Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Vegilicious

October 11, 2014


We were completely unaware of Vegilicious, and owe it to Berk and Clamps for leading us there in between the bands we were seeing on our day by the green. I've since learned that Vegilicious has been run as a vegetarian food stall and catering business for years and before recently opening an expansive restaurant and bar on Carlisle St.

Surrounded by timber furnishings, tropical plants, and warm lighting, I felt like I was stepping into north Queensland's coolest vegetarian hang-out; I hear the courtyard's lovely too, though it might not have the humidity to preserve my delusion.


The menu tends toward the homespun and hearty, free of mock meat but offering plenty of tofu for protein. Vegan and gluten-free items are well marked and capture most of the menu, from fritters and rice paper wraps to pastas, burgers and curries. I appreciated their extended list of non-alcoholic drinks, selecting a mineral water flavoured with home-made orange passionfruit syrup ($3).


The potato wedges ($8) are tender and bountiful, sprinkled with rosemary salt and served with a side of tofu mayo and sweet chilli sauce.


Otherwise we shared the Vegelicious Extravaganza Share Platter ($36), ordering the two-person vegan version for the four of us (...Clamps and Michael had little appetite). It's a fair sample of what the menu offers - cauliflower fritters in a cumin seed batter, thick okonomiyaki topped with pickled ginger and shredded nori, mild mixed vegetable skewers, rice paper rolls, lentil patties, dips and a sprawling salad. We liked some elements more than others but never had a chance to tire of anything.


Purely for completeness, we shared a dessert too. The vegan option of the night was a raw chocolate and cashew cake served with a scoop of So Good brand icecream ($10). While the icecream was utterly ordinary, the marbled mock cheesecake marks a pinnacle for raw desserts - beautifully constructed and devastatingly smooth, with a satisfying chocolate flavour and a little something else that could've fooled me for a shot of Baileys. I assume they're ordering these in, perhaps from Pana.

The menu at Vegilicious doesn't break any new ground but it's generous in its style; inclusive of special diets, with home-made touches and lavish portions. I reckon this restaurant's warm, relaxed atmosphere is even more appealing than its cashew cake.
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Vegilicious
118 Carlisle St, St Kilda
9537 3820
specials, starters, mains, drinks, alcohol
http://vegilicious.com.au/

Accessibility: Most tables are quite densely packed but there's a clear corridor through the middle and a bit more space by the kitchen. Toilets are individual unisex cubicles and at least one of them is fully accessible. We ordered at our table and paid at a high counter.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Massive Wieners

October 11, 2014


We've been meaning to check out the veggie dogs at Massive Wieners for some time - we even wandered past their old Greville Street store one Sunday evening hoping for a fix only to find them closed, so this post has been a while coming. Our motivation for visiting on this Saturday afternoon was the chance to watch a handful of our friends tackle the Massive Wiener Challenge - a race to eat a 25 inch hot dog in under five minutes. You pay $15 for the privilege but can earn a refund by breaking the 5 minute barrier, along with a glorious place on the wall of fame.


My spectator status was soon challenged by the last minute cancellation of one of the competitors, meaning we had two eaters booked in for three giant dogs. I folded and joined the ridiculousness after about 30 seconds of token resistance and some taunting from the guy behind the counter. If you sign up for the challenge you get a fair bit of hyping up from the staff - apparently 'tall dudes' have an advantage and the key strategy is 'less chewing, more swallowing'. It was all very entertaining even as it made me more and more apprehensive about what I'd signed up for.

And then the wieners appeared. As the shop name promises, they're pretty massive - three sausages long with one giant bun and a lubricating smear of ketchup and mustard, it's an intimidating sight. The rules are strict: no tearing, no dunking, no folding - you've got to eat this ridiculous monstrosity like a regular hot dog. In the final few seconds before we started I squished the bun a bit and sized the whole thing up and, just for a second, wondered if maybe I could do this - I mean it's big, but it's not *that* big. And five minutes is really quite long isn't it?


And then I took my first bite. Nope. Nope, there was no way I was going to get through this in five minutes. The roll is chewy - I think my first mouthful took up most of my first minute, and by the time three minutes had passed and I hadn't even got close to halfway through. The whole experience was made even more intense by having Ivan right in my line of sight, calmly smashing his way through all 25 inches in just 4:28 without even raising a sweat. (Side note: the record for one of these is an incomprehensible 2:16, presumably achieved by some sort of remorseless eating machine.)

Meanwhile, I struggled on, finding the gigantic hot dog less and less palatable as I went - the last third was basically disgusting and only eaten through force of will. I was happy to squeeze in under 10 minutes, but can't really say that I 'enjoyed' the experience - it left me feeling bloated and queasy and swearing off hot dogs for at least the next few weeks.

Cindy was much more sensible, opting to order from the regular menu. You can choose one of three sizes (little pecker - 3 inch ($4), average joe - 6-inch ($6) or massive wiener - 12-inch ($8)) and then go with either the classic (cheese, ketchup, mustard and onions), the kraut (classic + sauerkraut, $1 extra), the pickle (classic + zesty pickle relish, $1 extra) or the chilli cheese (classic + a beef or bean chilli, $2 extra). They've got vegan cheese at no extra charge and you can also add extras like diced tomato or jalapenos for $1 more.


Cindy went straight down the line - an average joe-sized classic minus the onion ($6) and a little vanilla shake with added malt ($4  + $1 - there are no vegan shakes on offer just now, but they assured us that they're working on it). The dog was pretty basic - the general consensus was that the wieners were the Sanitarium brand that are widely available in supermarkets and the buns were light and a bit chewy. If you're just going classic, you can probably do something equivalent at home without trying very hard - I'll be interested to taste the pickle relish or the chilli cheese options when I eventually feel ready to face another hot dog. The shake was super sweet and not thick at all, a passable beverage from Cindy's perspective.

Massive Wieners is a super fun shop - the staff are enthusiastic about their hot dogs, the decor and vibe is fun Americana (including bow-tied staff and checkerboard floors) and their menu is simple with clear vegan and vegetarian options. I can't in good conscience recommend the challenge though - it probably took six months off my life and I still wound up on the wall of shame.


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Surprisingly few food bloggers have taken on the Massive Wiener challenge, with just one recounting of the experience on The Dodgy End (who beat my time, but still couldn't break the 5 minute barrier). 

There are a few bloggers who have sampled the vego options before us - Louise by Degrees wasn't overly impressed, while A Rhubarb Rhapsody and The Juliet Report were more enthusiastic. Meaty bloggers have generally enjoyed Massive Wieners - see Not Quite Nigella, About Susanna, New International Students, Nutritious Substance, Let Me Feed You Melbourne, For Food's Sake, Vanhell's Corner, Find Her Eating, Foodie About Town, My Town, Melbourne, One Fat Spork, The Bake-a-Nista, Ichigo Shortcake, The World Loves Melbourne and Sharking for Chips and Drinks for positive reviews and Jar Fed for a less glowing report.
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Massive Wieners
226 Chapel Street, Prahran
0400 124 303
menu: food, drinks
facebook page

Accessibility: There's a small step up as you enter. The interior is flat and spacious, with the only seating options tall stools at a high counter. You order and pay at a lowish counter. We didn't visit the toilets (which was a relief, to be honest).
 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Alice Springs

October 2-7, 2014


Alice Springs ain't a big town but it has its share of eateries. Some Alice-savvy friends helpfully passed on their favourites before we set off; their recs were vastly preferable to the obtusely named and catered Juicy Rump, a casino-pub conveniently adjacent to our conference venue. Take Monte's, for example - though it was a bit of a walk, this circus-themed pub offered just as much outdoor seating and terrific food as a major bonus. Gluten-free options on their pizza and three kinds of vege burger brought smiles to faces of this conference crowd. Some folks even stuck around for the Thursday night trivia.

Our crumbed haloumi burgers (~$13) were right on trend with a brioche bun, lots of condiments and a price uninflated by distance. We had a choice between beer-battered chips and shoestring fries (+~$3) on the side, and no regrets either way.


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We'd been advised that Hanuman was probably the best restaurant in town, so we booked ourselves dinner there after we'd washed off the red dirt from our tour. The menu is Pan-Asian with an entire vegetarian section plus a few extra (V)s elsewhere.


Hanuman's koftas ($17.50) were as dry as the Todd River out front and I'd've gladly traded one of them for some more of the spiced cream sauce. The chickpea masala ($18) was a bit better balanced, and we mopped most of it up with roti ($5.50) and rice ($3).


What I liked most about Hanuman was that they had a mocktail list. The Sundown ($9.50) was sweet icy paradise after our camping holiday; mint, lime, almond syrup, and orange juice.
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Finally, we enjoyed a pre-flight brunch at Page 27. Though the furniture, artwork and counter-ordering reminded me of the Brisbane cafes I frequented in the late 1990s, the menu was modern-day Melbourne with gluten-free toast options, an avocado smash and mentions of chorizo. The coffee passed muster with Michael and even my beverage whims were catered to with a soy dandelion latte.


Michael's veggie breakfast ($16.90) centred around a pot of beetroot chutney, with poached eggs, mushrooms, spinach, feta, avocado and toast providing the substance.


I polished off a plate of fluffy French toast ($14.90) smeared with creamy mascarpone, forgivably canned peaches and crushed pistachios.
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Though you can't always rely on quality cooking or fresh produce in a town like Alice, these eateries left a pleasant taste in our mouths. To finish up, here's another taste of the landscape; this time the West MacDonnell Ranges.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Red Centre

October 4-6, 2014


My job led me to Alice Springs earlier this month. Michael and I have never before visited Australia's red centre and we took this as an incentive to book some leave and join a three-day mini-bus tour of hiking, camping and swatting at flies. The tour included all the food we needed, though we did relish the odd roadhouse snack.


Meals were big and often barbecue based - stir-fried noodles and veges, burritos wrapped in tortillas steamed in their plastic by the scorching sun, bushmeat burgers and steaks. Our guide thoughtfully supplied several different mock alternatives for us two vegos, while our international travelling companions were introduced to lamingtons, damper cooked in the coals and - much to one daring Californian's ultimate disgust - Vegemite. We established toasted marshmallows as a common cuisine.


Conditions were profoundly dry and the temperature soared beyond 40 degrees one afternoon. Water was much more important than food. It tasted weirder and weirder as we travelled away from Alice Springs, reminding me of olive brine around Kings Creek Station. Weird or warm, we still drank litres of it each day. A refrigerated bottle of iced tea from a service station was the greatest luxury I could imagine.

For all that, we weren't in it for the food. It simply sustained us long enough to take in Atilla, Uluru, and Kata Tjuta. These red rocks are truly spectacular. Here's a slideshow summarising what we saw.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

El Chino II

September 27, 2014


I've been reluctantly working through my recent few weekends, but on Saturday evening I took a break for a leisurely cycle through the inner north with Michael, with dinner at El Chino as our goal. I'm surprised that this cute cafe has been the subject of so few blog posts but regardless, it runs a busy service on a Saturday night.


El Chino are BYO and in addition to the usual beer and wine corkage fees, they offer a mojito deal - you BYO the rum and they'll do the rest. We were happy to skip the alcohol and shared a slushy lime granita with a single garnishing mint leaf ($4.50).


While the mains and specials were mostly meat focused, we still had some options to peruse: empanadas, tall yet compact bowls of nachos, a vego burrito and three varieties of taco. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are well marked and though there are supposedly 'VG's listed for vegans, I suspect they're missing from some genuinely vegan menu items (take our savoury order here, for example). We grazed across the menu by ordering the Fiesta ($28), a meal for two centred around a cast iron pot.


Lined with a cabbage leaf, the pot offered pickled nopales cactus, roasted mushrooms and purple cabbage. We mixed and matched them with a fresh and finely minced salsa Mexicana and a fruity roasted salsa tatemada.


We mopped up our potted foods with five white and blue corn tortillas (then paid $4 for four more), and nibbled at some warmly spiced Mexican rice and black beans.


We thought we'd best give their grilled tofu side ($4.50) a shot too - it didn't have any noticeable flavour or marinade, but it made for nice DIY tacos with the salsa and other fixings. (I noticed later that we were also charged for a side of guacamole that was neither ordered nor served.)


As the room filled up and our finished dishes remained on the table, we had time to build up an appetite for dessert. In spite of the demands on his attention, our server generously took a moment to step us through our options. My mayordomo Mexican hot chocolate was underwhelming - the chocolate syrup lodged unmixed in the bottom of the cup, and the cinnamon quill provided only the barest hint of extra spice.


El Chino were all out of the tres leches sponge cake I'd been looking forward to but the caramel flan ($7.80) was a lovely alternative; the smooth custard and smoky hint of almost-but-not-quite burnt caramel broken up with candied hibiscus flowers and fresh strawberry.

Our experience at El Chino had its flaws, but they didn't sour our night. The cafe is a lovely setting for a quiet meal for two (or a party in the courtyard, from what we witnessed), and offers an unusually thoughtful selection of non-alcoholic drinks and desserts in addition to reliable main meals.
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You can read about our breakfast at El Chino here. El Chino is not getting the blog attention that it deserves; since that post I've only seen it recommended on Poppet's Window and WOO FOOD.
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El Chino
214 St Georges Rd, Fitzroy North
9078 7974
menu: dinner, banquets & sides, beverages & desserts
http://www.elchino.com.au/

Accessibility: There's a small step as you enter and a clear corridor to the counter (which we've witnessed another customer maneuver a two-seater pram through), but the tables are quite crowded inside. We ordered at the table and paid at a low counter. We didn't explore the courtyard or visit the toilets.