po’ boy quarter

295 Smith Street, Fitzroy
https://www.facebook.com/poboymelbourne

Haircuts make me hungry. That’s why I go to a hairdresser on Smith Street: so much to choose from afterwards.

Po’ Boy Quarter on an early Saturday afternoon is pretty empty in the café, but Huey Long’s at the back has a decent crowd.

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I order a deep fried shrimp po’ boy ($11.90) from the food counter and a glass of zinfandel from the bar. I toy with a side of fried green tomatoes or fries, but manage to keep it (relatively) healthy.

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The shrimp po’ boy is delivered to my table in the bar within five minutes: a decent sized bread roll, substantial enough to hold the weight of the food inside. Deep fried spicy crumbed shrimp spill out of the ends; sliced fresh tomato, half a pickled cucumber, and a dollop of fresh slaw adds sharpness and crunch to the creamy mayo coating the bread. All washed down with a glass of decent Californian Zin – perfect Saturday afternoon drinking fodder.

In fact, all the wines by the glass are of US origin – mostly Californian, with a dash or two of Washington added.

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Their weekend brunch menu is served till late afternoon: definitely worth a return visit to check this out.

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Po' Boy Quarter on Urbanspoon

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8bit

8bit
8 Droop Street, Footscray
eat8bit.com.au

The coolest joint in town: a funky burger bar with lengthy queues and famous visitors in their first week. And just ten minutes’ walk from home. I judiciously avoid 8bit for a couple of months until the hype wears off (a little), and then on a bitter Saturday night we brave the cold and head in.

At eight o’clock the place is already overflowing, but mostly with people waiting for takeaway food and the order queue. Quite a few of the restaurant seats are free.

We order an After Burner burger – beef pattie with tomato, red onion, lettuce, cheese, chilli sauce, jalapeños and a dollop of chipotle mayo, and an Altered Beast – beef pattie with bacon, cheese, grilled onions, lettuce, 8bit sauce and BBQ sauce. In case that wasn’t enough taste overload, I was persuaded to order some Loaded fries – chips piled with chilli beef, cheese sauce, bacon, pickle relish, grilled onions and jalapeños. Nothing healthy about this dinner.

We find a seat easily and wait the regulation half and hour for our food. Orlando is horrified to see that somebody has taken his place on the high score of the vintage game console beside us. He has eaten here before with the boys.

The place continues to fill up with more eat-in diners. We are increasing the average age by at least ten years: most of our fellow diners appear to be local uni students.

Our food arrives piping hot and fresh from the grill. The loaded fries are a sight to behold: you can hardly see the main ingredient through the mess of toppings. But they are delicious, and I wish I had a glass of wine in my hand instead of a can of lemon squash (that’s my only gripe here: the drinks selection is disappointing and lazy).

The burgers are decent-sized and messy to eat. My After Burner is really good. The two things to get right in a burger is the bun and the pattie. The bun needs to be substantial enough to hold the ensemble together but light enough that it doesn’t take over: this one does exactly that. Spot on. The pattie is perfectly cooked, just a little charred around the edges, juicy, good quality meat. My combination of spicy toppings work well with my melting cheese slice.

Orlando’s Altered Beast was also excellent, although I am yet to figure out what the 8bit sauce is (and philosophically I am against BBQ sauce on burgers). Once you start eating, it’s hard to stop because these things are a two-hand job.

So, does 8bit live up to the hype? I have to say that was probably the best burger I have eaten in ten years. Good quality ingredients, faultless bun, cooked to perfection.

But I still have a problem waiting half an hour for my food. I’ve seen smaller premises churning out equally fantastic food in half the time with half the staff, so I fear they are keeping the wait times long for effect.

 

8bit. on Urbanspoon

oistins fish fry

Because of our family connections here in Barbados I’ve always stayed within strolling distance of the small fishing town of Oistins, about 12km east of the capital Bridgetown. By day it’s just a busy little town, with traffic crawling down the main street past the fish market, the supermarket, the post office and a few fast food joints. On Friday nights, however, the place explodes into the best night out in Barbados as the fish market closes down and makes way for the fish fry.

Oistins Gardens hosts dozens of family run stalls, selling the freshest fish cooked to perfection. Locals jostle with hundreds of tourists who come by the busload from far-away Speightstown and the other posh west coast resorts, queuing at their favourite spot to pick up a huge plate of marlin, mahi mahi (known locally as dolphin fish), tuna, flying fish and more, all served with your choice of rice and peas, macaroni pie (a local speciality which is essentially macaroni cheese but served in a much more solid state like lasagne), fried plantain or breadfruit chips, salads and more. A plate of food will cost you B$25-30 depending on the fish you choose – around US$12-15.

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A strong rum punch will cost around B$5, but you will see most locals sticking with soft drinks and tourists will pick up a few Barbados beers to wash down the feast.

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Many of the families who own fishing boats also run the fish fry stalls, and they all have their secret recipes. Pat’s Place right on the main road always has queues waiting for their amazingly well marinated fish and huge portions. You pay at the counter and get your takeaway container with your sides, then stand patiently beside the barbecues until the fish fryer dumps an enormous lump of freshly grilled fish on top. Always ask for a takeaway container – you’ll get much bigger portions than if you order a plate.

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Angel’s, further into the market, also does great fish but their macaroni pie is one of the best in the market. In years gone by you used to be able to wander around buying your fish from one place, your macaroni pie from another and so on. You still can do this in theory, but the queues will mean a long wait for your dinner.

Entertainment, apart from people-watching, is laid on too. A huge stage hosts a procession of local talent, all dancing to their favourite tunes and maybe passing the hat around later for the crowd to show their appreciation. Every Friday night for years a local guy has donned a black fedora and red sequinned shirt to do a mean Michael Jackson impersonation, right down to a perfect moonwalk across the stage. He is followed by other amazing dancers – mostly men – and the occasional over-enthusiastic sunburnt tourist who can’t resist the urge to join in. Just remember if you are tempted: they are laughing at you, not with you.

Round the back at another bar, people are dancing to old-time music for proper dancers to enjoy. Local couples dress to impress and show off their salsa, waltzing, jive and other Strictly Come Dancing moves: the women in spangly dresses and silver shows, the men with smartly pressed trousers and old-fashioned manners. It’s a joy to watch and tempting to join in, the standard is high.

There are a few market stalls now, too. Jewellery, Barbados towels, hand-made dolls, summer dresses and polished conch shells line the edge of the fish fry, right down at the water’s edge. Groups of men sit at another stall playing a competitively fought game of dominoes whilst their mates watch on and shout encouragement.

Friday nights are not the only night to enjoy Oistins – in fact, Saturdays have a lot to offer without the hordes of tourists. The same fish fry stalls are open but tonight it’s karaoke night, with a small group always lined up along the huge stage to tell the DJ their song and belt it out for the crowd. One chap comes along every Saturday night and sings “I Want To Know What Love Is” by Foreigner. He has every nuance of the ballad, and more passion than you can shake a stick at. Thing is, he’s tone-deaf, but his heartfelt rendition gets a standing ovation every week. This week we had a couple of great Luther Vandrosses and even a pretty decent Bette Midler doing “Wind Beneath My Wings”.

Actually, if you head down to Oistins any night of the week, quite a few of the fish fry shops will be open to accommodate the local crowd, so even if weekend nights are out it’s worth a trip down. Round off your evening’s entertainment by getting a ZR there and back. It might just be the ride of your life.

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big boy bbq

31 Hardware Lane, Melbourne 3000
http://www.bigboybbq.com.au

I’m not a fan of Hardware Lane. It’s the city version of the tourist end of Lygon Street: all pushy door staff and so-so food. But we like Golden Monkey, a rum bar at the top of Hardware Lane that hosts the Melbourne Rum Club, and we also love a good rack of ribs.

And so we found ourselves on Hardware Lane on a busy Saturday night waiting for a table at Big Boy BBQ, “Melbourne’s first dedicated ‘low and slow’ smoked meat experience” in their own words. It’s a smallish place, wih seating for maybe 40 inside and another dozen outside. You order at the counter, your food comes out quickly with no fancy presentation, and drinks options are limited to a small fridge by the check-out. But boy is it worth a visit.

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Big Boy offer sandwiches, ribs and barbeque meat all slow-cooked on the premises and served in generous portions. Sides are all-American diner fare, from deep-fried onion strings and coleslaw to the best smoked beef chilli in Melbourne – maybe even Australia. The platters are favourite though. The Little Girl and Little Boy serve 1-3 (they say), whilst the Big Girl and Big Boy serve up to six. All I can say is everything looked BIG.

We played it safe with a ribs and wings combo: four decent-sized chicken wings and a half-rack of ribs (lamb or pork) with two sides, all sat on a few slices of white bread to soak up excess juices. The wings weren’t bad: we do really good wings at home so we rarely order them when we’re out. These ones were fairly well cooked and seasoned, with a trickle of Big Boy BBQ sauce to keep them moist. I wouldn’t bother with them again, though – in the end they just took up valuable stomach space.

The onion strings were a tasty alternative to fries with the meal, picked up with fingers and dropped into our mouths like noodles. The smoked beef chilli was just the best chilli I have tasted in years, possibly ever: slow-cooked beef with brisket burnt ends, and plenty of bortlotti and kidney beans thrown in. Next time I’ll be super-sizing this particular side order.

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The ribs alone are worth the visit. We chose a half rack of Kansas City style dry rubbed pork, not too wet. There were about a dozen ribs, meat falling off the bone, a little bit spicy but not too hot. Finger-lickin’ good.

Like I said, drinks are limited to a few cans, a few beers and one choice of white wine (750ml bottle) from the fridge, but BYO is welcomed at a dollar a head. Bottomless soft drinks cost $3.40.

Desserts are limited but there’s always pie available.

Big Boy call themselves “slow food, served fast” and it’s true – this is not a place to hang out and make an evening of the dining experience. But if you crave good old American barbecue, this is the place to be. You can always head on over to Golden Monkey afterwards and fill up on Hemingway Daiquiris and Wong Island Iced Teas.

Bring your friends, and your own choice of beer or wine. Call ahead – they will take bookings occasionally. Get down there and feast. You won’t be sorry.

Big Boy BBQ on Urbanspoon

sahara

Level 1, 301 Swanston Street, Melbourne

03 9663 8477

www.saharamelbourne.com.au

My former work colleagues invited me to dinner the other night. I was so excited I turned up half an hour early.

Sahara is up a creaky flight of stairs off Swanston Street, a bejeweled, dark wood oasis with a rooftop bar to top it off. Inexplicably, on a cold August night, the over-sized restaurant door was propped open and no radiant heater could counter the cold current of air permeating the space. The server told me that they intended to leave the door open all evening, and they did. It beggars belief that so many Melbourne eateries defiantly ignore the winter months, leaving so many of their diners eating indoors in their overcoats.

Sahara’s rich Moroccan ambience turned out to be a good indicator of the richness of the food, but it ocurred to me that the seating was not designed to encourage a relaxed dining pace: most of the seats were either high bar stools or hard wooden benches with no backs and cushions that slid away from you. Between that and the Arctic breeze blowing through the room, I was often more aware of my physical discomfort than the quality or otherwise of the food.

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Despite the chill in the air, the food was enjoyable: bread, dips and bruschetta to start, with most people choosing a tagine of sorts for main course. The chicken salad sounded like a tame choice by one of my fellow diners, but the dish was plentiful, delicious and full of flavour. The lamb and beef tagines were rich in colour and aroma. My Moroccan fish masala tagine was reminiscent of a good fish korma, all creaminess and almonds. Just divine.

Sahara are happy to cater for gluten-free types, and the servers are by and large a friendly bunch – up to a point. At just past 9pm on a Wednesday we were the last people in the place, and (perhaps  because our BYO wine was not making any money for them) we were given ten minutes to finish and go.

I wouldn’t mind heading back to Sahara another time, but it wouldn’t my first choice. The food is decent but the physical environment just takes the edge off it for me. Maybe I’m just getting old.

 

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Sahara on Urbanspoon