Footscray’s new spicy place

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Spicy Chef, 359 Barkly Street, Footscray. Phone: 9687 7224

This was something of an impromptu CTS gathering that came together very easily.

A spare Sunday night, a new Indian place to try, who’s in?

So it was that six of us gathered with just one aim in mind – to take for a spin the Spicy Chef opening special of biryani, starter, salad and drink for $11.95.

We had good meals but I suspect there’s plenty more to explore at Spicy Chef in the coming weeks and months – certainly the pricing (compared with other Footscray Indian places) is very reasonable on the menu proper across the usual range of curries and dosas.

 

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The best thing about our meal deals was that they were served on thali trays and that constituted excellent all-round meals for one.

Like many people, perhaps even most, I usually struggle to go even close to finishing a regular, inevitably huge serve of biryani.

So having a smaller portion mixing it with a starter and salad (even if it is just some slices of carrot and cucumber) and a drink thrown in is a fine thing.

Perhaps other restaurateurs could take this idea and run with it!

Our biryanis were uniformly fine, with good raita and spicy gravy on the side and enough fried onion strands to make the rice dishes sing.

We mostly chose goat biryani and it was good, with quite a lot of meat that came from the bones quite easily.

The starters didn’t quite reach the same standard but were OK, ranging from onion bhaji (top photograph) to …

 

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… egg bhaji to …

 

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… eggplant fritters to …

 

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… chicken 65.

This latter was Bennie’s choice and he probably did the best of us.

 

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West Footscray and the winds of change (2)

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wefo215

 

Could West Footscray eventually rival Footscray proper – not only in residential terms but also in terms of commercial activity and what I’ll simply call buzz?

I’ve been pondering this for a few weeks, spurred on by a couple of stories written by my Star Weekly colleague Benjamin Millar.

The first concerned the 501 Receptions site on Barkly Street.

When the news broke almost a year ago the paperwork was in on an attempt to get permission to build almost 200 apartments on the site, the general understanding was it was the reception centre owner who was going to do the developing.

Now, as Ben reports, the site is on the market.

The second story concerned the revamp that is going to happen at West Footscray station to accommodate the Melbourne Metro rail project.

And never mind that the station could hardly be more shiny or new as it is!

That, I reckon, makes the mostly vacant land at the CBD end of the station (top photograph) area very valuable, strategically and otherwise.

 

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The land, owned by VicTrack, is home to the Western Emergency Relief Network and the fine people who sail in her.

 

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Right across the road, the building and land that once housed a motor mechanic outfit, has a for sale sign out front.

 

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It lists among the property’s virtues town planning permits for a “4 level complex comprising 30 apartments and 2 shops”.

 

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Right next door to that is Potters House church.

One whisper I’ve heard is that rezoning efforts are being made for this land.

Maybe some residential development is in the longer term future there.

But my understanding is that the church, on a site that was once a sugar factory, has a lease that has about five years to run.

 

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Banbury Village, meanwhile, is seeming more like a regular part of the neighbourhood rather than the closed-off bubble it has seemed for several years.

This is because there are now a number of village roads fully connecting to surrounding streets such as Barkly, Cross and Warleigh.

 

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Switching our gaze to the other side of railway tracks …

I’ve been told the reason there’s a monster hardware store there is because there are toxic soil concerns for much of the land in the area, rendering it unsuitable for housing.

 

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The means the area bounded by the Geelong Road, Geelong Street and Sunshine Road will presumably stay as a home to some fairly gnarly industrial undertakings – rubber, iron and paint among them.

 

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Another whisper I’ve heard is that the council is keen on preserving the jobs capacity of the properties on Sunshine Road from the bus depot up to the wool stores.

One of the wool stores, the one that runs parallell to Roberts Street, is used for I know not what – but when I choose that route to get to work there are always many, very large trucks coming and going.

The other wool store is being used as storage depot/warehouse for Dimmey’s and the associated import/export business, Starite.

Beyond there is a surprisingly large amount of residential neighbourhoods about which it is easy to forget.

A lot of the older houses in this area – bounded by Sunshine and Paramount roads and Stony Creek – were built after World War II by a developer named Hansen, using many recycled materials because of war-time shortages.

 

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His company name and/or motto is still emblazoned on one the Tottenham shops – the one that housed a sub-continental grocery for a few years.

 

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I learn the above information from Evan, who I meet when step foot – for the first time – into the Tottenham mobility scooter shop.

Actually, Evan runs three business on the premises – Mr Mobility, Hamilton Street Antiques and Mr Mannequins.

If I had been previously aware of these diverse enterprises, it was only very dimly.

 

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So I am knocked out the range of old stuff Evan has in here – this is easily the most impressive antique/vintage shop I’ve seen in the western suburbs.

The antique side of the business is named after Hamilton Street in Yarraville, where Evan was located before moving to the Tottenham shops 25 years ago.

 

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In the course of good old chinwag, Evan tells me the bottom has fallen out of the antique biz, mostly – he reckons – because of Ebay.

As well as many houses in the streets behind the Tottenham shops, there is a very big vacant lot – on Cala Street, right next to Opera Australia Props & Scenery Hire.

But perhaps there are soil issues there, too?

 

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Fine burgers in Footscray

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Burger Business, 230 Nicholson Street, Footscray. Phone: 9396 0368

The talk in our home for a few hours leading up to our Friday night dinner outing is about Indian.

But when the appointed hour arrives and we’re heading for Footscray, I unilaterally change my mind.

Truth be told, I’m not really into chowing down on another Indian meal tonight – we DO eat a lot of Indian and Sri Lankan food.

This is a decision with which Bennie happy to go along with once he realises burgers are on the menuĀ  – obviously, our period of burger burnout of some months previous has abated.

 

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Burger Business is one of two newish burger joints that have sprung up in Footscray – perhaps hoping to tap into the sort of burger-crazed sentiments that have made 8bit such a hit.

It’s on a stretch of Nicholson Street that is quite gloomy at night and not generally famed for its food or street life.

But maybe that is changing – Burger Business joins a handful of African places down here where it WOULD be good to see a more robust street vibe happening.

We have no expectations or knowledge of Burger Business one way or the other.

 

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It looks and feels like its based on a ritzy burger joint template.

Indeed, as we await our meals, I whisper to Bennie: “This place looks just like a Grill’d!”

Hunters & Collectors are blasting from the sound system, duly followed by another iconic Australian rock anthem.

I fill Bennie in on the alternative chorus of the latter: “Don’t bore me shitless …”

Whatever our hopes and expectations, we proceed to enjoy very good burger meals – and leave Burger Business thinking we’ve lucked into cool Footscray secret that comes without the crush of crowds that may be encountered elsewhere.

 

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Bennie enjoys his bacon feast ($11.90) with beef, smoked bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, aioli and ketchup.

 

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But allowed a taste of my chilli burger ($10.90) – with beef, aioli, cheese, roasted peppers, red onion, jalapenos, chilli sauce and lettuce – he happily avows that my sandwich is superior.

It IS bloody good!

The chilli quotient is negligible beyond the pickled jalapenos but all the very good ingredients and condiments – including nicely flavoursome beef and juicy roast capscums – work together to create an excellent burger.

Our small serves of regular fries and sweet potato fries are beaut, the latter having the same crisp exteriors as the former.

Our burgers and fries have been combo-ed with drinks – so our Friday night feast has cost us a most admirable $15 each.

Upon completion of our meals, we are given a small brownie each without charge.

They’re more fudge than brownie and OK rather than wonderful – but still, it’ a nice touch.

 

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All you can eat Japanese

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Okami, 84 Hopkins Street, Footscray. Phone: 9078 0888

As we depart Footscray’s new Japanese establishment, I ask Bennie what he made of our meal …

“It was a bit shopping centre,” he replies after a moment of pondering.

“But it got better as it went on.”

He’s right on both counts.

Okami replaces 1 + 1 Dumpling Noodles on Hopkins Street, right in the guts of Footscray.

It is a sister restaurant to establishments in Hampton, Caulfield and Wantirna.

The place has been done over in a rather nice and sleek way.

Ordering a la carte can be done at Okami, which is a dinner only eatery and also (perhaps temporarily) cash only.

But judging by the number of patrons in the place on our Monday night and those I observed a few nights earlier on a packed-house Saturday, Okami Footscray is already a big hit based on its all-you-can-eat deal for $29.80 per person.

So that’s what we do, too.

The result is one of our more unusual dining experiences.

 

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How does it work?

This is not a buffet.

Instead, patrons order from a separate all-you-can-eat menu (see below) that nevertheless seems to feature just about everything the restaurant serves.

The line-up is long and features many well-known Japanese dishes ranging from starters through to ice-cream.

Some of meatier and more substantial dishes are offered in two sizes, though pondering portion sizes seems odd in this context.

The first thing we want to know is: Once we’ve ordered, is that it – can we order no more?

Our waitperson is ready for that: Yes, we can order as many times as we like.

We end up ordering twice for savouries and once for sweets.

 

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Bizarrely, the menu comes with the following warning: “Please Do not Waste Food, Any Food Waste Over 200g May Charge Extra.”

Wow, I wonder how that works.

If a table has been unable to consume all it has ordered, what do the staff do – wheel out the scales?

It comes across as a bluff and a warning, one that surely would be very difficult to enforce.

And if it was, who decides what the “extra” charges are – and on what basis?

We order a stack of smaller dishes and larger ones to share that range from awful to delicious, largely progressing as per Bennie’s summation from not good to better to very good in order of arrival.

And arrive our selections do – in such quick succession we struggle to keep up.

Several of the garnishes and salady bits are overbearing and/or lame.

 

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Seaweed salad has all the flavours we expect but is drab.

 

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Sushi is edible but dull.

The nigiri is too hard and too cold, and I doubt very much if it has been made fresh for us.

This is where Bennie’s “shopping centre” quip is most relevant.

 

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Though the same can be said of our seafood tempura.

Freshly fried, yes, but lacklustre – a couple of vegetable pieces and a prawn for each of us.

 

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The eggplant salad is topped by a profusion of carrot strands.

The cross-cut eggplant is a mix of crunchy and chewy but falls a long way short of the sort of melt-in-your-mouth sensations we expect of this dish.

 

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There is little that is overtly seafoodish about our prawn gyoza but they taste fine, though the outer edges of the pastry are too chewy.

 

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Chawan mushi is tiny and lacking any seafood, chicken or other – but the custard does have good flavour.

 

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Miso soup is unmemorable.

 

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Bedraggled leaves are draped over four pieces of beef carpaccio that taste wonderful – this marinated meat is Bennie’s favourite part of the night.

 

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Miso beef is fine and tender, though the miso sauce is not a an integrated part of the dish and the meat is a tad overcooked for my tastes.

 

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Now we’re cooking!

Or rather, deep-frying!

The batter on our chicken karaage is quite thick but overall this dish pleases us.

It’s hot and fresh; the chicken is tender though not particularly flavoursome.

 

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The chicken katsu also delights.

The coating is crisp and hot, and the tangy sauce makes the whole lot sing.

 

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Cold soba (buckwheat) noodles present as a mess but are lovely, the vibrant sesame dressing nicely abetting the pickled ginger and bean sprouts.

 

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Green tea and black sesame ice-creams are both described on the menu as homemade.

We know not if these are actually made in-house – but we really enjoy them anyway.

Have we enjoyed our dinner?

Yes, but …

Have we got our money’s worth?

Yes, but …

Have we left any potentially surcharge-liable food?

No.

Long-time CTS readers will be aware that notions such as plating, presentation, decor, ambience, elegance, style and class don’t feature very high on our list of eating-out criteria.

But experiencing the Okami all-you-can-eat deal makes us realise that when it comes to Japanese food, they have a big role to play – even for us.

Okami mileage will vary depending on individual customer concerns.

For most people, we suspect a satisfying time can be had through savvy ordering, even if the food often seems rushed and wanting more refinement.

But there’s no doubt that for many, Okami will be a popular and regular feasting point.

Indeed, it already is.

 

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Westie eats goss 17/4/16

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Moonee Ponds is soon to have a rather spectacular new cafe.

Dear Abbey will be located in the lovely old church at 23A Gladstone Street – across the road from the Coles/Young Street carpark.

It is being brought to us by the crew behind Little Sister in Keilor East and Hey Jude in Essendon North.

 

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One of them, Joe Avery, obligingly walks me through the new place …

Much of the old church is taken up by apartments, with the cafe taking up roughly the front quarter, with much of that space taken up by the kitchen.

There will be a corridor of seating along the front and down one side of the cafe premises.

 

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But what will set Dear Abbey apart is the glassy, classy structure – with much more seating – that will be located on the church’s forecourt.

 

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Taking shape on the V intersection of Ascot Vale and Mount Alexander roads is a wholefoods outfit.

Eat-in food and coffee will be served from the caravan outside.

 

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Coming soon on Puckle Street is a deli that will be in the New York tradition – think reuben sandwiches and the like.

Brought to you by Johnny the Dude Food Man.

 

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Not far from Puckle Street and down the cul de sac/alley named Aspen Street, it appears a South Indian eatery will soon live where the Sri Lankan joint Spicy Hut once did.

 

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In Footscray, and on Barkly Street near Geelong Road, Vanakkam – purveyor of very fine biryanis – has become Spicy Chef.

 

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It’s the baby of Prasad, himself a former employee of Vanakkam.

 

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Prasad also worked in Rajdhani, the Indian joint that was open in (roughly) 2008 and ’09 in the Barkly Street premises that now houses Roti Road.

He even remembers my regular order there of onion bhaji in those pre-CTS days!

 

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As an opening special, Prasad is offering an enticing meal deal …

Any starter, any biryani, salad and any drink – including beer! – for $11.95.

Blimey!

 

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The frontage at 34-36 Irving Street, which has sported at least a couple of Indian carnations in recent years, will soon be open as Station Restaurant.

I’m told the “East African” food advertised in the exterior signage will basically mean Ethiopian fare, though there are photos of rice dishes in there, too.

 

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Also on Irving, Saudagar is up and running again after a fire-enforced closure.

 

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The Station Hotel, meanwhile, will be closed for a month or so as it recovers from its kitchen fire mishap.

 

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Footscray has a new Japanese eatery – at 84 Hopkins Street, where 1+1 Dumpling Noodles lived until very recently.

Okami is a sister restaurant to establishments in Hampton, Caulfield and Wantirna.

Review forthcoming on CTS.

I would’ve hit it last night solo but every seat was taken!

Judging by the takeaway menu, the food is likely regulation Japanese.

Oakmi Footscray offers an “all you can eat” buffet for just under $30.

 

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Speaking of Japanese food, Edgewater Boulevard has two new eats places soon to open, one being Shinmai Tasty …

 

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… the other being a bricks-and-mortar version of Gorilla Grill, known until now for its food truck offerings.

Flash, big Indian for Footscray

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bark1

 

By Erika Jonsson

There’s no doubt Barkly Street in Footscray has been experiencing something of a renaissance.

Littlefoot Bar and Restaurant and African favourites such as Dinknesh Lucy and Kokeb have been drawing increasing numbers of people beyond the traditional Hopkins strip.

Now the long-empty, very big premises at 250 Barkly St – which was a Sichuan hotpot joint in its last incarnation – is being fitted out as a classy new Indian place.

Sankranti already has half a dozen up-market branches in Singapore and another two in Chennai. This will be its first Australian venture and operators are hopeful of a March opening.

The menu will feature classic north Indian and Indo-Chinese food as well as seasonal specials.

It’s good news for this site right next door to Nando’s, which has been gathering dust for some years. Locals are licking their lips in anticipation.

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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