this wait is undoubtedly a Good Thing.

Because …

PitStop Cafe is situated in anew industrial-strength shopping precinct – nearby and adjacent are an Aldi, a Bunnings, Officeworks and a JB Hi-Fi.

It’s the kind of place, in other words, you’d expect wait time for a burger to be counted in seconds rather than minutes because said burgers would be lined up, wrapped and with lettuce wilting, in a bain marie.

Yuck!

That this not the case at PitStop – that our food is prepared from scratch with skill and devotion – is born out by the look and taste of our meals.

 

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The chicken schnitzel burger ($9.50) is beaut.

The chook is crisp on the outer, moist and tasty on the inner.

The coleslaw does the job and the bun is fresh.

The cheese seems a little unnecessary.

 

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The basic beef burger ($8.50) with bacon ($1.50) looks an absolute treat.

All is fresh and good.

But here’s another thing – the produce and presentation really does deserve better than the meat that comes with it.

It’s not bad, exactly, but it does have that sausage meat look, texture and flavour that is part of the deal in a typical fast-food Aussie-style burger – the kinds of things, in fact, that are seen regularly lined up in bain maries.

A step up in quality and commensurate lift in price would see, I’m pretty sure, PitStop Cafe match it with such fine burger establishments as Zigzag or 8Bit.

We share the burgers to great delight and get a small $3.50 serve of beer-battered chips with each.

The chips are so plentiful that a single serve would’ve easily sufficed.

They’re hot and fine – though I reckon they’re over-seasoned with chicken salt.

Bennie disagrees.

 

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After our meal, I get talking to boss lady Allison who knows exactly where I’m at in terms of the beef burger meat.

Her business is new, growing and evolving and she’s keen on going for a sort-of two-tier approach,

For the Monday-to-Friday tradie business, such meat is what is expected and demanded.

And for that trade, and Allison, $10 seems to be some sort of uncrossable barrier.

At weekends, though, she is keen to up the vibe with ingredients of greater quality.

She reckons she can pull of the feat of catering to both the tradies and the foodies.

I reckon she’s right – and the good-looking, eggy breakfast dishes we see around us seem to confirm.

Allison is keen on sourcing goodies from westie sources and to that end is proud to offer Sunshine dimmies and Ka Pies, those ones we love and which have become a regular part of our home dinner routine.

We wish her well and will hopefully check back soon.

There’s no reason PitStop can not rise above the sort of greasy spoon industrial precinct places that abound around my Keilor/Tullamartine office location and become a foodie destination in its own right.

 

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Westie barbers No.4: Sandra

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Sandra’s Barber Shop, 312 Blackshaws Road, Altona North. Phone: 9391 8676

When Sandra was pondering a career, training in hair care was not the way it is today with apprentices learning how to “do” both and female follicles.

She had to choose.

“I thought, ‘You know what? I think I’d like to be a barber’,” she says with a big smile. “I like talking to men!”

Sandra is prepping me for an all-in buzz cut and face shave.

The price she’s quoted me is a bit rich for my blood and more cash than I have on me – but we happily settle on a payment made up of my wallet’s contents.

I’m happy with that.

As she works, Sandra gives me a rundown of her barbering career.

In the city – McKillop Street, the Southern Cross Hotel, the driveway of the Regent Hotel, a side street near the Windsor.

It’s entirely possible she cut my hair at the Southern Cross while I was working at Flinders Street.

Being an Altona girl, she eventually made her way to Altona Gate shopping centre and then to Blackshaws Road about 16 years ago.

Until now, this shopping strip on Blackshaws Road has been of little interest to CTS.

But that is unlikely to remain the case now I know there’s such a friendly barber in residence and that the old-school continental butcher a few doors along is the meat source for our fave pizza joint.

 

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Altona/Willy eats goss

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Dropping into one of our favoured locals haunts – Altona Fresh at 62-76 Second Avenue – seeking coffee, great pork sausages, even greater lemon zest-marinated green olives, I am delighted to find coffee is now on the menu.

How marvellous!

 

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Now shopping for Altona Fresh’s superb goodies can be accompanied by an excellent caffeine chill-out and maybe even a $3.50 canoli fresh from Cavallaro’s in Footscray.

 

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The sorts of older shopping strips of the kind on which Altona Fresh is situated are our favourite foodie destinations – all this one needs is a bit of street life and it could be really lovely.

Even on a mid-week afternoon, with not many people around, it’s already apparent this coffee breakthrough could play a role in doing just that.

 

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Also talking Italian, but moving over a suburb, Pizza d’Asporto – which has rapidly become one of our very favourite regulars – has extended its trading hours.

It’s now open for lunches on both Thursdays and Sundays, as well as Fridays and Saturdays and seven nights a week.

Yum!

 

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Staying in Williamstown … fine Greek restaurant Santorini is hosting, with Consider The Sauce, a fundraiser to benefit West Welcome Wagon and its work with hundreds of asylum-seeker homes in the west.

It’s going to be a wonderful night!

See story here.

 

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Live in or near Altona North?

Love pho?

Give Window Cafe a try.

See story here.