Barbecue blowout

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Bluestone American BBQ, 470 Sydney Road, Coburg. Phone: 9042 6347

In a tasty chunk of synchronicity, Nat and I both find ourselves at a bit of Sunday loose end and desirous of an outing of some sort.

Preferably – nay, compulsorily – involving food.

So we agree to meet about halfway between our respective abodes – at Bluestone American BBQ on Sydney Road in Coburg.

Truth is, we’d been planning to hit this joint for a while.

In the meantime, unsurprisingly, it has been written about and covered rather extensively.

Perhaps, I muse, the recently introduced $12 lunchbox menu may be a new wrinkle (see menus below) for me to cover.

But that plan remains stillborn in the face of Nat’s hungry determination to have brisket – which appears in none of the boxes.

That’s very cool, my friend – I’m happy to go with your flow.

So we end up having a right royal barbecue blowout in the form of the Pitmaster Pick No.2 ($39.90 a head).

 

 

Bluestone American BBQ is done out in suitably rustic style.

We find Sunday lunch an ideal time to visit what is proving to be a very popular eatery, though it fills up steadily as we enjoy our meal.

 

 

Our Pitmaster Pick No.2 line-up consists of … smoked cheddar sausage, stone-ground grits, applewood chicken chops, Cuban-style pulled pork and tangy creole slaw and …

 

 

… Texas-style brisket, fire-roasted red peppers, pit-braised pulled lamb, BBQ street corn, with two kinds of pickles besides!

This all very excellent barbecue.

And there’s heaps of it.

So much so that the $40 price tag – exorbitant by our usual Sunday lunch standards – impresses as good value verging on a bargain.

It’s tricky to pick standouts – if anything, I love most the sticky chicken.

The meat is mostly heavily sauced, with Nat wishing – at least a little – that some of the meat had been left a bit more austere.

It’s not a problem for me.

Instead of the brisket slices with which we are familiar, here it is served in one big handsome slice, and seems braise-like.

The sides, too, rock our lunch, though I am never going to be a grits fan.

The one dud is the corn.

In a meal so otherwise rich, these cobs – slathered in some kind cheesy concoction – simply don’t fit for us.

Salt, pepper and butter would be the go, we reckon.

Bluestone American BBQ is warmly recommended by us as a fine, meaty establishment, especially as it located in a suburb not noted for such food and where parking is not a problem.

In addition to the Friday-Saturday-Sunday lunchboxes, on Tuesdays is offered what looks like an excellent $12.50 deal of chicken, pulled pork, sausage, slaw, peppers, grits and wedges.

Check out the Bluestone American BBQ website here.

 

Damn fine BBQ

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Tex-Oz Smokehouse, 12 Synnot Street, Werribee

At what passes for a dining room at Tex-Oz Smokehouse, you’ll feel gravel underfoot.

You’ll sit on plastic chairs while eating at tables apparently made of something like packing case wood.

You’ll eat from cardboard containers while using plastic cutlery.

You’ll order from a food truck parked on an otherwise empty lot.

We think all that’s absolutely grand.

Because in being what and how it is, Tex-Oz give Melbourne life to a great no-frills BBQ tradition that has previously gained little or no traction here.

Sure, in Memphis, Virginia and Texas, BBQ of many kinds can be enjoyed in grand and/or chic and/or hipster settings – and you’ll often pay a high price for doing so.

But just as important – arguably even MORE important – are the cheapo roadside stands and shacks found throughout the land that cater to the quick-fix needs of regular folks not seeking a big night, but instead simply a good feed – at the right price.

And, yes, Tex-Oz Smokehouse does right in the money stakes, too.

Equally appropriately, the menu (see below) is compact.

A CTS team of three – myself, Bennie and Nat Stockley – enjoy a very nice, post-heatwave Saturday lunch.

 

 

The smoked brisket and pulled pork – sold at $6 for 100 grams and seen here in 200-gram quantities – are excellent.

The brisket, in particular, shines.

There’s not a lot of smoke going on, but the meat is more tender and juicy than it photographs and more-or-less completely fat-free.

And it goes fine with a house-made sauce that has a bit of a spice kick.

The stranded pig meat is fine, too, enough to have me recanting my oft-expressed judgment that pulled pork is largely a tasteless, over-hyped con.

 

 

Bennie opts for the hybrid dish that is the Tex-Oz snack pack ($16), adorned in his case with more of that pulled pork.

He likes it a bunch, though I’m guessing that while he’s enjoying his lunch he’s also reminding himself that, as previously expressed, he’s done with snack packs.

 

 

For sides, we get coleslaw and potato salad – big serves for $4 each.

The slaw is fresh and crunchy and very rough cut, making it a little unwieldy in terms of the plastic implements we are using.

The spud concoction is heavily mayo-ised and doesn’t really hit the spot with us.

Nat – who also goes the pulled pork and brisket route – gets fries, which he tells me are overdone in terms of the salt.

I am reminded of legendary story I was told about a very famous Texas BBQ joint at which I dined several decades ago.

Apparently, when the management decided to introduce some non-meat items to the menu – you know, stridently non-carnivore fare such as white sliced bread, raw onion and pickles – the locals damn near caused a riot.

So if the Tex-Oz accessories don’t quite hit the bullseye with us, we’re happy to embrace the “It’s All About The Meat” ethos and say simply: So what?

And in the meat sphere, this place produces the goods in an admirably no-frills manner.

Tex-Oz Smokehouse is open from noon Thursdays through to Sundays.

Check out their website here.

 

Pub ribs rock

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Commercial Hotel, 111 Watton Street, Werribee. Phone: 9741 2322

Tootling down Watton Street looking for a carpark, I am bemused.

But not nearly as bemused as Bennie and Deb, his mum.

At issue is the nature of our destination – seemingly the sort of pub that would normally struggle, and fail, to gain the attention of CTS.

A confession: I have been seduced by the nice Facebook pictures of the Commercial Hotel’s food, these featuring occasionally in my feed because of the joint’s links with the Werribee Bears rugby league outfit.

I’m not diehard fan of the club, but did venture down there for a couple of games last season.

Even if the pub at hand would normally fall out side CTS paramters, we are – as ever – upbeat and hopeful.

Truth is, had I twigged the Commercial is a pokies venue, this adventure almost certainly would have been stillborn.

Happily, the pokies are well away from the dining room – out of sight, out of earshot and out of mind.

That leaves us to happily enjoy the old-school ambiance.

The Commercial’s dining room feels – from the carpet up – just like a country pub.

As we expect, the menu (see below) is studded with the sorts of dishes routinely found in such places.

But there’s a few nice wrinkles in there, too.

 

 

Deb goes the roast pork dinner ($13).

It’s a beauty, with a heap of good vegetables and more than enough highly porky and nicely cooked meat.

She loves it; the plate is clean when she’s done.

Not just a fine roast dinner, but a bargain as well.

 

 

For Bennie, it’s the pulled pork burger ($20), which tastes a lot better than it photographs.

Oddly (perhaps even weirdly), the pulled meat appears to have been formed into a pattie.

It tastes good to me and he enjoys it.

But it’s fair to say Bennie has just about had it with pulled meat of any kind in burgers; me, I’ve had it with pulled pork period.

So often so mediocre!

 

 

It’s a subjective judgment, but for me the stars of our collective choosing are my BBQ baby back ribs ($33).

There’s two good-size rack pieces in there.

The meat is tasty and tender, and comes from the bones with ease.

I know there’s people out there, for whom gnaw is the desired and happy norm, who will think that no recommendation at all.

Still, for me this is a fine BBQ meal, the pricing of which can put some of the specialist BBQ joints in the shade.

The ribs are handily abetted by a fine slaw.

Really, the only disappointment of our Commercial outing is the chips Bennie and I are provided.

They’re OK – but also under-done and under-salted.

Check out the Commercial Hotel website here.

 

Barbecue comes to South Kingsville

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(Photo: NAT STOCKLEY)

 

Burn City Test Kitchen, 31A Venron Street, South Kingsville. Phone: 9043 9554 (open days after noon)

Burn City Smokers has been one of the hotter and more well-known names on the Melbourne barbecue scene for quite a while.

But that has been based on activities of the festival and catering variety.

Now Burn City has a bricks-and-mortar thing going.

Open for a few weeks is the shop front of the Vernon Street kitchen they’ve been using for a year or so.

Replacing an Asian eatery, the place is done out in a way that manages to be both cozy and hipster spartan.

It’s early days here.

We’re told menus proper are on the way, but in the meantime a prominently displayed blackboard does menu service.

It’s not a full menu and the outfit’s website (here) warns the food line-up will be changing regularly.

See the list from which our Friday night meal was chosen below.

As well, the hours are limited – Friday dinner, Saturday lunch and dinner, and Sunday lunch and late lunch.

 

 

Despite all these provisos, the place seems to have made many friends.

Nat and I see plenty of Uber bags and other takeaways going out the door, and the locals with whom we share the communal table at the front are enthusiastic.

As are those we chat to at an outdoor table as we’re on our way home.

Do we share their enthusiasm?

Yes.

There’s a couple of mis-steps in our meal, but nothing that diminishes our happiness at the prospect of returning – especially as this is an evolving situation.

 

 

A side of fries ($7) is fine, though I wish they’d been hotter.

 

 

A salad of broccoli, almonds, pickled red onion, chilli and garlic ($7) is a great idea, but the sum is less than the parts.

Largely this is because it doesn’t really come together as cohesive whole and the broccoli florets are too big and undercooked, for my taste anyway.

 

 

Chicken and potato salad ($18) is good – I like what I eat a lot, though I don’t think Nat is as impressed.

The smoked chook – even the breast – is moist and very good, while the seeded mustard-dressed potatoes are fine.

Truth is, though, our chicken dish has been ordered merely for diversity purposes with a story to write.

Had we been left to our own, non-blogging devices, we both would’ve ordered the beef short rib ($25, top photo).

This is, on the list from we’ve been working, the sole, really heavyweight barbecue offering – aside from the “in bread”, cheaper sandwiches.

And it’s a doozy.

The “12hr smoked beef rib” is crusty, musty, salty and delicious, the meat tender and excellent.

Accompanying, a bit unusually, are honey carrots.

I love them, even though they, a bit like the earlier broccoli, are tad too much on the al dente side.

For what’s it worth, the “in bread” efforts we see going by look very worthy of exploration.

As do the baked pasta and bangers and mash being enjoyed by the friendly locals at our table.

Yes, it’s licensed.

Nat describes the wine list as concise, considered and put together with assistance by someone with some knowledge.

 

Meal of the week No.33: Up In Smoke General Store

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We checked out the dinner routine at Up In Smoke (28 Hopkins St, Footscray, phone 9689 8188) very early in the piece, and Bennie I have been back a couple of times – most recently to share very happily the Big Tray.

But it’s taken this long for me to try the lunch-time fare at the adjoining store.

The shop has a range of beer, hot sauces, pickles and condiments and the like, and has a range of ready-to-toast sangers on hand.

But I’m here with hopes of seeing how they integrate the restaurant’s barbecue fare with a more low-key, quick-bite and affordable lunch philosophy.

What’s available is listed on a blackboard.

 

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Chips ($5) are fine, though I reckon halving the serve and charging $3 might better serve those wanting to top up their lunch orders without going overboard.

 

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My beef brisket roll is a knock-out!

Here’s the thing – it’s something of fusion of the Up In Smoke barbecue thing and the banh-mi scene of a few blocks away.

The banh-mi-style roll is stuffed with a very Asian, finely chopped coleslaw, cucumber batons, fresh red chilli discs and coriander.

But it’s also handsomely filled with thick slices of very tasty and wonderful smoked brisket.

The price is $9 – which is, of course, almost precisely twice the going rate for Footscray central banh mi.

But it’s also a good handful of dollars LESS than such a high-quality sandwich/roll would cost you in a hipster cafe.

Given how much I enjoy it, I consider the $9 fee a bargain.

 

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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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A BBQ dinner of two halves

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chinb7

 

Chinese BBQ, 301 Racecourse Road, Flemington. Phone: 9376 6929

With I Love Dumplings having successfully transported itself down the road to the old bank building on Racecourse Road, its old premises have duly become Chinese BBQ – though they are both run by the same management, going by the receipt I receive for our meal.

Its is, clearly, dedicated to Asian-style BBQ – though this is more strictly in the Chinese tradition … as opposed to the Viet vibe of the superb meal Bennie and I recently enjoyed at Phi Phi 2 in St Albans.

I am looking forward to a good mid-week feed in which I can ponder the differences!

For company I have CTS trooper Marns, a woman of robust appetite and great sparkle.

 

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The menu (see below) is roughly divided into two parts – skewers and BBQ.

We’re told the minimum for skewers is $20 so we order freely – shrimp, calamari, lamb, chicken, Chinese cabbage, enokis, broccoli, lotus root.

They cost per skewer ranges from 50 cents to $2.50.

From the regular BBQ we order ox tongue ($15), corn ($6) and potato ($6).

 

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The latter follow the arrival of the glowing coals for our BBQ set-up and very sesame dipping sauce, kimchi and marinated sprouts.

Then we’re off …

It’s heaps of fun.

 

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The ox tongue, frozen so it can be thinly sliced, cooks the fastest, and is a treat.

The vegetables take quite a bit longer and I am a little dismayed to that some of the spud slices initially turn black.

But it all comes good in the end, the potato browning up nicely and the corn being delicious.

In fact these humble husk discs turn out to be one of the highlights of our meal – so good to have barbecued corn that is also juicy.

Such is not always the case!

Then it’s on to our skewers … and it’s at this point that our meal and evening goes a bit nutty, maybe even a bit haywire.

 

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The skewers are brought to our table all dunked in a bucket of what we take to be some sort of marinade.

We quickly make happy by throwing some on the grill.

Only to be immediately told – no, no – that’s not how you do it.

The skewers, we’re told, have already been cooked out back – steamed, apparently – and are ready to go.

Oh.

That would explain, perhaps, the flare-up when Marns puts some of the meat skewers on the grill.

We’re a bit non-plussed but soldier on.

Some of what we have – the Chinese cabbage, the lotus root – is far from impressive.

Some – the easily-peeled shrimp, the broccoli – is good.

The broth/soup/marinade in which the skewers have been bathing has oil, chilli (mild by request) and no doubt many other ingredients, the nature of which I am unable to learn from the staff because of language issues on my part.

The lusty, musty and only (for me) partially attractive seasoning recalls in large part some of the flavours much earlier enjoyed – again without being much the wiser – at a Moonee Ponds hot pot joint.

 

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Look, the confusion can be largely attributed to us – it says plainly on the menu (if in rather small type) that the skewers are “hot & spicy pot” food.

On the other hand, it seems very natural that customers only a little familiar with this kind of food, such as we two, would grab a table at an eatery with “BBQ” in its title and “skewers” on its menu … and put the two together in our minds.

No harm done and we have an otherwise enjoyable meal.

But the dunked skewers haven’t provided the sort of charred, smoky tastes for which we came here.

Perhaps a bit more explaining of the place’s food and ordering routines by the staff to new customers is needed here.

Our meal, including two cans of soft drink, comes in at a very reasonable $60.

 

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