Burger doubleheader

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Slider Diner, 82 Charles Street, Seddon.
Fugu Fish Bar, 11 Wests Road, Maribyrnong. Phone: 7015 8733

In handful of months, Consider The Sauce will turn nine.

Much has changed in that time for western suburbs food talk.

A few westie-oriented blogs have come and gone, while the coverage in the MSM and other media outlets based on the other side of the Maribyrnong remains haphazard and selective.

Yet it seems to me the tempo of ongoing discussions about western suburbs food has actually increased.

I attribute that to the enthusiastic embrace of a plethora of community Facebook pages right across the west.

It’s a regular thing to see posts and photos of new places opening (and closing) and long threads of comments responding to recommendations for pizzas or coffee or vegan tucker – and much more.

For that reason, I long ago realised that aspiring to cover everything that is happening – and being eaten – across the west is the stuff of nervous breakdown.

So we go our merry way – and enjoy immensely, and participate in, the broader conversations.

For instance, very few of the bars that have bloomed in the inner west in the past few years have received coverage here.

And it’s for that reason that Slider Diner was not really on our radar.

Just another burger joint, hey?

But visit it we do when our Seddon eating destination of choice turns out to be closed.

That’s a fine outcome, for we enjoy Slider Diner.

 

 

Located in the premises formerly occupied by Ajitoya, the place is done out in nice and bright retro diner style.

And the slider angle?

Well, that seems to be all about the availability of half-size burgers in a menu (see below) dedicated to classy fast food – with a few twists along the way.

Usually, half portions cost significantly more than half the full price.

So Slider Diner deserves much kudos for the fact its “sliders” cost precisely half of their full-portion equivalents – and they’re generous to boot!

This means an individual customer can enjoy some diversity without paying a price in terms of quantity or money.

 

 

Bennie is well pleased with slider cheeseburger ($7) and kim cheezy ($7) with crunchy fried chicken, kim chi slaw, smoked cheddar and gochujang sauce (Korean red chilli sauce).

My fish burger ($15, top photo, not available in half size) is damn fine.

The deep-fried rockling fillet, juicy and flavoursome and meltingly tender, is accompanied by lemon dill mayo, lettuce and just the right quantity of finely sliced pickled onion.

 

 

We are utterly incapable of ordering the likes of burgers or gyros without also summoning chips.

But all we want is a taste, really.

So we wish more places would offer said chips in appropriately sized – and priced – portions.

Slider Diner does just that for $5.50 – though these are just OK.

Will we return to Slider Diner?

Yes – quite possibly to build a meal out of sides such as chicken wings, popcorn chicken, Tex-Mex corn cob, truffled mac n cheese and pulled pork doughnuts.

 

 

“Dad, your patty looks like it’s a frozen one!”

Such is Bennie’s gloomy visual assessment of my wagyu burger at Fugu Fish Bar.

A fresh-faced fish and burger joint, Fugu is located at the nexus of Hampstead and Wests roads, a few blocks from Highpoint and in a long-standing small shopping precinct that houses another dedicated burger joint.

This is an area undergoing rapid change as more and more people move in.

We both “combo” our meals for $3 extra, so my burger deal clocks in at $17 with the addition of coleslaw.

My burger is better than indicated by Bennie’s scorn – but it’s acceptable without being memorable.

The coleslaw is outstanding.

 

 

Bennie is happy with his southern chicken burger ($15 with chips), even though it appears a little crumpled.

The chips are OK. Just.

 

 

On an earlier, reconnaissance visit, I enjoyed my blue grenadier with chips and coleslaw, the latter again superb.

The little things count!

In this case, I was not offered a combo set-up so my lunch costs more through the addition of $6 worth of salad on top of the $12 for the classic fish/chip deal.

The fish was bigger than it looked at first glance and good eating, though the batter was a bit doughy.

Fugu has been recommended to us by friends/readers, so we are disappointed to be a little underwhelmed overall.

If we lived in the area, we’d be regulars, for sure – in the process, getting to know the menu and what really sings.

 

 

Highpoint’s new food champ

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Farang Thai BBQ, Highpoint, Maribyrnong. Phone: 0478 959 182

Heading to Highpoint, we have no previous experience with the food truck iteration of Farang.

I warn Bennie – and in the process, myself – to keep expectations in check.

A food truck setting up a pop-up operation at a shopping centre?

My scepticism is not just about the quality of the food, but also concerns serving sizes.

We are HUNGRY.

We shall see.

Farang is set up in shipping containers outside at the Rosamond Road side of Highpoint.

It’s well done. There’s the kitchen/servery, some outdoor tables and a cosy indoor area with a bench and seating.

My doubts are given a swift kick towards optimism with a view of the gleaming kitchen.

I mean, how often do you see a fat mortar and pestle in such a place?

 

 

We both order Farang’s meal-for-one box set for $15, myself with house-made northern Thai sausage, papaya salad, relish (nam prik noom), sticky rice and (as a sort-of garish) the health food known as crispy pork cracklings.

And – just like that (sound of fingers snapping) – there go all my all low expectations.

This is some serious Thai tucker.

The serve size is excellent for the price ($15).

The papaya salad is wet, crunchy, delicious and studded with peanuts.

The sausages?

Oh my.

Amazing – they explode with flavour from lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and more.

 

 

Bennie’s similar Farang box deal come with grilled pork shoulder (moo yong) with nam jim jaow dipping sauce.

He, too, loves his meal – though, IMO, the meat is merely very good, as opposed to my superb sausages.

 

 

Our box deals have been sufficiently generous and fine to assuage our hearty appetites, but in the interests of a broader blog story, we order Farang’s grilled corn ($6).

We have been short-changed elsewhere when ordering variations of this dish.

But here we’re happy.

The corn is juicy and comes with a coating of salted coconut milk and, according to the menu, sweet chilli jam.

There’s precious little evidence of the latter, but we both nod approvingly as we gnaw.

Bring on the dental floss.

Farang Thai BBQ will, we’re told, be at Highpoint until March – after which other arrangements may kick in.

It is open until 9pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; until 6pm on the other days.

 

Colombian food? Dive right in!

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El Toucan Cafe, Maribyrnong Aquatic Centre, 1 Aquatic Drive, Maribyrnong. Phone: 0400 924 608

You won’t want to go swimming for a few hours after eating bandeja paisa at El Toucan Cafe.

But should you so desire, the facilities couldn’t be closer at hand – El Toucan is located right in Maribyrnong Aquatic Centre, its seating gazing out upon the various swimming pools.

Yes, really.

I could opine that this is western weirdness personified, but really how unusual is it when CTS and its friends not only keep an open mind about where we may find great food, but also do so regularly in quirky locations?

But this is most definitely the kind of adventure that sets the hearts of myself and CTS pal Nat Stockley into a cheerful gallop.

 

 

El Toucan boss Frank Torres keeps the likes of chicken nuggets and burgers on his menu.

As he says, this IS a swimming pool operation and he DOES want to stay in business.

But he’s very proud to be offering a range of true-blue Colombian dishes.

It’s to these we are drawn, as are the tables surrounding us inhabited by Colombian families.

Frank is a Melbourne eatery veteran, having in years past run the likes of El Dorado Grill in the CBD.

Bandeja paisa is something of an informal Colombia national dish.

Frank tells us its roots lie in its evolution as a hearty lunch for early-starting, hard-working coffee growers – which makes it the equivalent of your typical, full-bore Aussie/Kiwi shearers’ spread.

 

 

Nat goes the full bandeja paisa – a huge meal and something of a bargain at $20.

 

 

I opt for the half serve – it’s not listed anywhere, but is available on request.

Even it is a substantial meal and also a bargain at $12.

Everything about this is mighty …

Avocado and chubby tortilla.

Expertly fried egg and rice.

Superbly creamy beans and fried ripe plantain.

And meat – pork belly, chorizo and pulled beef that would match it with any barbecue joint.

The pork belly, as we’ve come to know of South American food, is well cooked, but as delicious as everything else on our plates.

 

 

Empanadas con yuca ($9) are also outstanding.

The three empanadas are made with corn meal, the casings stuffed with beef mince and deep fried.

They are joined by cassava chips that are fluffy and lovely.

On the side is a bowl of aji – a salsa-like dipping concoction.

This dish could constitute a cool and very cheap light meal for those not up to El Toucan’s more full-on offerings.

 

 

On an earlier, reconnaissance visit, I enjoyed sobrebarriga ($22) of slow-cooked beef skirt served with rice, avocado, cassava and sofrito.

This, too, is a hefty and excellent meal.

Though, in contrast to our other selections, in this case the meat is very tender and the cassava – playing the roast potato role – dryish and a little too starchy for my tastes.

El Toucan has specials …

On the day we visit there’s a liver dish on, while a few folks around us are enjoying what look like very good pork ribs – even if, as Frank maintains, they are less specifically Colombian than the likes of bandeja paisa.

Other dishes mentioned on the cafe’s Facebook page include patacón con carne o pollo (fried plantain fritter with shredded chicken), fried snapper, lamb skewers with kale slaw and pulled beef quesadilla.

Important note: For those wanting to try the El Toucan cooking without making use of the centre’s other facilities, there is no admission charge.

Winter hours for El Toucan Cafe are Monday-Friday 9am-8.30pm and Saturday-Sunday 9am-6pm.

Thanks to Nat “Punster” Stockley for the intro!

 

Fine pizza @ Edgewater

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Terminal 45 Woodfire Pizzeria, 41-45 Edgewater Boulevard, Maribyrnong. Phone: 9317 0123

The western suburbs are quite well endowed with classy pizza places.

One that appears to have flown under the pizza pie radar is Terminal 45 Woodfire Pizzeria, which is located down the hill from the Edgewater shops and pretty much right next door to St Burgs.

Last time Bennie and I spied this joint, it was a sunny summer Sunday early evening and it was packed and firing.

This time – urged on by a successful home pizza delivery and a friend’s hearty recommendation – we are back early in the week on a cold night and the scene is quite different.

We are the only customers, though deliveries continue apace.

Terminal 45 lists almost a couple of dozen pizzas, with what seems less on the menu by way of pasta and starters than most such places.

No matter – we are here for pizza.

And they’re excellent.

Caprese ($16) is like a salad on a pizza base, and thus an instant hit with my salad-loving son.

It’s simple, tasty and rather magnificent – just uncooked mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, basil, olive oil.

Piccante $16) has hot salami, roasted red capsicum, mozzarella and fresh chilli.

It, too, hits our pizza spots right nicely.

And not only do our pizzas please us, we note happily that the prices are a good dollar or two less than we regularly pay elsewhere.

Korean fried chicken and a whole lot more

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Be.K, 3/21 Edgewater Boulevard, Maribyrnong. Phone: 8596 4292

Be.K looks like the kind of cafe where you’ll get a good coffee and a decent breakfast.

Those are available, but as we discover – on a Saturday lunch visit for Bennie’s birthday – there’s much more going on here.

A glossy colour photo menu runs from ritzy breakfast dishes through to sangers, Korean fried chicken and on to luscious Asian desserts.

A simpler printed list has more breakfast items, a couple of burgers, ribs and tempura prawns.

 

 

The place is done out in simple cafe style and business is quite brisk – especially on the outside tables.

Notably, Be.K’s advertised opening hours are seven days a week – until 11.30pm.

 

 

Papaya salad with prawns is pricey at $20.90, but the quality is there.

The veg components are fresh and crunchy, the dressing tangy and the head-on prawns are a fresh-grilled delight.

 

 

Bennie enjoys his pulled pork burger, with chips and costing $17.90.

Served in a beetroot brioche bun, it’s generously stuffed with meat, slaw and pickled cucumber.

I’m surprised to hear him adjudge it a rather modest good, as – going by my taste – it’s definitely among the better versions we’ve had.

The chips are fine, but the chicken salt-style seasoning they’ve been daubed with is way too sweet for me.

 

 

Deb’s sanger is described as “Philly cheese steak sandwich” ($13.90) – fans of that American classic would no doubt be bemused.

But it work on its own terms, the thin-cut meat making it easy to eat and the onions and other veg, cut wok-style, are fine.

 

 

Of the four varieties of Korean fried chicken listed, we opt for the original.

We get five pieces in our half-chook serve ($16.50).

Oh boy, this is great stuff – simply terrific fried chicken, unoily, hot, perfectly cooked and moan-out-loud delicious.

Just as good are the accompanying house-made pickles of onion, celery and more.

A little sweet, not too sour and a whole heap of crunchy – excellent!

 

 

The birthday boy goes for it by ordering bingsu of the nutella banana variety.

His is the $10.90 small rendition; there are medium and large versions available.

Blimey!

He loves the refreshing base of shaved milk ice.

But, yes, he pours the side serve of condensed milk right over the top right from the get-go.

 

 

His dessert is the very epitome of richness restraint when compared with the Vietnamese coffee tiramisu ($8.90).

With its dark chocolate and crunchy granola (at first I thought it was pecans), this would puzzle tiramisu purists.

But we reckon it is sinfully, explosively awesome.

We’ve had a fine time that has been in no way diminished by a certain degree of distraction in the service department.

But we are a little bemused …

No fault in two of our initial choices being unavailable. If anything, that’s a good sign indicating brisk turnover – and it meant we end up ordering the fried chicken, and that turned out to be a very fine thing.

But my coffee is brought to a table covered – really covered – with chicken bones, empty receptacles and soiled serviettes.

My sincere question about the precise nature of the vegetables used in the wonderful pickles is met with stony-faced recalcitrance.

More broadly, despite there being what appears to be half a soccer team of staff scurrying around the place, we do find it difficult a few times to make eye contact or attract attention, even resorting to raised hands and waving arms before approaching the counter.

Amazing vegan

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Jack B. Nimble, 132 Mitchell Street, Maribyrnong. Phone: 9317 9792

Here’s a new CTS hobby – finding flash food in cafes, especially when it’s way cheaper than in more formal settings, let alone a fine dining context.

It goes – sometimes, but not always – with chefs opting out of the rat race of high-falutin’ dining for a more manageable lifestyle.

Punters may have to sleuth among the eggs a gazillion ways and smashed avo, but the effort is often worth it.

We had some grand luck in this regard recently at Small Graces in Footscray.

Jack B. Nimble?

Well, truth be told it had somewhat moved out of our radar coverage since our initial review soon after its opening.

But in one of the wonderful ways in which social media – often maligned – can enhance our lives, I became a while back FB buddies with one of Jack B. Nimble crew.

Consequently, I was entranced by the photos she was posting of the dishes being created there.

“Hmmm,” thought I. “That looks fabulous.”

“Oh boy,” surmised I. “Time for a return visit!”

So Bennie and I did just that.

 

 

My choice (top photo) – and, yes, it was one of the photos I’d seen on FB as posted by Jack B. Nimble chef Deb – is a medley of mushrooms on cauliflower rice with grilled pepper romesco, sesame, spiced pepitas and soy bean crisp ($17).

Forget the vegan nature of the dish, the price tag and the cafe setting – this is amazing.

The cauliflower rice – made, I’m told, by simply whizzing some raw cauliflower and tempering it with some sugar and salt – is a fabulous bed for the various fungi.

And the mushies – including what look like discs of spud in the photo and on the plate – are superb, mostly still firm, lightly fried, full of flavour.

Deb tells me that “sesame oil makes anything taste good” – but I’m not buying it.

There’s some profound cooking smarts going on here.

Some fine greens and just the right amount of that romesco sauce complete the picture of fantastic dish.

 

 

Bennie’s pick – southern fried chicken burger ($17) – also hits the spot.

It’s served on non-brioche roll – I can hear the cheers about that from some quarters.

The chicken is well fried and accompanied by chipotle aioli, cheese, lettuce and tomato.

On the side is fine slaw – something we always appreciate.

Deb tells me the Jack B. Nimble menu is destined for a soon-come spring freshen-up.

But almost certainly the mushroom medley will remain – after all, it is her mum’s fave dish on the menu.

Lebanese heaven aboard the Starship Riviera

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Riviera Cafe & Restaurant, 55 Cumberland Drive, Maribyrnong. Phone: 9317 5534

The beautifully located, enormous restaurant room at Edgewater’s Lakehouse had been empty and unloved for so long that we’d pretty much lost interest in checking up on the place to see if there’d been any activity.

But then, after a hamburger meal further up the hill, I recently swung by once more – and got quite a surprise.

Wow – the place looked like it was all set up and ready to roll.

After parking, in I went – with more surprises awaiting.

The place looks a million bucks!

But it was deserted at a Sunday lunch hour, save for a couple of nattily-dressed waiters.

A greater surprise came upon perusal of the menu (see below).

For Riviera is serving traditional Lebanese food – and not just your dips and kebabs, either, but rather the entire restaurant routine.

Still, I found it easy to restrain my excitement.

I mean, how good could it be?

Full-on Lebanese food in a space that has often seemed like a combo of white elephant and black hole in the western suburbs food scene?

Best, thought I, to return that night by myself to check the food out first-hand before I started getting a group CTS hardliners together for a visit.

 

 

So return I did – and got the biggest surprise of all!

Early on a Sunday evening, Riviera was about half full – and in a room this big, that’s a handy number of people.

There were kids everywhere and going in all directions.

Also in evidence were a heap of hijabs, and there were even hookahs going at some tables.

So while Riviera, which has been going several months, may have – until now – flown under the radar of western suburbs food nuts, it seems the word is well and truly out among Melbourne’s Lebanese community.

And I took that as the best evidence possible – short of eating the food myself – that what is being served here is most excellent.

So it proved to be – my meal was very, very good within the limits of what a single soul can tackle.

On returning home, I hastily organised a CTS get-together and was happy that a bunch of enthusiasts were up for joining Bennie and I the following Sunday.

So thanks to Chris, Catherine, Nat, Justin and Will for doing CTS duty!

****

This time around, we find the room rather sparsely populated – there’s a nifty video on the Riviera Facebook page of the place rocking a pretty much full house.

But the welcome and service are fine.

Even better, the food arrives with such speed that it may have startled us had we all not been in such a lather of happy anticipation to try it all.

For simplicity’s sake, we quickly come to a collective decision to go with banquet option No.1 at a cost of $35 a head for the six adults in our group.

It turns out to be a most memorable Lebanese feast.

It is all good, very good or outstanding.

Here’s what we had/inhaled:

(And please keep in mind that the dishes pictured here represent just half of what is brought to our table – except where noted, two of each dish are provided to us.)

 

 

Crisp, moreish pita chips.

 

 

Also wonderfully crisp – the commercial but delightful pickled cucumbers and turshi.

 

 

Excellent dips – hummus, labneh, baba ghannouj.

 

 

Fattoush.

 

 

Glorious chicken wings – perhaps THE hit of the night.

 

 

Chips – perfectly acceptable, but a little shy of the perfection I expect in such a setting.

 

 

Makanek – Lebanese-style lamb sausages.

Others enjoy these more than I – for me they’re a little too sweet and rich.

And with their dark red colouring, they remind me – somewhat bizarrely – of black pudding!

 

 

Kibbaybat – deep-fried pastries with a filling of lamb and pine kernels.

These, too, are sweetish – and also juicy and very good.

 

 

Excellent meat on sticks – shish tawouk and shish kafta as advertised on the menu, and shish kebab as a surprise.

 

 

A single, big serve of this simple dish of lamb chops on rice is an unannounced addition to our banquet line-up – and is the same dish I tried on my solo exploration the previous weekend.

At first, I suspect this is going to be largely ignored by our lot in favour of the more glam kebab meats at our table.

But, no, in the end we all give this more humble dish a pretty good crack as well.

With its fragrant rice studded with currants, peas, cashews and more serving as a bed for beautifully cooked meat, this reminds me very much of the sort of Somalian meat ‘n’ rice dishes found at places such as this.

But I suspect variations on this theme can be found right across North Africa and the Middle East.

 

 

Finally, our fabulous meal winds down with super slices of chilled watermelon.

Just right!

That Riviera is serving top-notch Lebanese food – at Edgewater’s Lakehouse, of all places – fills me with profound happiness.

There is nothing cutting-edge, hipster or fusionesque about the fare here – and nor would I want there to be.

We all vow to return – and soonish.

It’s an interesting indication of how a place like Riviera can exist and prosper on its own terms and within its own community, yet fly entirely under the radar in the wider world – it has no Zomato listing!