Review: Mazzgoon, Split Croatia

I wonder what it would be like to live in a tourist town, and to know that half of the local businesses will close down during the off season. It must make five months of the year incredibly dull, but that’s what the people in Split, Croatia, have to deal with.

When K and I were there in early February, we tried to visit a few different restaurants that we had looked up on TripAdvisor. They were all closed to some degree or another – some closed until April, others undergoing renovations and only serving drinks on their patio, and others have closed their kitchens altogether and are only offering coffee and cake. It turns the whole dining district into a real ghost town, and makes it very difficult for the tourists who visit in the off-season.

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One day, we spent an hour wandering the streets looking in vain for a restaurant that was still open for trade. Finally we stumbled across Mazzgoon down a little side-street in the old town. They’d closed their backyard dining area, but still had a handful of tables inside for locals looking for a meal.

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The restaurant is undoubtedly cool. It’s all hipster blackboard drawings, bare lightbulbs, waiters in bow ties and creatively designed menus. Thankfully it doesn’t have the high price tag to go with the cool environment. Prices are still very reasonable and on the whole, cheaper than many similar dining destinations in Split.

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We started with a bottle of sparkling water to share. K needed to be particularly conscious about keeping up his hydration levels given that he’d developed gout. Jamnica is a local water company, and I found their sparkling water had a bit too much of a salty mineral taste on the palate – quite different from a Perrier sparkling or a San Pellegrino sparkling.

Aromatic beetroot and pumpkin salad with roasted baguette and blue cheese dressing, 40 Croatian Kuna
Aromatic beetroot and pumpkin salad with roasted baguette and blue cheese dressing, 40 Croatian Kuna

A salad to share, advertised on the menu as a Beetroot and Pumpkin Salad, it turned out to be only a Beetroot Salad when delivered to the table as there was certainly no evidence of pumpkin anywhere in the dish. Still, it was an excellent mix, with the strong creamy blue cheese dressing setting off the sweetness of the beetroot. The crunchy almonds topped off the whole salad, and I swear the baguette had been dressed with garlic oil before roasting, giving it that extra kick. A small salad, but a good size to share between two people as a side.

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Bread is delivered to each table in a very cute wooden box. Interestingly, the bread was cut up into smaller chunks, rather than kept in larger slices. This actually works in its favour, as it was a much better size and shape for soaking up the excess sauce from the dishes you order – blue cheese dressing from the salad for example, or the eggplant puree in the seafood dish below.

From sea to the plate: Adriatic Tuna, Tiger Prawn and Octopus on Eggplant Cream, 125 Croatian Kuna
From sea to the plate: Adriatic Tuna, Tiger Prawn and Octopus on Eggplant Cream, 125 Croatian Kuna

Avoiding red meat because of his gout, K ordered the From Sea to Plate meal, a medley of local seafood from the Adriatic Sea. This was a beautifully constructed dish of a single plump grilled prawn, a smoky tender octopus tentacle, and two different pieces of grilled tuna – one quite lean, the other a fattier piece from the belly. As such, there was quite a good contrast of textures in the dish, and the smoked eggplant puree just helped to enhance the smoky flavours of the grill in the seafood.

Beef cheeks and wild mushrooms in our own puff pastry, 80 Croatian Kuna
Beef cheeks and wild mushrooms in our own puff pastry, 80 Croatian Kuna

In a reversal of our usual food choices, I ordered the Beef Cheeks and Wild Mushrooms in Puff Pastry, an unusual choice for me as I don’t often order red meat. This was a great choice though, with tender beef in a rich wine gravy encased in two small hand pies made of the most buttery and crumbly homemade puff pastry. It was quite a rich meal, so the inclusion of the small rocket and tomato salad on the side (only lightly dressed with balsamic vinegar) was a great counterbalance.

Mazgoon was a surprisingly excellent restaurant chosen out of desperation. Produce used is of the highest quality, and food is treated with love, care and respect, with the chef working hard to bring out its best qualities.

Note however, that it’s not a menu that is particularly kind to those with more challenging palates – seafood plays a large part on the menu, and a full vegetarian meal would be hard to find unless you order numerous side dishes and fill up on those. Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to visit Mazzgoon again if I were to visit Split.

Mazzgoon is located at 1 Bajamontijeva in Split, Croatia.

Review: Captain America’s Hamburger Heaven, Forest Hill

Five years ago, I traversed the length of the West Coast of America with my friend Beth. Over the course of a month, we went from as far down south as Tijuana to as far north as Vancouver. Some parts of the trip still stick in my mind. Our day at Disneyland for example, or the beautiful drive through Washington State from Seattle to Forks (we went for a Twilight tour!).

I’d managed to forget whole other elements of the trip though, and Beth had to remind me recently that I had in fact had a go on the mechanical bull in a Wild West bar we visited. I don’t have an excuse for forgetting about those experiences…except perhaps the $15 bottles of vodka at CVS?

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In honour of our USA trip, we visited Captain America’s Hamburger Heaven at Forest Hill Chase on Beth’s recent 30th birthday which also happened to be the 4th of July. How apt! The cliched kitschy retro diner was only half-full given it was a Monday night, but there were a few other large groups with kids in the diner celebrating what looked like family birthdays.

USA Floats, $6.50 each
USA Floats, $6.50 each

We started our meal with a spider each, called USA Floats as you have your spider with American soft drinks. My pineapple Fanta tasted nothing like pineapple, but the extremely artificial fruity fizzy drink did go particularly well with the creamy vanilla ice-cream. Beth’s Sioux City Cream Soda became even more creamy with the ice-cream added!

Captain America's Celebrated Heavenly Burger, $19.90
Captain America’s Celebrated Heavenly Burger, $19.90

Beth had the classic Captain America’s Celebrated Heavenly Burger, stacked with the beef patty, fried egg, bacon, onion, pineapple, lettuce, tomato, cheese and a pickle, served with crispy crunchy chips on the side. The chips weren’t remarkable (I think the oil was a bit old), but the burger was exceptional with a deliciously grilled patty.

I did try to talk her into trying their burger challenge (a 1kg double burgr with 3o0gm of chips), but she wasn’t keen – and lucky that, as the standard burger was already so stacked that I can’t imagine what a double burger would even look like!

Pizza Burger, $15.50
Pizza Burger, $15.50

I chose a Pizza Burger with a beef patty topped with pizza sauce and cheese with lettuce, tomato, ham, olives, onion, mushrooms, capsicum and pineapple…wow! I couldn’t eat this with my hands, and had to attack it in pieces with a fork and knife.

I picked out the olives as they didn’t add much to the burger, and thought the pizza toppings were a bit soft overall. It would have worked better if there was a bit more texture – e.g. if the capsicum was smokier and grilled rather than softened and caramelised. Overall though, definitely a burger to tempt the tastebuds and clog your arteries.

Captain America’s Hamburger Heaven doesn’t do anything by halves. Burgers are ridiculously large and overindulgent, and you’ll barely need to touch the chips. I don’t even know who would need to order a starter or a dessert to go with their meal – we couldn’t even share a dessert between the two of us no matter how much we wanted a slice of good ole American apple pie. Definitely the place to go if you’re looking for kitschy diner overindulgence in Melbourne!

Captain America’s Hamburger Heaven is located in Forest Hill Chase, at 138/270 Canterbury Road, Forest Hill.

Review: Kamenice and Dolce Vita, Dubrovnik Croatia

The morning after we arrived in Dubrovnik, K woke up with a persisting sharp pain and a large red inflammation in his big toe. Consulting with Dr Google (never a good idea!) we thought it warranted a visit to the local hospital for a formal diagnosis and treatment. Gout. My thirty-year-old husband developed gout. The diagnosis put a significant dampener on our plans to explore Dubrovnik as he had to spend most of our time in the city on the couch with his foot elevated!

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Still, we couldn’t be complete recluses as we needed to go to a pharmacy to get some ongoing medication to prevent further gouty breakouts in the future. We combined our outing with a visit to one of the few restaurants in the Old City that remains open during the tourism low season – Kamenice.

It’s interesting to note that well over half of the restaurants in the area close between November and March, relying entirely on summer tourist trade to earn income for the whole year. Kamenice is one of the few that remains open, and I think it’s because they do a strong take-away trade for locals who want to take some freshly cooked seafood home with them.

Octopus Salad Dalmatia Style, 79 Croatian Kuna
Octopus Salad Dalmatia Style, 79 Croatian Kuna

We started with the Octopus Salad to share – a refreshing mix of grilled (local) octopus with raw red onion, diced tomatoes, parsley, and lemon juice. It’s a local specialty, one that I’ve seen on many menus of restaurants along the Croatian coastline because it literally is the perfect dish. The sweetness of the tomato offsets the sharpness of the raw onion, while the smoked tender octopus is enhanced by the sourness of the lemon – and it’s all topped off with a lingering freshness on the palate thanks to the parsley. It’s an absolute winner of a dish, and a perfect example of how a great dish doesn’t need a list of ingredients a mile long to be amazing. Simple is best.

Mussels Bouzzara, 68 Croatian Kuna
Mussels Bouzzara, 68 Croatian Kuna

I chose the main dish of Mussels Bouzzara and in doing so, cursed K for developing gout as it would prevent us from splitting dishes as we had done in the past. As part of his new gout-friendly diet, he needed to cut back on eating red meat (no steaks), molluscs (no oysters or mussels!), and to refrain from drinking alcohol and soft drinks. That meant that this whole platter of mussels cooked in white wine with garlic and parsley was just for me!

I loved the sauce that the mussels were cooked in, and took great delight in sopping it up with chunks of bread. However, I found the mussels a bit strange, in that almost 80% of them hadn’t been de-bearded before cooking – a large flaw in my book. It’s not that hard to do either. I don’t know whether it’s a local custom to leave them untouched, but it results in a less than pleasant experience as you end up trying to de-beard cooked mussels which is much harder than de-bearding an uncooked mussel!

Spaghetti Bolognese, 68 Croatian Kuna
Spaghetti Bolognese, 68 Croatian Kuna

Shockingly, K ordered the Spaghetti Bolognese even after I told him to cut back on his consumption of red meat. “There’s hardly any meat in it,” he reasoned. “It’s mainly pasta carbs anyway”. He was proven wrong when this generous serving of meaty bolognese sauce on pasta was placed in front of him. There was more mince than sauce and I’m convinced that this dish delayed his healing process by another day. Still, he enjoyed this traditional spagbol so much, that I didn’t have the heart to tell him off too much.

Kamenice is the type of restaurant you want to go to in fair weather – with only a few seats inside, they rely on the beautiful Dalmatia Coast sunshine to warm up the outdoor seating. Luckily it’s rare for the thermostat to drop below 10 degrees even in the depths of winter – it was a warm and balmy 17 degrees on the day that we went in February! There’s nothing quite as good as eating freshly caught local seafood outside with the warm sun on your shoulders, and Kamenice is the place to go for that experience in Dubrovnik.

Kamenice is located at 8 Gunduliceva Poljana, Dubrovnik.

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I wouldn’t bother sticking around at Kamenice for dessert or drinks, as they only offer two options – a creme caramel or fresh fruit. Instead, I suggest you pay your bill quickly and then head down the street to Dolce Vita, a little ice-cream and dessert bar in one of Dubrovnik Old City’s many narrow walkways. It’s a big favourite with the local kids after school – many younger kids will drop in to buy a scoop of ice-cream with their allowance money, and older kids will order pancakes then sit around and engage in awkward teenage flirting.

Chocolate and cherry palacinke, 20 Croatian Kuna
Chocolate and cherry palacinke, 20 Croatian Kuna

K ordered the Chocolate and Cherry Palacinke, reasoning that “cherries are shown to help reduce the incidence of gout, so this is a gout-healthy meal”. That’s a bit of a roundabout reasoning given that the cherries were tinned not fresh, and there was more cherry syrup than actual cherries, but whatever works for him! The palacinke were wonderfully springy and fluffy, and the the chocolate sauce rich and thick.

Vanilla and walnut cake, 12 Croatian Kuna
Vanilla and walnut cake, 12 Croatian Kuna

I chose for a simpler option after my button-bursting giant platter of mussels – a dainty Vanilla and Walnut Sponge Cake. The sponge was just as light as it should be, with a satisfying crunch every so often as you bit into a walnut crumb. Combined with the slightly tart almost lemony cream frosting, this was the perfect little slice of cake to satisfy a sweet tooth without putting too much pressure on my jeans.

Drop into Dolce Vita for a sit-down dessert like we did – or even just drop in for a takeaway scoop of ice-cream. Either way, it’s a dessert destination in Dubrovnik that’s not to be missed!

Dolce Vita is located at 1a Naljeskoviceva, Dubrovnik.