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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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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Pork ribs you can afford

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Gorilla Grill, 36 Edgewater Boulevard, Maribyrnong. Phone: 0401 830 800

It’s opening day – or, rather, night – at Gorilla Grill, the bricks-and-mortar carnation of the food truck of the same name.

With the recent opening of splendid Japanese eatery Shinmai Tasty just a few doors away, Edgewater Boulevard has, effectively for the first time, got something of a foodie buzz about it.

 

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The Gorillas are churning out fries, burgers, fried chook and more – some, but not all, with a Korean touch – with rush-hour steeliness.

The place is smokin’.

Those who followed CTS BBQ adventures of the past couple of years – at, say, Smokehouse 101 or Up In Smokemay have noted we have a cost-based aversion to pork ribs.

We love ’em!

But the cost, including bones, inevitably seems out of whack compared to other available goodies such as brisket.

At Gorilla Grill, we feel liberated.

Here, a half rack costs $18 and a full rack $27 – both served with chips.

 

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Hoorah!

Our half rack is excellent and is a goodly sized slab of meat.

There’s a heap of terrific, juicy meat on those bones, the sauce is excellent and the chips are fine, too.

This just about does the pair of us – for $18, it presents as a cracking meal for one.

OK, this is ribs in a fast-food setting, but we do not care.

Lip-smacking good is the verdict.

 

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Coleslaw ($3) is nicely crisp jumble of white and red cabbage daubed with mayo; good but not a knock-out.

 

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I’m so rapt with our ribs that I barely notice our Krusty Burger ($12) with its nice, crunchy chunk of chook, salady bits and bacon, though Bennie gives it a firm thumbs up.

 

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Meal of the week No.27: Smokehouse 101

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Since we first wrote about Smokehouse 101, there has been something of barbecue explosion in the west – see here and here.

In the meantime, Smokehouse 101 (101 Rosamond Road, Maidstone) has quietly gone about its business, not perturbed by any perceived lack of any inner-city vibe or a trendy list of craft beers.

On the Saturday night I visit for indulgence, the place is doing a roaring trade and I like the ambience that is a friendly place without graces and airs, and where walk-up trade is normal.

As ever here, the chips ($5) are a little on the average side but go good with the chilli mayo and a splendidly boozy BBQ sauce.

The coleslaw ($5) is better this time out than we’ve received on previous occasions – more finely chopped, nicely dressed and with slices of red chilli and cubes of mandarin.

Nice!

The meat?

Geeezuz …

Half a rack of beef ribs ($35) is amazing, superb, wonderful.

There’s a LOT of meat surrounding those two brontosaurus-style ribs, much of it underneath them.

The meat is tender, smoky, delicious – and there’s not much fat.

I alternate mouthfuls with and without that boozy sauce and love every lip-smacking minute of my feast.

Though I do struggle to finish …

All of which begs the question: Why, when beef ribs are available, do people persist in ordering those of the pig and sheep variety?

The latter two, it seems to me, are often over-priced, ungenerous and way too polite.

Fine barbecue for the west

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The Park Hotel, 12 Watton Stree, Werribee. Phone: 9741 1441

The Park Hotel has been on our radar for yonks – but it seemed like every time we’d start meandering in that direction, we’d get distracted.

Tonight all the stars align.

Being unable to attend the launch of the pub’s whiz-bang barbecue range a few weeks previously, we’ve been happy to accept an invite to take the smoked goodies and sides for a run for a mid-week dinner (see full disclosure below).

So there’s big star No.1 – a new venue doing barbecue in the western suburbs.

Yay!

 

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As well, it’s the very day of Bennie’s 15th birthday so we are joined by his mum, Deborah.

And we all have a very nice time.

Many readers more locally long-standing than I will be aware of this venue’s notorious past.

There’s a running joke about the length and specificity of the Park’s dress code, which definitely sets out to prevent a return to the bad old days.

 

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So much so that “park hotel werribee dress code” is a Google thing.

But no problems these days – the Park is a pleasant, roomy and friendly venue, with an array of seating options.

Family-friendly, too.

If the music is tad on the loud side for us, there is one monumental blessing – no pokies here!

The Park Hotel menu is just part of the food they’re doing here (see menu below).

But based on our very enjoyable meal, the pub is likely to find itself a destination for barbecue fans.

Partly because the nearest specialty barbecue places are in Maribyrnong, Footscray and beyond.

But mostly because what we have is, mostly, very good and priced pretty much how we’ve come to expect this kind of food of this kind of quality.

We are not served from the menu list but instead are provided a mighty fine sampler platter for the three of us plus three sides samples.

So it’s hard to gauge where our fare would fit in price-wise – I’m guessing somewhere between the $45 Pleased To Meat You option and the $65 Meat Master offering.

So what do we have?

 

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In order of wow factor:

Lamb, rosemary and olive sausages – superb!

These wonderful snags are listed on the menu as going for $12 the pair, which we reckon is a steal.

Roast chicken maryland with a maple glaze – also superb!

Like just about everyone else, we eat a lot of chook especially given how much Indian, Vietnamese and African food we eat.

So it takes a lot to impress.

As soon as Bennie takes a mouthful of the Park chook, he opines: “Oh man, this is good!”

I agree.

Pulled pork shoulder – very nice and better than most we’ve tried in the past few years.

Cool with the “Carolina vinegar” sauce served on the side.

Pork ribs – ostensibly “Kansas City style”, these are not on the bone as we may have expected and are on the extra fatty side and a little too chewy.

Enjoyable but …

 

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And our sides?

Mac ‘n’ cheese – simple, no-frills and the best we’ve had in Melbourne.

It’s moist, rich and delicious.

Cornbread – a deep brown and with a delightful nuttiness.

Coleslaw – this is a bit of letdown; mostly, I suspect, because it has dried out a bit in the small sample tubs.

 

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Dessert?

Hey, it’s Bennie’s birthday – of COURSE we’re going to have dessert!

He absolutely loves – and inhales – his chocolate brownie with salted caramel sauce and coconut ice-cream that is turned into an impromptu birthday cake.

 

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His mum, meanwhile, is very happy with her dark chocolate and beetroot cheesecake – as are we all.

 

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Many thanks to the Park staff for ensuring we had a very enjoyable evening.

Check out the Park Hotel website (including menu) here.

(Consider The Sauce dined at the Park Hotel as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meal. We were served a selected range taken from the venue’s new barbecue line-up. Park management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)

 

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Smokin’ in Footscray

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smoke25

 

Up In Smoke, 28 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 9689 8188

Standing outside Up In Smoke on a Thursday night, I am breaking two firm ‘n’ fast CTS rules.

First one is, never queue.

Happily, the only people I know who spot me being such an arch hypocrite (apart from the pals I am with) are a famous blogger (see bottom photo) and a Star Weekly colleague – so not too much damage done.

Second rule is, never hit a restaurant – especially one about which there is a buzz – on opening night.

And about Up In Smoke there is most certainly a buzz.

A HUGE buzz.

 

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My fellow blogger and pal Nat Stockley and I had been discussing this phenomena earlier in the week – how we can enthuse about our latest Indian or Middle Eastern hidey holes and earn good responses from our readers; but post in Melbourne anything to do with barbecue and/or burgers, and all of a sudden the readership broadens way, way beyond just the regulars.

Anyway, my friends and I do pay a price for our opening night decision.

“This place took forever to open – now it’s taking them forever to feed us!” quips one of my companions.

It’s true – our food is slow in coming. But that IS what you get on opening night so no blame on the eatery from me.

And after a cautious start in terms of the “small dishes” we share, and especially once we get on to some real meaty action, we have a ball.

 

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Grilled corn ($5) is, well, corn – there’s little or no sign of green habanero mayo and not much that is bacon about the “bacon salt”.

 

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Jalapeno, bacon and cheese stuffed potato skins ($6) are very good and keenly priced.

 

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Smoked hot wings with ranch dressing ($10) are OK but seem to fall into the realm of average bar food. And they’re a bit cold and clammy.

 

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The German’s potato salad ($6) is beaut and another dish that is well priced. There’s apple, celery and pickle in there.

 

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As has been noted here previously, I’m not a big fan of fries heavily seasoned with suspect stuff.

Just salt, thanks …

But the Up In Smoke fries ($7) work real fine, their “BBQ rub” seasoning coming across as something tasty and worthwhile rather than as mean and nasty.

 

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Mac & cheese ($6) is lovely and much moister than it appears in the above photograph.

Now on to the meat!

 

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Ostensibly our table of four ordered as follows …

“The Big Tray” (top photo, $42) of pulled pork, jalapeno-cheese sausage and brisket to be shared by two of us.

The beef rib platter (above, $18) for myself.

 

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And the pork rib platter ($28) for our fourth.

But the truth is we all share everything one way or another.

The pork ribs are of the chewy variety; the single, massive beef rib is melt in your mouth tender.

The pulled pork is smokey and better than most; the brisket is fine.

The sausage is a fatty work of art.

I love it all – including the sauces, pickles and milk buns.

 

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Best of all are the prices.

We’ve dropped some hefty amounts of money on barbecue in the past year or so and generally accept that the prices we must pay for such food are higher than those at our regular, westside cheap eats.

At Up In Smoke, by contrast, you can get a simple meat platter of your choice AND a fine side and end up paying just a little over $20.

Alternatively, you could go with one three $10 sandwiches (brisket burnt ends, pulled pork, pulled chicken), add a side and get a fine meal for $15.

Excellent!

A barbecue place where eating barbecue doesn’t have to be a big deal.

Up In Smoke does, however, bear comparison – in terms of food, prices, vibe – with Fancy Hank’s.

Though the Footscray establishment has more variety, including tacos.

Up In Smoke is a surefire hit.

It’s casual, the prices are great for such food and – frankly – I am very eager to return to explore the menu further.

It’s local, the parking is a breeze (if you know where to go!) and it can be a spur of the moment thing for us.

 

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