Thursday, December 17, 2009

Woodstock Cafe

612 Nicholson St (corner Nicholson & Richardson)
Fitzroy North 3068


Spotters who braved the downpour last Thursday (there were some decidedly squelchy shoes on show) were treated to the 'real thing' at Woodstock Cafe: traditional Italian fare served on red and white checked tablecloths. The (somewhat noisy) restaurant is divided into front and back sections by the large wood-fired pizza oven and preparation area.

The pizzas here are apparently made with triple-proved dough, and the crusts prove perfectly thin and crisp. Confident toppings are strewn about the pizzas in large chunks, and pizzas are served whole rather than sliced (always a point of contention amongst our group, but personally I'm a fan of pizza served this way - I think it involves you more in the whole pizza experience if you have to cut it yourself!)

There is a good list of Italian wine (and beer). And a dessert list that was very tempting (if only we hadn't ordered so many pizzas...)
Bookings recommended - by the time we left the place was full.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cafe Romantica

52 Lygon St, Brunswick

The regularity of SPOT meetings (and perhaps reviews) has taken some hits from the Melbourne winter, but a dedicated few made it to Cafe Romantica (Lygon St, East Brunswick) last Thursday to keep the pulse beating.

Romantic in name only (the tiled floors and laminex tables perhaps don't recommend it for secret rendevous or first dates), it's nonetheless cosy and welcoming - good if you find yourself waiting da sola for the rest of your crew to straggle in (Sorry, Nyc).

Unfortunately the pizza rating hasn't made it to committee yet, but in this humble Spotter's opinion, the base was nice and chewy, the toppings better than standard, and there was a good vego range. This can be extended by the addition of extras to any pizza - something a lot of other places won't allow. The home-made gelato counter was too hard to ignore, and though we don't usually venture into the business of dessert, the liquorice is a goer.

All in all, Cafe Romantica is cheap, cheerful and comfortable. Sounds like a perfect first date to me.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Darwin Pizza Scene...

ROVING REVIEWS BY PIZZA SPOTTERS

Hypothesis

One SPOT member opined that warm humid climates like Darwin’s are not conducive to pizza eating. An interesting view. I investigated the theory. If it were true then Darwin would probably have less pizza places and the eating experience would be less pleasurable regardless of the quality of the pizza.

Results

I confined my investigations to the CBD. First of all I went into what looked like one of Darwin’s oldest Italian restaurants. It had a musty smell and no customers. Alas also no pizza on the menu. Perhaps that says something about the suitability of the climate for pizza. However I don’t think this necessarily follows as I doubt customer satisfaction was high on the proprietor’s list of priorities.

Next I went into "Mitchellis" on Mitchell St. It presents itself as Darwin’s official sit down pizzeria. Nothing flash. Atmosphere soured by tv screens and bright lights. I was directed to a seat in the back corner and told to order at the counter. Aok with me except the pizzas and wine were super expensive (it would have cost me $40+ for an average looking pizza, a salad and a glass of wine). Hence I walked on.

Next door however was another pizza joint - Cafe Uona, specializing in takeaway, but licensed and with outdoor tables and a sign saying Darwin’s best pizza. I ordered the "Vegetarian". And it was pretty good. Reasonable value, nice toppings, a good garden salad, and bottled house wine for $5/glass. Friendly genuine backpacker staff too. I’d say this place would hold its own in Melbourne but probably not stand out.

Conclusion

So to the non tropics pizza hypothesis.. I enjoyed my Darwin pizza as much as usual in Melbourne. And, eating outdoors in Darwin is better than being outdoors on Lygon on a wintery summer’s afternoon. But would I want pizza every week in the tropics? Hmm.. I think yes. Still, the lack of pizza places in Darwin suggests not everyone does. So it seems more research is needed.

Notes

1. I suggest there is a business opportunity for a Darwin pizza place experimenting with Indian and north African flavours.

2. Lack of time stopped me getting to “Super Pizzas” in Fanny Bay. Judging by its name it is also worth a visit.

Vicky's

5-7 Strathalbyn St (Harp Strip), Kew East

Ph 9859 6471

This is my local pizza place. On a Thursday if SPOT doesn’t meet, this is where I eat.

Its instructive to see what a pizzeria offers away from the charged atmosphere of Melbourne’s inner north. I like it. Vicky’s d├ęcor is kinda mid eighties inspired pastelish inoffensive, functional with rather too bright lighting. But its in a really cool old double storey building. Whoever occupies upstairs with its deeply recessed verandah is lucky.

The restaurant has a dedicated clientele of canny baby boomers. Nothing fancy but a proper family run restaurant conscious of and attending to all the things a restaurant should. Quality food, a serviceable bar and friendly, polite service without pretence.

Selecting a vego pizza is easy – it’s the one called “Vegetarian” (notwithstanding the Margarita). It’s pretty tasty, lots a mushroom, cheese and capsicum on an agreeable base. (Although I note my housemate ordered a takeaway pizza the other day that had a too doughy base). The wine list stands out for value with a $3 house wine. But, life is too short to waste time with this given that for $4 you can have a glass of decent bottled wine.

All in all I’m proud Vicky’s is my local pizza restaurant and happy to recommend it to anyone visiting Kew East.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Beer DeLuxe

Federation Square, corner Swanston & Flinders Sts

It was a rugged-up and wintry crew of spotters that met at Fed. Square last Thursday night, for only our second foray into the pizza joints of the CBD. After getting into the groove with some free jazz (courtesy Melbourne Jazz Festival), we made our way to Beer DeLuxe for the evening's repast. Fortunately none of us was wearing spectacles, so we were free to pass the "no glass wear beyond this point" sign and enter through the beer garden/courtyard.

For a place that appears not to want its patrons to see clearly, Beer DeLuxe was quite well lit. The lighting was warm and cosy, the light-fittings even earning the approval of our Architect member. However the night following the coldest April morning in over 50 years is not the best time to find yourself seated next to the door. The warmth and cosiness was somewhat disrupted by the arctic breeze tickling the backs of our necks everytime someone went outside for a fag.

The Verdict:

Base: 6/10. Not bad, nothing special. There were complaints of sogginess, but perhaps this is a fault of the -

Topping: 6.5/10. The stand-out was the Onion, Leek and Gorgonzola, a tasty combination that had us all looking for more. The 'special' Pumpkin and Rocket was not a good example of what roast pumpkin on pizza can do - if you need to add salt and pepper to a pizza, something's lacking.

Atmosphere/service: 4/10. That arctic breeze cost them big time, and the general din didn't help. The only mitigating factor here was our waitress, who saved them a score of 3/10 by recommending an excellent choice from the -

Beer/wine list: 8/10. Great, and as you'd expect some excellent beers, the dark ales helping us bear up under the cool conditions.

Value: Overall, quite good. Considering the location, $14 for a pizza can't be sneezed at (there were some sniffles though, courtesy of the arctic ...)

Overall: 6.3/10. This place wasn't bad but we left without feeling we'd want to return - at least, not for the pizza. We get the impression that the question to ask at Beer DeLuxe is not 'Would you like a drink with your pizza,' but rather 'Would you like some pizza with your beer?'

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bar Fred

797 Nicholson Rd North Carlton

This place makes very good cheap pizzas, serves lots of beer and quite a bit of wine. By the end of the evening I was suggesting it could become SPOT’s spiritual home.

But I’m ahead of myself. Using the VAWTB (Value, atmosphere, wine, toppings base) assessment methodology:

Value- Excellent. 9.5 Big pizzas, with good ingredients, all about 10 bucks.

Atmosphere- 6.5 OK but perhaps the area with greatest scope for improvement. Manager made some at best ambiguous comments which didn’t bode well but the bar staff were friendly and unpretentious.

I think its still in transition. The walls painted deep red and dark colours together with op shop chic chairs, seemed a bit in conflict with the dirty old tile floor and stark white ceiling. I guess the rest of the SPOT team didn’t notice but perplexingly there was a palm tree in the urinal!

Music was good.. eclectic. Boards of Canada and jazz (played through big Wharfedale Speakers!).

The atmosphere somehow improved as soon as I read the menu and saw the long list of wine and pizzas at good prices, which brings us to…

Pizzas – Damn fine!

Toppings 9.5. Mostly vego apart from a few with Salmon that swam their way onto the menu. We could only try three but I would have loved to Eat the Menu! We tried the Serra (pumpkin); the Columbus (named for tomatoes.. begs the question what were italian pizzas like before Columbus visited the Americas); and, the Bianco (potatoes, red onion, caramelized garlic, olives). All were great, Roh seemed to wax lyrical most about the Columbus. I still believe the Quattro (with spinach) is worth a follow up visit.

We also had a desert pizza which showcased their versatility. Pretty tasty, though the masses of icing sugar tended to stick better to my black jeans than the pizza. There was some discussion of the whole idea of desert pizzas having a bit of an NQR factor.. hmm bit like sparkling shiraz perhaps??

Bases 8.5 Sarah summed it up. “Good.. chewy, not too thick or too thin”

Wine List 9 – This joint is about beer even more than pizzas. Which is fair enough and that’s a whole new genre. I guess there are implications for styles of pizzas, base etc. For now let’s just say if you like beer (9.5) this place is for you, and if you like wine (8.5) you’ll be fine – even had an organic shiraz which tasted pretty good.


THE VERDICT

So based on the VAWTB, X gets 43 out of 50. That’s 86% or a High Distinction. I reckon Top of the Class. And the good news is when they hang those 60’s paintings currently tucked out the back this place will only get better!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Joe's Garage

366 Brunswick Street Fitzroy


After attempting to cut the budget this week (going with a Global Financial Crisis theme) and feast on $5 pizza at Bimbo Deluxe, the spotters found themselves in a spot of bother when Bimbo's had no seating spots to be found. After realising that Brunswick St is not particular famous for pizza (compared with its near neighbour Lygon St), our intrepid bunch were faced with limited options. In the end we trekked south (approx 20 metres) and settled on Joe's Garage. Joe's is designed as a kind of 50's American diner, with its neon sign and 50's-inspired 3D (?) artwork on the walls. Amongst the burgers the menu also manages a pizza list of 13 and a selection of pasta & risotto dishes. It does feel like Joe's has a slight identity crisis - perhaps in an attempt to appeal to the group 'birthday dinner' clientele - trying to cover all bases (pizza, pasta, burgers, dhal, saganaki...) and with their focus leaning more towards quantity than quality.

pizzas sampled:

1. Margherita: tomato, bocconcini & basil

2. Veg out:roast vegetables, cheese, pesto & fetta

3. Pump the jam: tomato, cheese, roasted pumpkin, semi dried tomato, marinated artichoke, fetta & hommous


the verdict:

base 6
not bad - not too thick and well cooked. We debated amongst ourselves whether the bases were bought in or made on site. Should have asked!

topping 6.5

satisfactory but not exciting. MJoe's menu is downloadable from their tired-looking website, which lends us to believe it probably hasn't changed in quite some time. We question the addition of hommous
on pizza. Also, it would help if the menu gave more information than just 'cheese'.




ambience/service 6.5

Bright & noisy but the place was less than half full. Football on the tv in the corner may or may not be your thing. If you are after an authentic italian experience, Joe's is not your place. Service was friendly.

wine list 6
While Joe's has a large u-shaped bar taking up the middle of the restaurant, beer & spirits seem more of a priority than wine. The house red was uninspiring.

price: 6.5 $
prices range from $13.90-$15.90 for approx 10 inch pizzas

Overall:
Satisfactory. We wouldn't seek out Joe's for the ambience or the pizza experience, but the pizza was better than expected and the prices were reasonable.

D.O.C Pizza e Mozzarella Bar

295 Drummond Street, Carlton

A bit of background first: D.O.C stands for
Denominazione D'origine Controllata, which is a label given to foods and wine that are deemed to apply to the lofty standards set by various Italian agricultural bodies. It is basically an Italian quality assurance, developed by a few Italians worried about the poor reputation of many so called "Italian" food and wine. (Please note that no such body exists for Italian cars...)

By naming a restaurant D.O.C, the restaurateur is clearly trying to tell us that their food is authentic, guaranteed, stamped & signed Italian goodness. And so was it? Well yes it was, right down to the imported Italian waiters in their shiny white 1980's sneakers and cardigan knits with collars.

While D.O.C emphasises their selection of Italian small goods, cheese and wines, they also serve a number of Australian items, including cheese and wine. The menu is divided into four categories: D.O.C Mozzarella Bar &
Antipizza Bar (cheeses & smallgoods); Insalatone (salads); D.O.C Pizza Bar; & dolci, cafe e digestivi. As for the rest - see our comments below:


pizzas sampled:

1. foccaccia potato c/ caramelized red onion e rosemary

2. pizza abruzzese c/ porchetta, montovana fruit mustard, mozzarella & radicchio

3. pizza cicoria c/ chicory, piave cheese & lemon

4. pizza ai porcini c/ wild mushrooms, truffle oil & mozzarella in bianco

5. sweeet pizza c/ belgian white chocolate & fresh strawberries & vanilla bean ice-cream


the verdict:

base 8.5
thin enough to not be bread-like, but still soft with enough crusti-ness that all good pizza bases should have.

topping 8.5
very interesting selection of pizza topping departing wildly from the standard cappriciosa and aussie specials. every pizza is carefully conceived to produce a simple arrangement of ingredients. solid range of vegetarian pizzas that are very tasty.

ambience/service 6.5
very noisy, but the service was good. the couple flirting in the kitchen out the back added to the authentic italian experience.

wine list 7
good traditional italian style wines, produced both inn Australia and Italy. extensive beer list with large number of Italian beers.

price: $$
pizza prices range from $14.90-$18.50 with three selections of pizza above $20. not quite porchetta prices, but you do get what you pay for - excellent pizza!