Excellent barbecue

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Houston’s Barbecue, 46 Concorde Drive, Keilor Park. Phone: 0434 434 303

Keilor Park, home of the Star Weekly office, is on the edge of a sprawling area of inter-connected industrial estates hugging Melbourne Airport.

Around here, there appears to be a tradies-style cafe on almost every block.

Good food?

Way more sparse.

One of our locals, for instance, has rotating bain marie offerings of beef vindaloo, satay beef, beef ragout and so on.

And they all taste the same.

In this place I have seen a beefy trucker gleefully tuck into a vast bowl of super-rich cream sauce with a pasta garnish – all gracefully topped (covered) by a hefty chicken schnitizel.

Such grotesqueries are not uncommon around here.

But each to his own.

And business is business.

As previously noted here at CTS, no matter how much such operations may wish it to be otherwise, in most cases they simply must do the potato cake and dimmie routine.

That’s why myself and a handful of colleagues continue our weekly curry run to get wonderful Sri Lankan goodies from Spicy Corner in slightly further afield residential Tullamarine.

And that’s why I and most of my Star Weekly colleagues pack lunches – in my case, especially earlier in the week.

And that is also why the opening of a bona fide barbecue joint just around the corner from our office – a two-minute walk, no need to get in the car – seemed so surreal.

Still does.

 

 

Houston’s Barbecue is located in the premises of Fury and Son Brewing Company.

And it’s open only on Fridays.

Of course, I was VERY interested in checking it out – for both CTS purposes and as a break in the Keilor Park eats routine.

However, initial visits – several months ago now – left very mixed impressions.

For example, brisket burgers and beef hot dogs that were OK – but not really nailing it.

I can sympathise.

This is a new operation – a very unique one, operating in an unusual (to say the least) location.

There had to have been doubts about whether it would even draw sufficient numbers, especially at Friday lunch-time, and about what would or would not work.

Some fine-tuning, tweaking and settling-in time has definitely been in order.

I returned a couple of weeks ago – and was mightily impressed.

The menu has been constantly revised.

For the in-a-hurry, keep-it-cheap lunch crowd, there are still burgers and punters can still customise meals by ordering 100-gram meat portions and sides.

But the introduction of substantial – and, yes, pricier – platters has seen Houston’s Barbecue reach new heights.

Heights that deserve to make it a destination for a wider audience than merely those who work nearby.

 

 

This platter was superb.

Two hunka-chunka slices of wonderful spicy-crusted brisket.

An excellent cheesy, greasy smoked sausage.

Just the right amount of good coleslaw and pickles.

And – oh, yes! – none of that brioche nonsense; instead, two slices of perfect white, sliced bread in true barbecue joint fashion.

Entirely delicious – and worth every cent of the $18 I paid.

 

 

Returning a week later, I have an even better time.

The menu has changed again (see latest incarnation below).

For CTS purposes, I am happy to splash out in a way I hope doesn’t become too much of a weekly habit!

This beef short rib conglomeration costs $25 and it’s a doozy!

The chips are just OK – maybe less crisp and hot than I would like on account of me being the day’s first customer.

Slaw and pickles as previously enjoyed.

And I would’ve appreciated that white, sliced bread again – and as seen on new photos on the Houston’s Barbecue Facebook page with this platter.

But forget all that – what about the meat?

My single, hefty rib is amazingly good.

Less fatty than many barbecue beef ribs I have eaten, it’s meat is tender, plentiful and heavenly.

The spicy crust might be too salty for some tastes, but I love that as well.

As for doubts about the commercial viability of the singular location and one-day-a-week opening hours, I couldn’t be happier to observe that Houston’s Barbecue is a hit.

In industrial Keilor Park.

How about that?

Houston’s Barbecue is open on Friday from noon until 10pm – or until sold out!

Check out their website here.

 

Meal of the week No.44: Smokehouse 101

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As it’s always in a state of constant prowl, food-wise, CTS doesn’t drop into Smokehouse 101 (101 Rosamond Road, Maidstone) as often as we’d like.

Because we like it lots that the place keeps on going about its happy neighbourhood joint business away from the often fickle, hipsterish glare that attends other establishments that specialise in barbecue across Melbourne.

But we are in the house this Thursday to check out one Smokehouse 101’s regular specials – the Thursday night $5 burgers.

Bennie had taken them for a run the previous week with a pal and has been most adamant that CTS pays an official visit.

Oh, well … OK, if you insist.

 

 

So what’s the deal?

And is it any good?

The answer: Yes.

The Thursday burgers are available in beef, southern fried chicken, pulled pork and brisket.

Extra patties are available for the first two named for $3 a pop.

But we go a different route, ordering one each of the burgers on offer.

All are dressed the same – with coleslaw and good, sliced, crunchy pickled cucumbers.

I make that point because in the same week CTS bought a jar of pickled cucumbers – as recommended by the salesperson at the deli in which I was shopping – and they turned out to be soggy and tasteless.

Straight into the rubbish bin they went.

The little things count!

 

 

Likewise, two thumbs heartily hoisted for the most excellent house-made and toasted buns served by Smokehouse 101.

The meat in our four burgers?

Just fine in all cases.

Though Bennie and I agree that the straight-up beef burger is the best of the bunch.

It is, of course, possible to buy burgers elsewhere for $5 or less if you want to go mega-franchise.

But those aren’t burgers like these are real burgers.

Though here it will pay to keep things in perspective and real – these ARE $5 burgers, so you won’t be getting a two-fisted hunka chunka meal, or not by ordering a single burger anyway.

Early on our Thursday, there are only a couple of other tables taking advantage of the $5 burger deal.

But we’re told it can get busy later on in the night, with queues out the door not uncommon.

 

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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