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.

Cafeteria Dining in Russia

Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.

So here’s something I would have never guessed – cafeteria-style restaurants are a thing in Russia! It’s not just a trend either, cafeterias are ubiquitous on almost every street in both St Petersburg and Moscow. They seem to be popular with both locals and tourists – the former because of their well-priced set lunch menus, and for the latter as it means you don’t have to worry about deciphering a menu in Cyrillic, and can simply pick your meal out of the many options available in the cafeteria line.

This style of dining became very popular for K and I during our stay in Russia for both the above reasons – it helped us save a bit of money when we chose the very cheap set lunch options, and it also meant that we could pick our lunch easily without needing to labour over slowly sounding out each Russian word on a menu with our cursory knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet.

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Our first lunch in St Petersburg was at a cafeteria-style restaurant called Marketplace on Nevskiy Prospekt, suggested by our free walking tour guide who spoke well of their set lunch menu (business lunch as she called it) and what a bargain it was. At 200 Rubles ($4 AUD) for the set business lunch, it certainly was a good deal!

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The set lunches change everyday depending on what produce the restaurant has available that day, but it always consists of a soup, a salad, a main, and a free ‘summer drink’ which is essentially just like a fruit cordial. We skipped the summer drink (I was quite wary of drinking anything not directly out of a bottle because of the unreliability of Russian tap water!), but had the other lunch items.

On the day we went, the business lunch consisted of a mixed diced vegetable salad, a chicken and vegetable soup, and a turkey meatball with boiled potatoes. Both the salad and the soup had a surprisingly good amount of vegetables to keep us healthy, albeit with a bit too much potato but this is Russia we’re talking about! I really liked the turkey meatball as well with its smoky grilled exterior and surprisingly yummy herbed mince mix. Close-up photos of individual dishes in the gallery below.

Marketplace is located at 24 Nevskiy Prospekt, St Petersburg.

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The second cafeteria lunch we had was at Frikadelki, a chain restaurant with branches everywhere. It’s very similar in style and process to Marketplace, with with a slightly cheaper set business lunch at about 190 Rubles – you have to stay competitive in this market of course!

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The business lunch on that day was a vegetable soup, a vinaigrette salad with beetroot, potato mash and another turkey meatball – this time stuffed with spinach and cheese. As you can tell, it’s very similar in style to the Marketplace set menu. After eating this though, I think I’d rather pay the extra 10 Rubles and eat at Marketplace as the food is of a slightly higher quality. Everything was just a little bit off at Frikadelki – the soup was oilier, the salad was blander, the turkey meatball was drier, and the potato seemed more plasticky. Close-up photos of individual dishes in the gallery below.

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On the bright side, Frikadelki has a much more relaxed attitude to the species of their diners – we encountered these two gorgeous Capuchin monkeys dressed in fur coats on another table in the restaurant! While obviously adorable, I felt sorry for them as they’re definitely not accustomed to surviving in a Russian winter – they must have been suffering quite a bit. It seems to be the case that people like to keep exotic animals in Russia though, as we walked out of the restaurant only to encounter another person with a pet raccoon on their shoulder!

Frikadelki is located at 8 Griboyedov Canal Embankment, St Petersburg.

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Moving onto Moscow, the guide on our free walking tour suggested that we visit Stolovoya 57 on the third floor of the GUM shopping mall. She said to us, “Even though all the shops in GUM are very expensive, you can get a very cheap meal at Stolovoya. I go there all the time for coffee and cake, and have full meals as well.” It’s certainly a popular choice with a long queue going out the door – primarily of locals looking for a break from a full day of shopping!

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We decided to move away from the set business lunch here (in fact, I’m not sure if it’s even offered), and went all out with a big lunch which included: two soups – one borsch, one pea and ham; one Russian salad; one cold stuffed aubergine; one stuffed chicken breast with rice; one grilled chicken breast with beef stroganoff on rice; and a slice of honey cake. What a feast! This was obviously quite a bit more expensive, costing us around 1000 Rubles ($20 AUD) for the two of us, rather than 400 Rubles ($8 AUD).

The food is a bit hit and miss here though – the chicken breast was dry and the stuffed aubergine a bit tasteless. They really excel with their soups and dessert though, so I would suggest ordering a bowl of soup and bread for a light lunch before indulging in a slice or two of their many different cakes for dessert! Close-up photos of individual dishes in the gallery below.

Stolovaya 57 is located inside GUM shopping centre off Red Square in Moscow.

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The last cafeteria lunch we had in Moscow was at Mu-Mu/Moo-Moo (or My-My if you’re using Cyrillic characters!), another cafeteria restaurant with branches all over the city. We went to the branch located opposite the Kremlin, sub-street level. While I believe Mu-Mu offer a set business lunch, we found it too hard to navigate and feeling lazy, decided to just pick random dishes again.

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The dishes we chose here were: two salads, a garden salad and a vinaigrette salad; a chicken noodle soup; cheese covered mushrooms on a steak with potato wedges; a fish cake with buckwheat; and a slice of honey cake. Again, this cost us around 1000 Rubles, or $20 AUD. Close-up photos of individual dishes in the gallery below.

The quality of the main meals at Mu-Mu was definitely the best of all the different cafeteria restaurants we went to – the mushrooms on steak and the fish cake were both delicious, and the wedges were crispy and crunchy. The salads were well-dressed, and the chicken noodle soup was savoury and hearty. The only downside is that the honey cake wasn’t quite as nicely spiced as the cake we’d had at Stolovaya 57.

Mu-Mu is located at Manezhnaya Square, opposite the Kremlin in Moscow.

The whole concept of the cafeteria-style restaurant is interesting to me as it’s really not something that you encounter in Australia outside of the Ikea cafeteria. From what I understand, it’s a holdover from the Soviet period when workers for the state would be fed every day at state-run cafeterias. Fifteen years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, cafeterias are still the place that Russian workers go for a reliable lunch that ticks all the major food groups – even though they now have to pay for their meal.

The Russian cafeterias are particularly tourist-friendly, particularly for those unable to decipher a Cyrillic menu, so no doubt I’ll be looking out for them again the next time I’m in Russia!

Review: Mr Big Stuff, Melbourne CBD

When I was recently in Melbourne, my father expressed an interest in trying German food. I intended to take him to Hofbrauhaus for the best Bavarian food and beer on my last visit to Melbourne, but unfortunately neglected to make a booking for a late Saturday night dinner. Simply showing up the door and asking for the next available booking had the maitre d nearly laughing in my face. I’ll know better for next time!

Luckily we were able to wander around to look for another restaurant and managed to grab a table at Mr Big Stuff at 9.30pm, one of the final tables of the night. My brother had been there just a few weeks earlier, and thought that my father would enjoy the food there given how much he had enjoyed our visit to the Merrywell, which serves up similar modern American cuisine without the soul food twist.

Pabst Blue Ribbon ($9), Coldstream Crushed Apple Cider ($9), Non-Alcohol P.Y. Tea ($9.50).
Pabst Blue Ribbon ($9), Coldstream Crushed Apple Cider ($9), Non-Alcohol P.Y. Tea ($9.50).

I ordered a non-alcoholic mocktail, my brother ordered his usual cider, and Dad asked me to order him a beer. Having read a little bit about the stereotypes associated with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, I thought it would be funny to order one for my father who is the complete antithesis of the typical hipster Pabst drinker. Little did I know that he was actually drinking it before it was cool – when our drinks came out, he exclaimed “I used to drink this back in the seventies!”. Apparently Pabst Blue Ribbon was a beer of choice in Hong Kong in the seventies, and my father would drink it all the time. My dad was the original hipster.

Daily Special - Bean Salad
Daily Special – Bean Salad

We were quite hungry by that point, so I quickly ordered a few dishes of the menu for the three of us to share. First up was the daily special of a mixed bean salad, with kidney, black eyed, and cannellini beans all represented in the salad. Dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice and combined with a medley of fresh herbs and chillis, the salad is equal parts earthy, refreshing, and more than satisfying. It’s a pity that it’s not on Mr Big Stuff’s regular menu, as there was definitely a lack of fresh options like this. (Correct at time of writing – apparently now they’ve added salads to their menu!)

Hushpuppies, $8
Hushpuppies, $8

The first small bites to come out were some deep-fried super-crispy Hushpuppies. I’d never tried hushpuppies before – to me, they were just a brand of extremely comfortable footwear that your grandparents would buy because it was good for the corns on their feet. Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when I realised that hushpuppies were actually delicious deep-fried balls of cheesy cornmeal batter – a vastly superior form of corn.

Shrimp & Grits, $12
Shrimp & Grits, $12

I’d wanted to order some of the sliders that they had on their menu back then, but unfortunately the kitchen had run out of sliders by the time we sat down to eat. In their place, I ordered the Shrimp & Grits. Again, though I had heard of grits and hominy before in my reading of classic American literature, I didn’t have a clear picture in my mind of what it actually was. My Big Stuff’s interpretation of grits is extremely creamy and cheesy, with some tangy salsa and fried shrimp on top. I personally would have preferred a few more shrimp as our table of three really only got a single shrimp each.

Fried Chicken and Waffles, $24
Fried Chicken and Waffles, $24

I didn’t have to think twice about ordering the Fried Chicken and Waffles as soon as I saw it on the menu. I love classic sweet and savoury pairings like this – maple syrup & bacon and salted caramel are some of my favourite flavours. This was a fantastic dish of crispy crunchy battered fried succulent tender chicken and pillowy soft buttery sweet waffles drenched in syrup. I couldn’t get enoough…so it’s lucky that I don’t currently live in Melbourne as I could definitely see myself going back to have this dish again and again. My waistline would definitely suffer!

Mac & Cheese, $12
Mac & Cheese, $12

The last savoury dish delivered to our table was the piping hot Mac & Cheese which had been baked in the oven until the breadcrumb topping had browned and the cheese was golden and melted into a gooey mess. My father absolutely loved this mac & cheese – while he claims that he doesn’t like cheese, his appreciation of the saganaki at Gazi and then this mac & cheese says otherwise! Personally, I liked the mix of textures in this dish – unlike other mac & cheese which tends to just be soft and gooey, I liked the crisper textures offered by the breadcrumbs and top layer of cheese.

Chocolate and Pecan Tart, $10
Chocolate and Pecan Tart, $10

We finished our meal with the Chocolate and Pecan Tart which came with a healthy dose of pumpkin puree and caramelised pepitas. I enjoyed how more-ish this tart was – it wasn’t too sweet, and the mix of the creamy gelato, the hard and sticky pepita caramel, and the crumbly pecan biscuit base really made this tart a dessert to be enjoyed to its fullest.

I really enjoyed our visit to Mr Big Stuff, and my father and brother did too – though Dad still rates the Merrywell over My Big Stuff. While I may not be back to Mr Big Stuff for a big meal any time over the next few months, I may just find an excuse to pop in for the fried chicken and waffles as a snack to share with a friend…

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