Joyfully juicy

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Bird & Burger, 9 Napier Street, Essendon. Phone: 9090 7265

Bird & Burger lives in a premises long previously occupied by a similar operation with different management.

But this new lot are doing more than maintaining the location’s chicken shop tradition – they’re doing so splendidly.

Here be fast food that really is fresh and delicious.

 

 

The interior is mostly black and white, with eat-in seating options down to stools and a bench on one wall and a handful of snazzy ottomans facing the front window and another bench.

There are, however, tall tables and more stools outside.

 

My heart sinks a little when I see the plastic cutlery atop one of counters, fearing these useless tool may be served with my chicken.

But no!

Not only am I supplied with metal cutlery, my meal is presented on a black platter, with chips and coleslaw in similarly angular bowls.

It all looks marvellous.

Tastes that way, too.

The chips ($3.95) are hot, liberally salted and fine.

The admission price of $6.50 for my coleslaw seems, at first blush, a little steep for what I’m thinking is just a side dish to a chicken meal.

But here’s the thing – it is worth every cent.

In fact, I’ll call it right here and now – this is quite possibly the best coleslaw I’ve ever had in a chook shop.

Made mostly of red cabbage, and boasting subtle whiffs of tarragon and dill, it is well dressed without being sopping, has crunch yet is pliable – and is 100 per cent wonderful.

My chicken falls into the “Yes, It Can Be Done” category.

That’s right – even the very heart of the breast meat is as juicy as the rest of it.

My half bird ($10.50) is marinated in the mild chilli sauce that is chosen from a list that also includes lemon and herbs, crunchy creamed peanut and outback BBQ.

All is beaut and succulent.

 

 

The classic beef burger ($12.50) comes from a menu that includes two other beef burgers, five chicken burgers and a lamb edition.

Our burger’s lettuce, tomato, red onion, tomato relish and herb aioli are joined – upon request – by excellent bacon for which no charge is levied.

The beef patty is nicely charry and superbly seasoned with – I’m guessing here, as the staff mumble something about “top secret” when quizzed – oregano and other goodies.

Every aspect of this burger is an outright winner.

If CTS used points, I’d deduct one for the fact that this burger is such a gloriously messy handful that I resort, in the end, to eating it with a knife and fork.

But in this case, I care not because everything is just so damn tasty.

Bird & Burger is a fine establishment.

CTS metaphorically clicks its heels as it saunters back to the car.

Knockout burgers

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Maple Leaf Meats, Yarraville Gardens

The initial buzz that attended the arrival of food trucks in the west has long since faded.

Trucks still park at Yarraville Gardens and elsewhere, but they have become for us – and no doubt others – just one of many eating scenarios.

For this Saturday lunch, our post-kung fu, food-seeking rambling finds us parking and intent on doing the “truck thing” for the first time in a long while.

We do really, really good.

 

 

After perusing the line-up of vehicular vittles on offer, we opt – for no great reason and with only modest expectations – for Maple Leaf Meats and their cool, old-school truck/caravan.

I say modest expectations because part of our general disinclination to have any truck with this style of food comes down to quite a few disappointments of the mediocre and over-priced food variety.

The Maple Leaf Meats crew goes a long way towards restoring our faith in food trucks and what they offer.

The menu (see below) runs to barbecue offerings such as ribs and wings, but we’re not up for that kind of full-on meatiness or expense (in the case of the ribs), so opt for the burger route.

 

 

My Maple Leaf Burger ($14) is a very fine production with its cheese, pickles, tomato, lettuce and chipotle mayo.

Had I been paying more attention, and not in such a hungry hurry, I may have noted the presence of caramelised onion and therefore opted for another burger selection, caramelised onions being another offering we often find very disappointing and dull.

Here, though, they’re fine – a plus on what is already a fine burger.

Best of all, the patty is of robust and delicious beefiness.

 

 

Bennie does even better with his Smoked Meat Burger ($15).

In addition to the routine fillings, including in this case mustard, this winner comes with “Montreal smoked meat”.

This turns out to be pastrami, which – we’re told – is a Montreal specialty.

But this is not just pastrami – it’s Really Good Pastrami and there’s heaps of it.

This is not merely a matter of the sort of flavour tingle that a rasher of bacon gives to a burger.

So profound is the smoked meat’s impact that it’s more about creating something wholly new and different.

Bennie loves it.

 

 

In tune with the rest of our meal, the small serve of chips ($5) is excellent – each and every one is hot and crisp.

The best part of an hour later, we’re pretty much in Werribee and getting on with our day.

After a longish period of silent grooving to the car music, out of nowhere Bennie emphatically opines:

“Man, that was a good burger!”

 

Williamstown, an interesting arrival

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Bob’s Diner @ Rifle Club Hotel, 121 Victoria Street, Williamstown. Phone: 9367 6073.

One Friday night, and long ago before Consider The Sauce started, Bennie and I ventured into the Rifle Club Hotel, having heard there was a some Thai food going on there.

That turned out to not be the case, and we fled, figuring the establishment – then – was no place for a boy and his dad.

Now we’re back after learning that a crew called Bob’s Diner has set up shop.

Truth be told, this pokies venue is not a good fit for us, but we’re prepared to give it a crack.

The dining room has been done out in basic diner style and, as expected given the the name of the place, burgers are big on the menu.

But there are also such items as poutine, chicken wings, fish and chips – and even a grazier’s beef pie with sauce and mash.

 

 

The chips ($5) come in a good-size serve and are enjoyed by us both.

 

 

My SouthWest Chicken Burger ($12) is an enigma.

Bun, coleslaw, briny pickle all good.

The chicken is crumbed and crisp.

But tastes of nothing.

Is it re-constituted like a chicken nugget?

I can’t tell, but it disappoints.

 

 

Bennie does a whole let better with his cheese and bacon burger ($12).

This is a good, solid burger that is priced right.

Given the dearth of eating options in the immediate neighourhood, Bob’s Diner is sure to be of interest.

But we’d advise savvy scrutiny of the menu and quizzing of the staff.

 

Brewhouse feeds us good

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Two Birds Brewing, 136 Hall Street, Spotswood. Phone: 9762 0000

It’s taken us ages to check out Two Birds Brewing.

As soon as we amble through the doors of this Spotswood brew emporium, we regret that has been the case as we take to the place with alacrity.

There’s a bar/servery at the front and an attendant and cosy drinking/eating area.

 

 

A nice, happy mid-week buzz is going on and there’s quite a good crowd.

It’s warm, but also busy and way too dark for comfortable photography.

So we are very happy to keep on marching through to the brewery proper, which has another area with tables, chairs – and heating.

 

 

It’s all very cavernous and industrial, but we love it – what a place to enjoy a meal and a drink!

CTS doesn’t normally do booze, but this being a brewery it would seem somewhat inappropriate to go without, so I have a very nice schooner of the Two Birds Taco ale, while Bennie is happy to go with his usual Coke stuff.

We are very interested to see how the food will shape up, having checked out the menu before we departed home.

On the one hand, we are delighted to see a list that is so deeply into hipster food of the American style yet unlike anything else we’ve seen in Melbourne.

On the other, we wonder if this will be bar food that is really snack food – we fret, just a little, that we will spend a packet yet nevertheless leave without feeling fully satisfied.

There prove to be so no such problems for us at Two Birds – we enjoy a fine meal and consider the pricing just right.

 

 

House-made pickles ($8) are superb.

Carrot, green beans, celery, zucchini, onion – here is a wonderful fantasia of colours and textures, with each of the vegetables evincing different flavours.

Croquettes ($10 for four, top photograph) present as gorgeous-looking crisp orbs – we can’t wait to grab them.

Their promise is fully realised – inside each of them is lipsmackingly good and gooey mix of macaroni, cheese and pimento, all with just the right level of spice heat.

 

 

We move on to the “bigs” portion of the menu …

By this time we are happy and relaxed in the sure knowledge that the Two Birds experience will leave us well fed.

The one remaining issue to be resolved surrounds what was always going to be Bennie’s main choice – the smoked pork hot dog.

As Bennie himself puts it: “How good can a hot dog be for $17?”

With its fine sausage and dressings of bacon, paprika mustard and ketchup, it hits nice heights in terms of flavour and eating pleasure.

Bennie enjoys the heck out of it, but he does make unfavourable comparisons to the $5 versions to be had at the Wiener Wednesdays at Littlefoot in Footscray.

I tell him that’s harsh and very much a case of comparing apples and oranges.

As he wraps up his meal and licks his fingers, he ponders this.

“I’d happily pay $12 for that,” he says.

Fair call, I reckon.

The kipfler potato salad that accompanies his hot dog is very fine.

 

 

The only problem with my chicken schnitzel “on brioche” is that there is, so far as I can tell, nothing even remotely “schnitzel” about it.

Instead, this a regal, sooper dooper chicken burger that makes me very, very happy.

Around a nice slab of chook are, according to the menu, nothing more than “special sauce, American cheese and lettuce”, yet the flavour impact is way greater than that suggests.

With a lovely dob of that same potato salad, I enjoy my meal and consider it good value for $17.

Check out the Two Birds Brewing website – including menu – here.

 

Bank on it

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Vault Cafe Bar Restaurant, 13 Ballarat Street, Yarraville. Phone: 9041 3361

Consider The Sauce’s senior partner spent much of last year’s grand final day in and around the Vault.

Given that sort of context, you’ll be unsurprised to learn I was way more concerned about where the next beer and the next goal were coming from rather than about chowing down.

But I did notice that there were many happy customers enjoying a range of food – mostly, IIRC, burgers and the like.

Maybe, I thought, the latest outfit to inhabit the old bank on the corner of Ballarat and Canterbury streets has shaken of the bad location karma that had seen a couple of previous businesses come and go.

It took us a while, but we’re back to find out.

We’re doing so early on a week night on which a couple of special offers are going around.

But even without them – a burger deal with drink for $18, parmigiana for $15 – we reckon the Vault is a good thing.

 

 

There’s nothing ambitious or innovative going on here.

It’s a cosy (and warm) room, the staff are on the ball and we eat well for very little outlay.

We’re not sure how anyone would go here with some of the more exotic fare, but for your more straightforward offerings, the Vault is reliably feeding people and making them happy.

Think of it as a pub-not-pub.

 

 

I check to make sure the parmas on offer – there are four – are made with real-deal chicken.

They are.

And how.

My traditional outing is as thick as any I’ve had – yet is still superbly juicy throughout.

This is top-shelf parmigiana – big, even a little crisp around the extremities, the flavour of the ham and tomato sauce coming through in turns.

Criticisms?

The chips are fine but could’ve been hotter.

And with such a magnificent star of the plate, all that was needed salad-wise was some simple leaves, tomato and cucumber.

Those three are all present, but so are plenty of things – including sweet potato and eggplant – that put this salad in the try-too-hard bag.

Still, at $15 this is a red-hot bargain; I’d happily pay full whack.

(Bargain parma nights at the Vault are Tuesdays and Wednesdays).

 

 

Bennie reckons – from an ultra-hardcore, fussy, expert perspective – his southern fried chicken burger ($16.50, $18 Monday-Thursday with a pot of beer or cider) doesn’t reach any ecstatic heights.

But he is well pleased anyway.

There’s a nice slab of chook in there, along with sriracha mayo slaw, plenty of pickles and cheese.

He allows me a sample – and its tastes good.

He gets the same chips as accompanied the parma.

 

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.

 

Very socially adept

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Sunshine Social, 64 Glengala Road, Sunshine West. Phone: 9312 0223

Sunshine Social is a hit and hoot and we love it to bits.

This is the biggest thing to hit Sunshine West for years – the adjacent Glengala Road shops barely seem to have changed for the best part of a decade.

In fact, this may be the biggest western suburbs food story of the year.

We bowl up just a few days after opening day, eager to check out the vibe, try the food and see if the widespread community interest and hopes are being fulfilled.

The answer is a rousing “yes” – albeit with a couple of food mis-steps noted below of the very easily forgivable these-are-very-early-days variety.

 

 

The old servo has been done up a treat, the swish fit-out preserving the old-time feel of the building and, best of all, the wonderful roof that once sheltered filling-up motorists from the elements.

It would be easy to describe the furniture, fittings and general ambience as “industrial”, but there is a bit more warmth to the place than that might imply.

As well, even on a busy Friday night, the noise levels are surprisingly subdued.

Three of us have drinks, two starters, three mains with various sides and a single, cheapo dessert and pay just a tad over $100 – so Sunshine Social represents good value for money as well as a whole heap of fun.

We arrive early after having dithered about a later start time involving a bigger assemblage of Team CTS, but are glad we’ve reverted to 6.30pm kick-off as the place rapidly fills up after that.

Sunshine Social doesn’t take bookings – it’s not that sort of place – so while it’s as hot as it is right now and the curiosity factor is high, it would be wise to pick your time with some thought.

Loosely based on the concept of old-school charcoal chicken shops, Sunshine Social goes from there to offer a menu that broadens out to take in some multicultural ideas, all the while offering a cohesive gameplan.

 

 

Marinated olives and chargrilled vegetables ($7.50) are a delightful way to get our meal underway.

It’s a deceptively big serving of beaut olives of various colours and dimensions and long strips of gorgeous red capsicum, zucchini and eggplant.

 

 

We try two of the five dips at $4.5o a pop (punters can get the lot for $16).

I am outvoted in my desire to try the beetroot and whole bean number.

Instead, we get the eggplant and pistachio/pea/mint versions.

The former is rather dry and crumbly but has robust roast cumin flavour.

The latter has little by way of nuttiness, the pea and mint dominating in a smooth operation.

 

 

Given the charcoal chook inspiration going on here, I was only ever going to order one thing – the very same thing that I ALWAYS order in chicken shops: Half a chicken with slaw and chips ($28.50).

The price here is higher, of course, but no more than expected.

The chicken near the various bones is excellent, moist and delicious.

The breast meat is dry – as it so often is, no matter the price.

But it’s not terminally so, and certainly all this could easily be fixed up with a small pot of gravy as per charcoal shop tradition.

The chips are very fine and the slaw – much drier and different in style from the usual – a crunchy, lightly-dressed delight.

 

 

The meat served with Nat’s order of “lamb shoulder with Mediterranean herbs” ($22.50 with one side) is tasty.

But we are both surprised the sheep meat is sliced and more like your regular lamb roast than the fall-apart epic the phrase “lamb shoulder” automatically suggests to us. And there’s not much sign of the advertised herbs, either.

In both the cases of my chicken and his lamb, neither of us feels the sweetish coating (chicken) or sweetish sauce (lamb) do anything to enhance our meals.

Chicken options with more high-powered seasonings taking in lemon, chilli and turbo-herbs would be a good move, we reckon.

 

 

The no-hesitation thumbs-up of the night goes to Bennie’s fried chicken burger ($13.50).

He loves the big, succulent, crisp chunk of fried chicken and gives his burger – abetted by slaw, cheese and jalapenos – an 8 out of 10.

He gets chips with his sandwich and an extra order of slaw on the side that is plenty big enough for both himself and Nat.

 

 

During the course of our meal, we’ve pondered dessert.

But predictably, we’ve loaded up plenty on the savoury segments of the menu, so treats such as choc ripple biscuit cake with peppermint slice shavings and cream will have to await a return visit.

I do grant Bennie his wish for a house-made choc top for $4.50.

He likes it.

You can tell by his unbridled display of passion and delight and enthusiasm for the camera.

We decide that there is nothing else quite like Sunshine Social in all of Melbourne – not that we know of anyway.

Sure, there’s a gazillion hipster burger places and almost as many barbecue joints and similar.

But a self-described “grill” that has no steaks and little seafood?

Nope.

On the basis of community reaction and our experience just a few days into its life, the place will endure and then some.

It is destined to become something of a second home to many.

And next time, we may expand our ordering horizons to the likes of pork ribs, grilled calamari, a range of meat on sticks or Moroccan lamb snags.

Check out the Sunshine Social website (including menu) here.