Sunday, August 29, 2010

Deep dish pizza

Oh, why could my husband not have been Vietnamese?  Instead, he had to be from the meat-and-cheese capital of the world.  Every time I come back to Chicago, instead of eating light, tangy Vietnamese coleslaw and cleansing, refreshing pho, I "have" to eat pizza, hot dogs, burgers, and beef sandwiches dripping with juice.  At least this trip I do not have a car, so I am forced to walk everywhere to get my fix of classic American food.  Sounds balanced - until you get something delivered!

Giordano's is a chain that makes Chicago-style deep dish pizza.  I normally don't like chains, but in this case, the chain is right up there with the mom-and-pop hole-in-the-wall joints.

A deep dish pizza has a thicker base than a normal pizza, and the dough comes right up the sides.  It's layered first with cheese, then with toppings, then with sauce.  The sauce is often then sprinkled with just a little Parmesan.  It's really not as rich as people would think.

This spinach deep dish was so, so good.  The sauce was so thick, tomatoey and rich.  On a deep dish, I prefer toppings like spinach that don't need to be crisped for good flavour (e.g. pepperoni).  Giordano's crust is stuffed with cheese.  Other places will line the crust with cheese, so that it caramelizes between the crust and the pan.  Giordano's crust is doughy; other places might have a cornmeal element to theirs.

Gotta go - the bike path is calling!

Giordano's (map)
2010 W Montrose, Chicago IL
Other locations throughout Chicago and Chicagoland

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chicago-style hot dogs

I don't care what anyone says - America's national food has got to be the hot dog.  The Tribune recently reported that between Memorial Day and Labor Day alone (the American summer), 300 million Americans consume 7 billion hot dogs.  7 BILLION!  While hot dogs for Australians mean those awful, pallid things encased in violent pink skin that is wont to split unappetisingly, American hot dogs are actually more like sausages, albeit heavily processed ones.  Many brands are available that do not have any fillers or byproducts.  Kosher brands are particularly well regarded.

Byron's in Wrigleyville, Chicago, serve dogs by the Vienna Beef company, favourite of many Chicago hole-in-the-wall dog joints, and they are famous for their own take on Chicago-style toppings. 

A Chicago-style hot dog is topped with mustard, relish, raw onion, pickle spear, tomato, celery salt (ground celery seeds mixed with salt), and "sport peppers" (small, hot chillis).  Byron's adds cucumber and capsicum and uses pickle rounds instead of long spears.  To add tomato sauce (ketchup) is sacrilege.

Spot the hot dog under all of that!  It really is the best way to eat a hot dog.  The processed, salty meat is tempered by all the fresh vegies and tangy pickle, relish, and mustard.

Byron's recently served their famous hot dogs at the White House's annual congressional picnic. Good choice - the Obamas are Chicagoans, after all!

Byron's Hot Dogs (map)
1017 W Irving Park Rd
Chicago, IL 60613

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Paradise Pup

The suburbs of any city can seem like a culinary wasteland.  In Chicago this is particularly so with the prevalence of chains like Panera Bread, Potbelly Sandwich Works - there are literally hundreds.  I am not fond of chain restaurants.  Many came from one very successful, original business, but like the Roman empire, many seem to have expanded too far and lost the essence of what made them a success in the first place.  Melbournians can't take the high moral ground here, considering how Grill'd, Trampoline, and now even Brunetti's are popping up in different corners of our city.  But like any city, if you look beyond the hyper-real lights and colours of the food chains, you will find buried treasure here in Chicagoland.

For example, just past the airport and sandwiched between two auto repair shops, is the Paradise Pup.  This burger shack was opened by two brothers 22 years ago and has been run by them ever since. I knew it was going to be good by the huge line snaking out into the parking lot.

Despite their name, they are known for their burgers, not their dogs.  The favourite is the cheddar charburger, which comes with Merkts cheddar, a type of natural cheddar cheese that comes in a tub.  It's from Wisconsin, the state to the north of Illinois, which is so known for its cheese that its citizens are known (not particularly endearingly) as "cheeseheads."

Holy cornfields, this was the greatest burger!  The patty (still red in the middle, which I know is hard for Australians to get their head around) was so tasty and juicy, and the meat juices mingled with ketchup and mayo to snake down our forearms as we ate.  It came with "everything" - pickle, onion (raw or grilled), fresh tomato, ketchup, and mayonnaise.  The cheese was very rich, salty, and full of flavour, the perfect foil to the tasty meat.  A burger is easy to do, but so hard to do right - this hit the nail on the head.

As if it wasn't enough of a heartstopper, next we gobbled up the Paradise Pup's three-layer fries.  Crinkle-cut fries topped with Merkt's cheddar, sour cream, and real bacon.  I normally avoid loaded fries as they are often covered in mediocre chilli (as in chilli con carne) and awful, fake, lurid yellow "cheese" sauce.  The Paradise Pup's are the real deal, though - even the bacon was real bacon, lovingly chopped, not horrible "bacon bits" that come on the supermarket shelf.  Wow!

These were washed down with black cherry lemonade and an Oreo thickshake.  On the drive home, I put the seat back in the Buick, put my arm out the window, and wished I had cruise control.

Paradise Pup on Urbanspoon

The Paradise Pup (map)
1724 S River Rd
Des Plaines, IL 60018

** UPDATE!  Ms Baklover will be coming back to Australia next week!  I am just a city girl at heart.  Until then, enjoy a flurry of US posts before I get back into searching out new Footscray gems.  Thanks for reading, and to all my guest contributors for keeping the dream alive! **

Friday, August 20, 2010

Guest Post - Bo De Trai

I have just come back from a weekend in Rhode Island, Baltimore, and NYC, in which I think I have eaten nothing but meat, cheese, and white flour.  Vietnamese Buddhist vegetarian cuisine could not be a better counterpoint to my "street meat" weekend!  Thank you so much to Deb from Bear Head Soup for coming to my rescue again while I am overseas and sending in another Footscray review for your enjoyment.

I’ve walked past Bo De Trai several times and have often wondered about what a vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant might be like. There isn’t always a lot of people in there so that made me a little hesitant too. How wrong I was.

Imitation Claypot Lamb (Tu Buu Tay Cam) $14

I chose the imitation claypot lam (sic) or tu buu tay cam as suggested in a review, on the wall at Bo De Trai, by John Weldon in The Age from 2003.

My meal was a luxurious dish of carrots, cubes of white radish, cloud ear mushrooms, lily buds, dried tofu sticks, bok choy and faux meat (TVP type product) in a rich broth, made more flavourful with the addition of julienned ginger.

It was absolutely delicious and I could easily have returned the next day and had the same thing. In his review of Bo De Trai, John Weldon says of the imitation claypot lamb, “gentle on the spice and heavy on the comfort side,” and I completely agree.

Bun Hue, $8

A couple of days later I returned to have a different meal, just to make sure that the fabness of the first dish wasn’t a fluke.

This was a lovely spicy soup with the thicker rice noodles, as you would find in the traditional bun bo hue. It was topped by TVP type sausage slice and some sliced fried tofu. I think the beef was replicated by fried gluten. There also some shitake mushrooms in the soup and some other vegetable or mushroom, I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. The dish came with a plate of mung bean sprouts and mint and a dish with fresh chilli and a wedge of lemon. It was a delicious soup, perfect with its spice for a cold Melbourne day.

Bo De Trai is owned by the Quang Minh Buddhist Temple in Braybrook and is staffed by volunteers. Some of the volunteers have little English, but I was lucky and was able to speak to someone on my first visit. It was a Friday night and she had worked all day and then came to Bo De Trai to work there as a volunteer and was able to tell me a little about the place.

The d├ęcor is basic but the food more than makes up for it and I am really looking forward to a return visit to try some more dishes.

Thank you Deb!  This has been on my "to-try" list for some time.  I really want to try Bun Bo Hue but as I am a gutless offal avoider, this might be my chance to sample the chilli and the spices, at least.

This is the last stop in the west... next stop, the Midwest!  I have lots of artery-clogging American goodness coming up next, but if you want any more Melbourne-based reviews for the next 6 weeks, you are going to have to help me out!  You could write a review of a restaurant or a food store, or even a recipe with an interesting, locally-obtainable ingredient.  Email

Bo de Trai on Urbanspoon

Bo De Trai
94 Hopkins Street, Footscray (map)
Phone: 9689 9909
Hours: 10am to 7pm (to 8pm Fri and Sat nights)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

HuTong Dumpling Bar

I don't get in to town as often as I would like.  When pregnant with my last baby, I saw a Chinese herbalist in Russell St regularly.  Organising babysitting and then braving PT into the city for Chinese medicine seems ridiculous when Footscray's Barkly Street is lined with practitioners.  If I was totally honest, it was probably the excuse of having an hour or two to myself to wander about in the laneways, eating interesting food, feeling cosmopolitan - well, as cosmopolitan as you can feel with cankles and stained, third-hand maternity wear.

If you are a regular reader of food blogs of the Melbourne variety, you would know that every so often something really blows up.  Recently it was Earl Canteen and its "sex sandwich;" a little while ago, it was HuTong Dumpling Bar's xiao long bao, dumplings filled with meat and soup.  I had still not tried these, and a farewell dinner before my big trip stateside with the scrumptious K was the perfect excuse to catch up with everyone else.

Entry is off Market Lane, opposite the Flower Drum.  This might seem intimidating, but let me tell you, HuTong is a worthy neighbour to this grand old Melbourne dame.

On the lower level, you can watch the chefs deftly filling and pleating their dumpling wares.  We were ushered upstairs to our reserved table.  The decor is really lovely, lots of bare wood, brick, and a sense of height rather than width.  It feels very Melbourne inside.  I was so excited to peruse the menu, which has every dish's origin within China designated, plus red stamps for house specialties.  I have heard service is poor, but we were nothing but impressed.

"Shao-Long Bao" (aka Xiao Long Bao) - East China

Much lyric has been waxed over these little parcels of delight, and for good reason.  They are absolutely divine!  You ease them very delicately from the steamer basket into a wide, Chinese-style spoon, pierce with a chopstick or your teeth, and either suck out the soup inside or let it drain into the spoon before slurping. 

I believe the soup is introduced by enclosing gelatinized stock inside the raw dumpling.  Now, my favourite things are a) dumplings, and b) homemade stock, so these just hit the jackpot for me.  The soup is so flavoursome, the skin is excellent, and the deliciate mince inside is somehow unified between the two - no hard, meaty nugget here.  Absolutely amazing!

"Wantons with Hot Chilli Sauce" - Szechuan

This might look terrifying, but even if you are not a chilli addict like me, it's not that hot.  The wontons were so delicate, with lovely slippery skins that were made even better slicked with chilli oil.  Wonderful.

Pan-Fried Dumplings - Shanghai

These panfried dumplings were also excellent - far from the grainy specimens with greasy bottoms and tough skins that other dumpling barns sell.  The xiao long bao and wontons were the standouts, though.

Dong Po Square Soft Pork - Hangzhou

This glistening, ruby-red chunk of pork belly was lovely.  It was meltingly soft and very sweet.  We couldn't bring ourselves to eat the wobbly fat, though.  I kind of have to have my fat crispy, like in Chinese crispy BBQ pork or American bacon, ya know?

Szechuan Picked Vegetables

These vegies were great - a mix of carrot, radish, and a sort of pale green chilli.  They were very tangy with vinegar and salt - not at all sweet, unlike Vietnamese pickled vegetables.  The whole dish tasted very Mexican to me, which was a total surprise, but a happy one.

It is so exciting to find dumplings made with such love and care, and with such quality ingredients.  As you might know, I do love yum cha, but it can all be a bit slap-dash.  I'm also yet to find a northern-Chinese dumpling place that I absolutely adore. Many teeter too precariously on the homely/grotty border, while others can't hide cheap fillings.  Of course I love low prices, but I am more than happy to pay more for a comparative rise in quality.  HuTong has the quality I am looking for, and it is not even that expensive.  I also love being able to see the origins of all the different dishes, and to be reminded of the enormous diversity of cuisine within China.  I look forward to many more gastronomic adventures behing HuTong's door.

HuTong Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

HuTong Dumpling Bar
14-16 Market Lane, Melbourne (map)
Hours: Daily 11am-3pm, 5.30pm-10.30pm (til 11.30pm Fri & Sat)
Phone: 9650 8128

Saturday, August 14, 2010


When I was 19, I stayed in a small village outside Rome for a month with a friend.  It was the ancestral home of her family.  Her aunt lived in the old part of the town, in the small, winding streets that ascended to an old fort.  It was an idyllic summer.  I remember one time, after drinking too much strawberry-flavoured sparkling wine (we were teenagers, after all), we went in search of "hangover food."  All we could find was pizza, but not the flabby, cheesy, mystery-meat kind that our throbbing heads craved - thin-crust, single-topping, perfect Roman-style pizza.  A few slices did nothing to take the edge off the morning after, so light were they on cheese and oil.

Pizza in Australia has typically been thought of as greasy junk food, although it is safe to say that over the last 20 years, the tide has been turning to reveal that authentic crisp Italian style.  Here in the US, the pizza is still greasy, but it is made with a lot more care than it is in Australia.  Pizza parlours take great pride in their tomato sauce, and there are regional variations, from Chicago's deep dish to New York's thin crust, impossibly large slices that you eat folded over onto themselves. 

We have tried almost every pizza place in Footscray and surrounds, and none are particularly stand-out, all serving the same spongy shredded ham and bad salami atop mediocre bases.  We gave up and have been making our own.  All that may change, however, now that I have discovered l'Uccellino.

"John's number 2", $16.50
(tomato, fior di latte, pesto & sopressa)

The pizzas are just fabulous.  The bases are delectably crisp and pleasantly chewy, the toppings all top quality, especially the excellent fior di latte mozzarella cheese.  This melts in large white blobs, quite unlike the yellow stuff that passes for mozz on most takeaway pizzas.

Capricciosa, $17
(tomato, fior di latte, virginia ham, mushrooms, black olives, artichokes & anchovies)

There is a mix of "classics" (e.g. Hawaiian) and really interesting pizze like zucchini & mint or sausage, pea, and red onion, as well as a selection of pizze in bianco (without a tomato base).

"Pizza for a friend", $18
(in bianco, fior di latte, roasted pumpkin, pinenuts, rocket & goats' cheese)

I will gripe that the pumpkin here did seem boiled rather than roasted (big difference, people), but it was nevertheless very, very nice.  You are paying for what you get, though.  A pizza here is a one-person meal and is between $15 and $19; thus, a pizza and DVD night in might end up very expensive when compared to, say, Il Paesano's $5 small pizza.

Then again, pizza does of course not need to be just takeaway.  The restaurant itself is really lovely, dimly lit and very romantic, with friendly, efficient service.  I will definitely be there next date night.  The ensuing hangover will have to be satisfied with McDonald's.

20 Ballarat St, Yarraville (map)
Phone: 9689 9788
Hours: Tues-Sun 5pm-late

L'Uccellino on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Footscray foodie" - not an oxymoron!

It's a pity they didn't mention the blog title or address, however!!  Big thanks to Deb from Bear Head Soup who emailed this to me out of the blue while I am overseas!  You are a sweetie.  I do highly recommend Mei Ling's 'Vietnam on a Plate' tour (see here for my experience earlier this year).  I was on the waiting list from the previous year and the Council faithfully got in touch, so don't despair if they are already booked out.  Bring a spare stomach - you end up eating so much food!

In other very exciting news, particularly if you know me IRL (in real life), I have just finished my medical transcription course, which has taken up my almost every waking hour for the last 6 months.  WOOT!!!  Now plenty more time to blog, er, I mean clean my messy house. :)

Secondly, if you are interested in the West Footscray area and its future, please take a minute to consider the options being presented for the proposed tunnel and submit the feedback form with your selection.  Hurry, submissions close tomorrow, Friday August 13.  Thanks :)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Yummie Dim Sum

Yummie have a retail shop in Leeds St, which sells house-made fresh and frozen yum cha items, as well as a small selection of hot, takeaway dim sum.  They recently opened at the old site of Rajdhani, a short-lived Indian restaurant, which was in turn previously occupied by a Polish deli.  Anthony, a reader, kindly wrote in recommending their dim sum, and as it had been on my to-eat list for a while, we headed there for lunch.

The raised, open-plan kitchen means that if you nab a table at the side of the restaurant, you can watch the ladies stuffing and folding dumplings, ready to be served to you within a few minutes.

It's a strange mix of a la carte and a la cart, you could say.  Despite the menu on the wall, staff do come round with trolleys and trays for you to choose plates off, like in a typical yum cha restaurant.

Deep fried won ton, $3.80

Deep fried prawn roll, $4.80

These were out of the warmer, which was a pity as they were not as good as they would have been if freshly made.  They came with hot-pink sweet sauce.

Bean curd skin pork roll, $3.80

I've only had this once before, at Gold Leaf Docklands, where I was unimpressed, but Yummie's version was very nice, with soft wrapping and pleasantly gloopy sauce.

Siu mai (pork), $4.80

These are the classic yum cha dumpling, in my opinion.  Yummie's were perfectly acceptable, nothing amazing.  Perhaps a little too salty.

Ham sui gok, ("Fried savoury dumplings"), $3.80

These crispy, ovoid bundles of love are my favourite - filled with savoury pork mince and mushroom.  The retail shop in Leeds St sells larger ones for $1.50, and they are a great lunch along with a $2.40 salad roll from Nhu Lan.

Sticky rice ("Stir fry glutinous rice"), $5.80

This was really quite nice, filled with egg, sausage, and mushroom, and it was evident that it had been freshly made.

Spare rib with black bean sauce, $3.80

Yummie lived up to its name with this one - such tender, yummy pork!  Mm-mmh.

Rice paper prawn, $4.80

I did not like these - they had an odd batter around them, and a funny, chunky prawn filling with a big spear of chive or spring onion.  They came with a quivering dollop of mayo.

King prawn on toast, $4.80

These deep-fried bread triangles smooshed with prawn and sesame keep my twelve-month-old quiet for an entire yum cha session.  Please do not report me to DoCS!  These were not that good, though.  The prawn didn't have much flavour and they tasted a bit overbrowned.

Ginger tripe, $4.80

My dad and his partner reported that this was not good.  My opinion?  Oh, it was way around the other side of the table, and I couldn't reach it to try!  Dang!!

Deep fried calamari, $6.80

They use a funny batter here - I wonder if it is just rice flour?  At any rate, this was quite good, tasty and the right balance between tender and chewy.

B.B.Q. pork bun, $3.80

These were not that good.  Although the filling was obviously home-made and made with care, it was too fine, and the dominant flavour was sweetness, instead of being balanced with the necessary meaty pork flavour and five-spice high notes.

Pan-fried pork dumpling, $3.80

I believe these are called jiao zi, and are the original Chinese precursor to Japanese gyoza.  Yummie's were really good.

Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, $6.80

After stuffing ourselves, everyone remembered we had had no vegetables, so this was our dessert, and very good it was, too.

The verdict?  I think they should decide if they want to be a la carte or not.  It's confusing to order dumplings then have the trolley come out, and you are not sure if those are your order or not.  I think it's too small to do trolley service properly.  I would have thought the dumplings would have been better as they are made on-site and in-house; I still prefer Gold Leaf Sunshine.  Nevertheless, like Master Restaurant, this is another reliable local option for decent yum cha.

Yummie Hong Kong Dim Sum on Urbanspoon

Yummie Hong Kong Dim Sum
189-193 Barkly St, Footscray (map)
Phone: 9078 8878
Hours: 7 days, 8am-8pm
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