So it turns out that my USA holiday posts aren’t going to write themselves and I know that there are a few people keen to hear them so I better pull my finger out. We spent a total of 3.5 weeks in the USA – an absolutely amazing country to visit and one that I’ve already had the pleasure of visiting twice previously, although this was MS’ first time. We arrived mid afternoon in LA after about 20 hours of flying and transiting through Sydney and what seemed like an eternity of MS chucking the sh*ts on the flight over because of the lack of leg room in economy. We’re all in the same boat buddy – well kind of. The fact that he is 6 ft 2 and I am all but 5 ft surely makes a difference to the level of comfort onboard a 747.
We overnighted in LA close to the airport in a reasonably priced hotel. It wasn’t anything flash but the beds were comfy and the copious amounts of hair loss ads on the TV sure made up for it. We ventured down the road to get some food for an early dinner only after confirming with the clerk that it was safe to do so. It is LA after all and almost everyone is packing, or at least that’s what we’re led to believe. We ended up at the clerks recommendation of Waba Grill which was only a 10 minute walk down the road and wasn’t particularly amazing. Imagine a fast food place that serves brown rice and teriyaki marinated meats with avocado and there you have Waba Grill. It was a little better than the other option next door – Little Caesars, whose newest product was bacon wrapped pizza. Actually on second thought maybe we should have gone to Little Caesars. It was the first day of the holiday however and I was still holding onto the completely ridiculous notion that I wasn’t going to put on any weight in the USA despite the long lists of burger and BBQ joints I had in mind.
Early next morning we flew from LA to Charlotte in North Carolina for a short stopover that ended up being delayed (thank goodness for the rocking chairs at Charlotte airport) and then finally to Columbia in South Carolina where my uncle met us. My mum’s brother and his family have lived in the USA for about 15 years now and this was MS first time meeting them. Just for a bit of inside info my uncle and his family are moonies and their particular way of life, as you can imagine, is a little different to many including both MS and I. It was MS first time being in such close proximity to people that are so deeply religious and he found it both fascinating and horrifying at the same time. He challenged my uncle on his beliefs (in a polite way) with conversations about the big bang theory, Adam and Eve and even Obama Care over the few days we spent with him – at Walmart, at Sam’s Club, in the car, at Verizon and back at Walmart again. Despite how it sounds it was a very friendly interaction but it’s obviously a conversation that my uncle has had plenty of times. In fact he freely admits that his responses have been well crafted over the years whereas MS was almost completely out of his depth. We had a great time with them but without being rude or disrespectful since my uncle will most likely read this I live my life very differently to those of the Unification Church.
Three days after we arrived we hired a car, said goodbye to my South Carolina family and after MS got his bearings for driving on the complete other side of the road in 6 lanes of traffic at 90 miles an hour we were on our way north to Durham in North Carolina (about a 3 hour drive). Along the way we passed a road sign advertising a Gun Expo in Charlotte and since we weren’t constrained by time we figured we would stop off to check it out. Sadly I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures inside and my Go Pro had to be put away the minute I stepped in the door. Pointing a high powered assault rifle with a scope and a laser sight at someone elses head so they can show me the accuracy of their favourite weapon isn’t something I thought I would ever see myself doing but it was pretty interesting to see the conservatives in their element.
Later that afternoon we arrived in Durham and headed straight to the Backyard BBQ Pit which was due to close earlier than we expected. It meant an early dinner of 5pm but it would have to do. I had heard about Backyard BBQ Pit on my beloved show Man Vs Food and kept it on a list ever since as one place I wanted to go to. We arrived to an unassuming brick restaurant on the side of the road with a sweet smell of barbecued meats in the air.
There was quite a line inside because the place was very popular and despite the questionable cleanliness of the eatery (cue waitress swatting blow flies with a broom) we took our place in the line. I’ve eaten at plenty of places where the hygiene was questionable and still lived to tell the tale. One that comes to mind was a road side hut that my cousin and I stopped at whilst touring Sri Lanka with Intrepid. We had a fantastic curry lunch served in large clay pots in an open air dining room. Before getting back on the bus I went to use the bathrooms and caught sight of the blow fly laden kitchen, a sight I would have preferred not to see.
Back at the Backyard BBQ Pit MS ordered the rib dinner with a trio of meats including brisket, ribs and pulled pork with sides for US$10.49 while I chose the Brisket plate with choice of sides for US$6.49. We both chose the mac n cheese as well as the hushpuppies – think deep fried mashed potato – and took a seat at a booth on the side.
The styrofoam take away boxes that seem to be a popular serving option in the US don’t make for a particularly aesthetic meal but they do the trick. One thing that was very obvious to me in the USA is that they live in very much a throw-away society. I thought we were bad in Australia but sh*t they are leaps and bounds ahead of us in terms of waste produced and no one seems to care (unless they are from San Francisco).
The best part of my meal was easily the mac n cheese. That cheesy, fat ladened pasta was so ridiculously rich I shudder to think what was in it but I didn’t come to the USA so question the calorie content of my food. My brisket was lovely in a vinegary sort of way. I recall my South Carolina cousin telling me about the difference in BBQ in the southern states – some swear by the vinegary type brisket and pulled pork whilst others think covering it in BBQ sauce is the best way. I’m definitely the later. Bring me the BBQ sauce! In fact, you can just leave it on my table. I tasted MS’ ribs and got a bit of food envy – he had definitely made a better meat choice than I had.
Later we explored our first Whole Foods supermarket of many which was conveniently located across the road from our hotel. If only for the entire fridge of different Kombucha (my new found love in life) I give Whole Foods 5 out of 5.
Next morning after a gym session in the ‘no judgement zone’ that is Planet Fitness we were on our way to Richmond in Virginia but not before stopping at the ridiculously popular bagel house Bruegger’s Bagels.
As you can imagine, bagels are hugely popular in the USA and the line for bagels at this place was well out the door. Bagels for breakfast soon became our ritual much to the dismay of my ass.
For lunch we made it to our first Chipotle for the trip as recommended by my mum and dad – think Zambrero but tastier and not such a damn rip off. In my opinion it’s one of the best fast food options in the USA and there are thousands of them around the country. I can recommend the Barbacoa with lots of Tabasco Sauce.
Later that night was our second BBQ stop Buz and Ned’s Real BBQ, another one I had seen on Man Vs Food. This was the other type of BBQ that my cousin was telling me about, the one with the BBQ sauce smothered all over the meat (aka my kind of dinner). We both ordered the BBQ Pork Sandwiches (MS had two because he’s a growing boy apparently) with more mac n cheese, hushpuppies and also fried okra (another popular southern dish). The mac n cheese wasn’t nearly as good as the one we had the previous night but I enjoyed the brisket burgers way more. And the fried okra? Well that kind of just tasted like oil. I love BBQ and it was one of the things I most looked forward to in the USA but I find it very rich and filling and can’t eat a whole lot of it.
The next day we were back on the road again and after our regular bagel breakfast we stopped at a random servo somewhere on the outskirts of Virginia. Inside I glanced at a newspaper on the counter with about 15 mugshots of people on the front of it. I asked the attendant if those were people that had gone missing and she said that it was people that had gone to jail that week. Only an emoji could convey my reaction to her reply.
To be continued… xo
A couple of weeks ago I was on a roll with my posts, putting up 2 in 2 weeks (a hell of a lot better than I have managed to achieve in the last 6 months) but alas it was to be short lived for my Toshiba Ultrabook had other plans and decided to shit itself for the third time in a year and a half. Yes, I have had to replace the hard drive on three separate occasions in this time period (it’s still under warranty) and apparently it has to die one more time before they (JB Hifi’s Extended Warranty Service) will replace it. Fml. But how ridiculous is that?! 4 frigin times?!!!! So I apologise but without a laptop I’m pretty much useless as my handwriting has never been the same since it died a slow and painful death in my uni lecture days. What’s that you say? Get a Mac? No thanks. I’ll be damned if I ever get a Mac. PC for life! Moving on.
So, finally… Day Two of our adventures in Melbourne were meticulously planned by moi. It was MS’ 30th birthday the following day and I had a few things in store for the birthday boy. Firstly after doing some reading on Urbanspoon for the best places to head for breakfast we headed to Manchester Press. Initially I really wanted to go to the Hardware Societe but they were closed down over that period due to significant fire damage from the tenancy next door (they are unfortunately still closed). Never-the-less Manchester Press was supposed to be good too.
Manchester Press is another one of those places hidden down the laneway that Melbourne is renowned for. The only reason that you really even know there is something down there is because you see a random person holding a takeaway coffee cup emerge from what you thought was a deserted laneway. We found it no problem thanks to an amazing thing called ‘the internet’. Inside was a large warehouse type café bustling with early morning breakfast goers and the clinking of plates and coffee cups in the kitchen. We sat down at a communal table – something that seems all the rage in Melbourne and something I wish was more the rage in Cairns while the waitress brought us some water and menus.
As I said I had already researched Manchester Press so I knew what kind of food we were in for but MS was most disappointed when he realised that the menu was pretty much made up of bagels. No giant sized man breakfast or pancakes with bacon, much to his dismay. I pretended that I had no idea that that’s all they served but secretly I knew full well because I came here for the Bagel with thick sliced pastrami, sliced tomato, sauerkraut, swiss cheese and thousand island dressing (pretty much a Reuben for all those MVF lovers out there). Guess the cats out of the bag now, well maybe not since MS never reads my posts anyway… Ahem.
MS who had decided on the BLAT (Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado, Tomato) topped with Cranberry and Chilli Plum Relish got his back up even more about only having bagels for breakfast when he asked the waitress if he could add an egg and her response was ‘I’m sorry, no’. Apparently you can’t make any changes to the bagels at Manchester Press. All good. Our coffee’s arrived and they were excellent – although I’m no coffee connoisseur. Manchester Press is one of those cafés vying for the best coffee in Melbourne but then again I’m pretty sure every café in Melbourne has the best coffee. The only drawback to the coffee at MP is I am pretty sure they only had take away coffee cups, no mugs. I could be wrong though. Not long after our coffees arrived had our bagels arrived.
My bagel was crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. The sauerkraut, thousand island dressing, pastrami and swiss cheese are easily a combo made in heaven. It was a good bagel, and an even better choice on my behalf, although it still didn’t live up to my ‘fresh bagels in Manhattan for breakfast experience’ a few years ago. I don’t think anything other than the real thing will ever top that but this ‘Australian version’ would more than suffice in the meantime.
MS’ BLAT had a generous serving of avocado and bacon on it and he soon forgot his hang-ups about not having a ‘man-sized’ breakfast and the lack of egg. He later said that it was nice not being ridiculously full after breakfast for once. Lucky for him because we still had lots of eating to do.
After breakfast we headed off towards Elizabeth Street with MS having no idea where we were going. Soon enough we miraculously ended up at a strip of motorbike shops that MS decided he wanted to go and have a look inside. No, that was not part of my plan at all. He soon realised that was exactly where I was taking him and he spent the rest of the morning choosing a motorbike helmet and gloves as my early birthday present to him.
Three hours later we were still in there and lucky for me there was a chair for me to sit on and Instagram my little heart away – at least for the first hour and a half anyway. Then I started to get impatient and in the end I gave MS a time limit or I would be walking out without him (Hey! It wasn’t his birthday yet). Shopping with MS is extremely painful – you should see him try to choose a pair of runners at Rebel Sport! FFS… We finally left and headed to the next stop on our food journey – the one place that I had so eagerly awaited/anticipated/salivated ever since I read about it in The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar’s blog – Wonderbao.
It was a little hard to find but we found it tucked away at the end of an alley way. On Urbanspoon someone said to look for the green milk crates. Yeah well we found those and then still had no bloody idea where the hell it was. We looked down the alley way and all we saw was some scaffolding and builders. Then, low and behold, we saw someone scurry out of a doorway down the end with a takeaway coffee cup. Bingo! Inside it was like what my dreams are made of – bamboo steamers stacked high with baos! We ordered two Braised Pork Belly Gua Bao with Pickled Mustard Coriander and Crushed Peanuts (AU$4.20 each), two Roast Pork Belly Gua Bao with Cucumber, Pickled Carrots, Daikon and Hoisin Sauce (also AU$4.20 each) and a hot homemade organic soya milk (AU$3) to wash it all down.
Wonderbao is only a very small place with a limited number of seats (about 6) and there was already about 3 people sitting down. We politely asked some people to move along so we could sit down as well and waited patiently for our bao’s to arrive. When they did, it was everything I had been dreaming about. MS really had no idea what he was in for but lets just say he was more than pleasantly surprised with was placed in front him. One of my favourite things to eat in the whole world (although I don’t eat them nearly as much as I would like) is Steamed Pork Buns but Wonderbao took it to a whole new ‘cloud-like’ level. The photo below still makes me drool.
MS’ personal favourite was the Roast Pork Belly with Cucumber and Pickled Carrots and after polishing off both of them he complained that he ate ‘the best one first’. I honestly couldn’t choose a favourite – they were both absolutely out-of-this-world delicious.
The bao’s were a decent serving and good value for only AU$4.20 each and to be honest I don’t think I could have eaten any more than two. The fatty pork belly makes them extremely rich but that might just be me. I breathed a sigh of relief in knowing that the place I had lusted/drooled after for the last two years (and that we had been searching for the last 40 minutes) was as good – if not better – than I imagined it to be.
So on we went with plans to head to Chadstone for some shopping a little later in the afternoon but before that we had to fit in some Xiao Long Bao from Shanghai Street Dumpling – another place that I had heard so much about. The owners are originally from Shanghai and after spending some of October in Shanghai I have developed quite a penchant for these little soup filled dumplings of goodness but most of all I wanted MS to try them. Yes, I know it sounds like we were being massive fatties but that was in fact our plan for Melbourne. Instead of getting shitfaced for the weekend to celebrate our birthdays we were going to eat instead. Oh golly and eating we were! We lined up outside Shanghai Street Dumpling – the tiny restaurant was already packed to the brim.
I ordered some takeaway Xiao Long Bao (about AU$10 for 8) and we sat out the front of the MYER centre on the steps and watched a busker playing some electro beats (hey I’m no DJ but that sounds close enough). MS thought it was one of the coolest things he had ever seen – “Why don’t people do cool shit like this in Cairns?” he asked. Meh. I was more interested in the dumplings. MS thought they were good but nothing to rave about, I on the other hand was more than impressed. They were pretty much as good as the ones I had been having in Shanghai every morning – when I say pretty much, well they weren’t ‘as good’ because we weren’t in Shanghai of course. Food is all about the experience!
We made the drive out to Chadstone and realised that despite how I remembered it – the last time I went there was in 2004 – it was just another big shopping centre. We stopped in at Coles in the elusive search for one of Heston’s Hidden Orange Christmas Puddings but alas seems Australia had pretty much sold out of them weeks ago. WTF Coles? Why advertise this shit when you are just going to run out anyway? I refused to buy one off e-bay because that seems to be where they all went. I’m coming for you Hidden Orange! Until next Christmas! BTW Baking Myself Happy you never gave me a rundown of your Hidden Orange experience? Worth it?
On the way home – even though it was a little too early for dinner we figured that we had a pretty big day ahead of us the following day with it officially being MS’ 30th birthday and he was going to do a motorcycle track day all day. We headed to a place that had been recommended to me by a friend who shared my passion for Man Vs Food and was with me when I watched all 3 seasons of it back to back in November. Apparently Big Boy BBQ was ‘the go’ providing Melbourne’s first dedicated ‘low and slow’ cooked meat experience. There was a couple of them in Melbourne we figured that the one in Caulfield South was the closest to where we were – Chadstone. So off to Big Boy BBQ we headed arriving there at about 5.30 in the afternoon – before the rush so it seemed and on reflection, way too early for dinner.
Another claim to fame for Big Boy BBQ is that they aim to give you the best ribs in Melbourne. That was a big call. Not that I had eaten any ribs in Melbourne but I do consider myself a rib connoisseur as you may remember. If anyone was to be a good judge, it was this little vixen. After reading over the menu multiple times MS and I decided on the ‘Little Boy’ for AU$49 which includes Pulled Lamb Shoulder, Saucy Beef Brisket, 1/2 rack of lamb ribs (we changed them to pork ribs) and two regular sides (we ordered crunchy chips and smoked beef chilli with brisket burnt end and beans) as well as a Pipsqueak Cider for me and a Root Beer for MS (yuck I hate sarsaparilla).
The motto of the folks at Big Boy BBQ is ‘slow food… fast’ and that’s exactly what it was. No sooner had MS and I had sat down, had a couple of sips of our drinks and tasted the array of sauces supplied at our booth than our ‘Little Boy’ platter had arrived. At first we just sat back and admired it in all it’s entirety – trust me it was way bigger than it looks below.
It was something that I had could only have imagined during my morning long marathons of Man Vs Food. I was wishing that we had something like this in Cairns – actually no, maybe not. It may result in me putting on more than a couple of kg’s. Enough about my preconceived notions of BBB it was time to dig in.
The wings – they were bigger than expected, yummy none-the less but not really anything to write home about. The smoked chilli beef – yeah it just tasted like ground beef to me with some beans in it. The ribs were great but were they the best in Melbourne? Yeah, no. Not at all. My favourite part was actually probably the fries – they went down a treat with the BBQ sauce on the table and I also really enjoyed the pulled lamb shoulder.
We barely got halfway through it before MS and I threw up the white flag. Amateurs you reckon? Not at all, I can guarantee that I could eat you under the table but not when it comes to rich fatty meat. That kind of thing fills me right up to pussy’s bow (that’s a dad saying) before too long. I do feel that a lot of the food – because we arrived so early in the evening was actually leftovers from the day before. Some of the meat did have a sort of reheated texture and I think it would have tasted 10 x better if it was fresh. Having said that the food at BBB was good enough for me to consider re-visiting the place next time MS and I are in Melbourne. Maybe best to go about 7.30pm after the initial post work/takeaway crowd has been through.
So there you are, that’s Day 2 of our foodie adventures in Melbourne where we really did eat ourselves stupid. After that we went back to our apartment and lay on our backs, groaning with our food baby’s for the rest of the evening. Ah Melbourne so much food so little time..
8 Rankin Lane, Melbourne VIC
Opening Hours: Mon – Fri 7am – 5pm, Sat & Sun 9am – 5pm
Melbourne City – Literature Lane (off Little Latrobe Street) – Cash only
Opening Hours: Mon – Fri 8am – 6pm, Sat 11am – 4pm, Closed on Sunday
Shanghai Street Dumpling
342 Little Bourke St, Melbourne VIC
Opening Hours: Mon – Sat 11.30am – 8.30pm
Big Boy BBQ
764 Glenhuntly Rd, Caulfield South, VIC
Opening Hours: Sun – Wed 12pm – 8pm, Thurs – Sat 12pm – 9pm
Shop 2, 27 – 31 Hardware Lane, Melbourne, VIC
Opening Hours: Sun – Wed 12pm – 9pm, Thurs – Sat 12pm – 10pm