Cheeky, cheap and excellent

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Cheeky Chewies Cafe, 18 Aviation Road, Laverton. Phone: 9369 9913

Asian fusion?

We’ve been won over by this concept, particularly by West of Kin in Braybrook.

But there, the food is ambitious and the prices tend to reflect that.

At Cheeky Chewies, a bright new arrival in Laverton, the vibe is more everyday cafe, with asking prices to match – there’s nothing above $20 and most of the more hefty dishes clock in at about $16.

Actually, while Cheeky Chewies is self-described as offering “Asian fusion”, truth is this place is more about mixing, on the one hand, Western-style fare (a parma, fish and chips) with, on the other, pretty much straight-up Asian offerings.

 

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Over two lunches on successive days, Bennie and I eat very well indeed, with only a couple of minor flat spots.

The service is top-notch and we like this place a lot.

On our first visit, we tackle a bunch of the “small dish” offerings listed on the menu (see below).

Chilli wontons (top photo, five for $10) are dynamite, the delicate casings housing a lovely pork mince filling, with both doing a lovely tango with the zingy vinegar chilli sauce.

 

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“Super Crispy Chicken Wings” (four for $8.90) could more accurately be described as wingettes, but are excellent.

Nothing flash is served up here – simply superbly cooked, unoily chook.

My heart sank a little when I saw a bottle sweet chilli sauce being wielded in the kitchen, but thankfully that jam-like concoction is served on the side and is ignored.

 

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“Cheezy Pumpkin Bags” (three for $8) display the same expert frying skills, but we detect none of the advertised cheesiness – just pumpkin.

And the dipping sauce tastes like plain old mayo to us, though we are assured it really is “homemade honey mustard sauce”.

The lesson here for Bennie and me is, I suspect, never order anything involving pumpkin.

 

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The “What-A-Burger” ($16.90) is OK, the nice slab of pork having a good lemongrass kick.

But for the price, this offering seems a little on the austere side when there are so many high-powered burger options across the west at similar prices.

 

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The Cheeky Chewies nasi lemak ($14.90) is listed in the breakfast section of the menu, but can also, of course, do lunch duty.

It’s wonderful – better, fresher and more interesting than most equivalents you’ll find in regulation Malaysian eateries.

If there’s one thing that prevents nasi lemak being as popular with us as, say, pho or Hainan chicken rice, it is the inclusion of anchovies.

Invariably, they seem to us stale, nasty blemishes.

Here at Cheeky Chewies they are prepared in-house and the result is winning.

Blonde and crisp, they enhance the dish.

The sticky chunk of chook rendang is fine.

But the real triumph is provided by the house-made sambal.

It’s of only mild spiciness, but has a rich, deep flavour with a touch of smoky about it – wonderful!

 

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Our Thai-style pork/noodle salad ($14.90) is a quality assemblage of excellently fresh ingredients with the just the right, spirited mix of chilli and lemon.

The cafe lattes ($3.90) that complete our second meal here are superb.

 

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Birdcage Cafe – opening today!

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Birdcage Cafe Altona, 7 Harrington Square, Altona. Phone: 0414 224 821

Running a little ahead of time, I decide to take the scenic route to Altona’s Harrington Square.

But as I pass Bezirk cafe on Millers Road, I feel a twinge of guilt.

You see, I exchanged email a while back with one of Bezirk’s proprietors with a view to doing a CTS review/story – but we simply haven’t got around to it yet.

Now here I am, heading to another Altona cafe to do the biz on the eve of its big opening!

Oh well …

 

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Happily, after I enter Birdcage Cafe Altona, I discover the couple behind it, Adrian and Cath, are the very same folks who run Bezirk.

Problem solved!

Or rather, no problem at all!

 

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Adrian tells me their initial focus when looking to open a sister joint for Bezirk ran more along the lines of a hole-in-the-wall operation.

But when they found and secured 7 Harrington Square, they decided there was no other way for it than to run with gusto with the greater space at hand.

And a lovely space it is, too.

It’s kinda minimalist, but in a warming way.

 

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There’s a cute kids area.

 

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And these rustic, concrete-topped stools are surprisingly bum-friendly.

The table base is constructed from a papadum machine, maintaining a link with the premisies’ previous carnation as a curry house.

 

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Naturally, Birdcage Cafe is doing a fine line in brekkies, including the likes of breakfast pumpkin gnocchi and apple crumble pancakes.

But with more room, and more room to cook, Birdcage Cafe is going further than Bezirk in terms of lunch offerings, running to – for instance – a Thai beef salad and grilled salmon.

I’m told the menu (see below) testing has all been done and I’m on hand for a sort-of softish opening for friends and family.

So my lunch options are limited to the burgers – no matter.

 

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Now, take it on board that my lunch has been prepared in the knowledge it is to be eaten by a food writer and that I did not pay for it.

That said … IMO this fried chicken burger ($17) is a sensation!

There’s nothing particularly sophisticated about it, but …

A massive slab of crisp, juicy and tasty fried chook; cheese; rough-cut, excellent coleslaw; a single rasher of very good bacon.

Excellent chips on the side.

Really top stuff, it all is.

 

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And so substantial that I have no room left for a chunk of Nutella baklava.

Adrian tells me they’re creating some of their sweet treats in-house, but are sourcing others from local specialists such as Fresh Prince of Baklava.

Also keeping righteous local vibe going are meat from Paddock to Table in Laverton and hams and the like from Sycamore Deli in Altona.

 

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My straight-up cafe latte is marvellous.

 

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WeFo cafe overload? Not yet …

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Dumbo Melbourne, 11 Argyle Street, West Footscray. Phone: 9078 2645

Like Lot 10 Eatery, Dumbo is a new arrival in the WeFo neighbourhood.

They join West 48, Pod @ PID, Brother Nancy and Jellybread.

This is some fairly intense cafe action.

But saturation point?

Not yet, it would seem.

Dumbo appears to have found its own niche rather quickly.

 

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The old building next to Footscray West Primary School has been extensively revamped.

Much of the limited space is taken by the kitchen and serving area.

In the main customer space, there’s a big communal table and a handful of smaller types.

On my first visit, the “new paint” vibe was still going on and the mix of Motown and other R&B – just the sort of finger-snapping grooves that would normally have me happily bobbing my head – was unpleasantly “boomy”.

At a second visit, both had gone and all was good.

The menu (see below) has plenty of takes on the usual line-up to keep the breakfast fans happy.

From that list, the baked Moroccan lamb clay pot ($16) strikes us as something that could also do handy lunch work.

The lunch list itself has just three dishes – and CTS tries the lot.

 

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Pearl couscous salad with herbs, tomatoes, Lebanese cucumber, chilli herb oil, blackened chicken and green pepper relish ($18) is super.

The chicken, moist and juicy, smacks of cumin and more in the seasoning department.

Best of all is the fabulous, tangy green pepper relish.

No mere garnish this, it is provided in sufficient quantity to really give the dish a hearty flavour bomb.

 

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The quinoa zucchini salad with sun-dried tomatoes, dill, goats cheese, shallots, beetroot and smoked trout ($19) is lovely yet doesn’t quite have the same impact or striking delineation of flavours.

It’s undeniably constructed from top-notch ingredients all round, but is a little bland for my tastes.

Or maybe it’s this simple: Memo to self – never order anything that involves quinoa.

 

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Eating at cafes such as Dumbo often means CTS has to re-calibre expectations in terms of taking on board that meals such as the above salads are not the massive mounds of biryani or pho we habitually consume.

And that $18 or $19 is the going rate for such fare – and we’re fine with that.

 

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Dumbo’s brioche burger ($19) with “chorizo patty”, bacon, Swiss cheese, jalapeno cream cheese, caramelised onion and thin chips with harissa mayo on the side, however, does seem to fall short in the value for money department.

The verdict from Tony is that the quality is there but the quantity is less than generous.

But then again, maybe comparing a cafe burger with what is available at the many ritzy burger joints around is unfair.

We have been interested to see what precisely “chorizo patty” meant.

Would it be a patty all of re-formed, smoked, porky sausage meat?

Or would it be a beef patty with some chorizo meat included?

It is, as far as we can tell, the latter.

 

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My cafe latte ($3.80) is outstanding and perfect in every way; and I suspect Tony’s double espresso is likewise.

 

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Beautiful food, beautiful place in Seddon

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Fig & Walnut, 11-13 Bellairs Avenue, Seddon. Phone: 0433 574 194

Consider The Sauce has long admired the twin rows of old shops on either side of the tracks near Seddon station, on Bellairs Avenue and Pentland Parade.

We’ve often wondered what the street scenes must have been like when those shops were in their heydays.

And we’ve sometimes mused how lovely it would be to see some street life returning to the area.

Of course, almost all the properties concerned have been turned over to purely residential uses in the subsequent decades.

And who could blame those who live there from being sensitive about and protective of their quiet neighbourhood?

Fig & Walnut proprietor Vera told us, as her cafe was coming together, that she did indeed have to put some serious and sincere effort into winning over the locals.

She did so – and I’m betting they’re all rapt about having this business on their collective doorstep.

Because Fig & Walnut is a stunner.

 

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The old shop has been done out in bright and open style, with the wooden ceilings and brickwork retained.

 

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The eating spaces include the front room of the next door shop and the lovely garden out back has a cute-as-a-button cubbie house.

But all that’s just the start …

The vibe here is bustling and cheerful.

And the food, based on our first visit’s meals, is marvellous – and those we eyeball that are headed elsewhere look, some of them, even sexier.

There’s breakfasts and lunches and two soups.

Given a superficial glance, the menu (see below) may seem to be mostly made up of variations on the cafe theme.

But the results bespeak skill, imagination and inspiration way beyond that …

 

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Bennie’s pancakes ($18) are a fantasia of colours and flavours.

The gluten-free pancakes themselves are shaped more like burger patties or fat cookies – and taste kinda grainy yet also marvellous.

They’re attended by maple mascarpone, saffron-poached pear, grilled figs, berries, passionfruit and more.

 

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There’s three salads on the menu, any of which can be supplemented by protein portions such as poached coconut chicken, eye fillet or salmon.

I feel no need to do so when ordering my roasted winter root vegetable salad ($16.90).

How good does it look?

It tastes even better, the perfectly cooked vegetables doing a sensual tango with turmeric yogurt and rocket pesto, both of which are delivered in perfect quantities to lube things along nicely.

Reads like cafe food, priced like cafe food – but delivering like a flash re$taurant.

 

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Vera “shouts” us flourless orange cake ($6.90) and …

 

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… chocolate brownie ($4.90) to go with our excellent coffees.

They, too, are wonderful, the brownie seeming to have some choc pudding DNA in its make-up.

Next time for me?

The insanely gorgeous-looking zucchini-and-haloumi skewers I see heading for another table.

Or maybe the Greek lentil soup with apple cider vinegar Vera tells me is her fave …

The cool Fig & Walnut logo was designed by local creative Liana Lucca-Pope from Hello Idea, also responsible for Littlefoot Bar’s brand identity. See the Hello Idea website here.

 

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Crab burger and hot desserts

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George Jones Eatery, 15 Pascoe Street, Pascoe Vale. Phone: 9304 2917

One of the most pleasurable times of the CTS week is Saturday lunch.

Chores and blogging done, it’s time to hit the road, coffee to go and cool tunes rocking both the car and us.

Such Saturday outings regularly involve travel beyond the bounds of the western suburbs, even given the geographically generous drawing of those boundaries in the world of Consider the Sauce.

And quite often, those Saturday outing involve a romp up Pascoe Vale Road, those outings almost always ending up in Coburg and Sydney Road.

Today, though, and for the first time, we are headed to Pascoe Vale itself.

 

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We’ve been invited to dine at George Jones Eatery (see full disclosure below), and for that we end up being very grateful as without that invite this fine establishment may have escaped our attention for, well, pretty much forever.

George Jones Eatery has been open for about 12 weeks and is already a bona fide hit.

I could be glib and imply that’s because of a lack of dining options in Pascoe Vale.

I’m sure the locals around here are grateful for its presence but the truth is George Jones Eatery would be hit wherever it went.

The room is big and divided up into a variety of sections, some with communal seating.

 

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When we visit we’re told it’s a less-busy-than-usual Saturday yet the place is still hopping – and despite that, the noise levels are fine.

The staff members are many, working hard and very good.

Best of all, from a punter’s point of view, is the menu (see below).

George Jones Eatery is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a separate though not much different list for night-time.

But here’s the thing: The lunch menu – ranging from breakfast with many appealing dishes through to a kids menu, a handful of lunch mains and another handful of burgers (with chips) – features just a single dish priced beyond $20.

That there is right smart pricing – the kind that goes a long way to encouraging repeat visits.

 

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Bennie goes with the soft-shell crab burger with kewpie tartare, coleslaw and citrus dressing ($17.90).

If, somewhat inevitably, he ends up rather wishing he’d plumped for one of the meatier (chook, mushy, cow) burgers, he enjoys his nevertheless.

He should know by now that soft-shell crab – in any guise – is akin to chicken feet: It’s less about the ostensible Crab Prince and more about his courtiers.

Going by the tastes I am offered, this burger and its crab are lovely things, the Asian seasonings coming through strong.

The chips come in a huge serving – more than enough for his dad to eat of them freely – and are excellent.

 

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My seared yellowfin tuna with green beans, “heirloom tomato”, kipfler potato and romesco salsa ($21.90) is a nifty, delicious take on salad nicoise.

The gorgeous fish is barely seared, rimmed with black sesame seeds and served at room temperature.

The salady attendants are very good and all in perfectly complementary proportions.

Best of all, in terms of my own personal preferences, there is a total absence of the usually ubiquitous capers.

 

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We order two desserts, one a special, the other from the regular menu.

Choc tart surprises us – instead of the expected gooey filling cupped in a pastry base we get what seems to us more like a block of fudge.

It has fine, deep chocolate flavour and the raspberry sorbet, salted caramel sauce and honeycomb are beaut.

 

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But banana parfait with salted peanut caramel, chocolate mousse and choc rice crisp ($13) steps up to another level entirely – this is a momentous dessert!

The mousse is mindblowingly intense in terms of chocness and the parfait has a tangy edge that seems almost citrus in nature.

All is rich, sexy and memorable.

(Consider The Sauce dined at George Jones Eatery as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meal. We chose from regular menu and had no restrictions placed upon us in doing so. George Jones Eatery management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to this story.)

 

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Cool cafe for Braybrook

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The Mist Factory, corner South Road/Duke Street, Braybrook.

There was a quite a buzz going on when Quan Viet opened in 2011 on the South Road shopping strip in Braybrook.

Quite rightly, too, as their Vietnamese tucker was very good.

Sadly, it closed quite some time ago now, replaced in the first instance by a generic-style noodle shop (I had a single, very mediocre meal there) and in the second instance by a new Vietnamese place, the quality of which we have yet to ascertain.

Happily, still on the strip – though currently undergoing renovations – is the home of Gerry’s Pittes.

Our 2012 story on Gerry’s continues to be read regularly, confirming these flatbreads’ cult status!

Now, in good news all-round but especially for Braybrook locals, the South Road shopping strip boasts its very own cool cafe.

 

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I love the fit-out of The Mist Factory – there’s wood and enamelled chairs and stools; the vibe is elegant and simple.

(The name, BTW, comes from the “vape” business run by the same folks, with some of the products available down the back of the cafe.)

Having a hunch The Mist Factory would not be a serious lunch place, I did not soak muesli the previous night so am happy to step out for a rare breakfast engagement.

 

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My breakfast ($12.50, from the handwritten list presented with printed menu – see below) is very nice.

The eggs are expertly scrambled and sprinkled with just right amount of dukkah.

There’s a bunch – so to speak – of lovely spinach under those eggs, while the sourdough toast is fine and the bacon of high quality.

 

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For lunch or other non-breakfast times, there’s a range of filled Turkish rolls, panini, slices and cookies.

My two cafe lattes are good.

One of The Mist Factory crew, Peter, tells me it’s very early days for their cafe and that they consider the present situation pretty much “a soft opening”.

He hopes the place will become something of a late-night hang.

 

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Altona cafe scores

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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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