Pizza Towels

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Summer just got a whole lot greasier.

I’ve been following the long journey of Pizza Towels for almost two years, ever since Grant Barnes, owner of the DIY merch website Label State, asked his friends: “how much would you pay for a 1.6 metre circular beach towel with a photographic print of a pepperoni pizza on it?”. The general consensus was between 50 and 100 bucks, and Grant spent the next few months leaking images of the Pizza Towels in production, even releasing a Pizza Towels t-shirt on Label State a good year before an actual Pizza Towel was even available.

The appeal of Pizza Towels is pretty simple. Everybody loves pizza. Everybody loves the beach. I’ve never eaten a pizza on the beach and I don’t know one person in the universe who has. Sand and pineapple just isn’t a good pizza topping. So if eating a pizza on the beach is out of the question, why not lie down on a massive one instead?

$60 will get you a big delicious fluffy pepperoni pizza to sunbathe on this summer. It’s delivered to your door in a pizza box. Later in the year you’ll be able to pick up a supreme Pizza Towel and a vegetarian Pizza Towel. For a deluxe beach pizza experience, fill an empty Pepsi bottle with sunscreen and wrap your other beach essentials in aluminium foil like garlic bread. Best summer ever.

McDonald’s ‘Create Your Taste’

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

I know, I know. Another McDonald’s review? We were just there last week! Why would I do this to myself again? Who cares about McDonald’s whacky schemes to appear to be less evil? Is TwoThousand just going to become a collection of smarmy McDonald’s reviews now?

Last week I was rather unkind about McDonald’s much hyped new attempt at a cafe, The Corner. But did you know that just a few weeks before the launch of The Corner, McDonald’s launched another, infinitely better new stupid thing at two of their suburban franchises? It’s called ‘Create Your Taste’ and it allows you to punch a machine until it gives you the stupidest burger you can think of. Welcome to the future.

McDonald’s in Waitara is the Macca’s I used to come to when I was in high school. I definitely ate an Oreo McFlurry in the boot of my mates car here once, and that is not a euphemism. Along with the Castle Hill outlet, Waitara McDonald’s is now the home of ‘Create Your Taste’, which is a huge touch screen computer to the side of the ordering counter. The computer gives you options for every step of making your own burger. You want a brioche bun? Punch it in. Two beef patties? Tell the computer. Beetroot, tomato and an egg? The computer can make it happen.

I decided to make two burgers. First, a classic cheeseburger, to see how it stacked up against some of Sydney’s best cheeseburgers. Brioche bun, beef patty, American cheese, crispy bacon, caramelised onions, pickles, ketchup, mustard. Easy. I also decided to make the stupidest burger I could think of, just because I could. Lettuce wrap bun, beef patty, crispy bacon, colby jack cheese, grilled pineapple, guacamole, jalapenos, tortilla strips, red onion, tomato, chipotle mayo, extra lettuce, mustard. Very complicated.

My guess as to why you use a computer to order instead of ordering at the counter is so the staff don’t cause themselves bodily harm by rolling their eyes too far into the back of their head when you order such dumb bullshit. The computer sends your order to the kitchen and after a short wait your burger gets brought to your table on a wooden paddle.

The list of things that wooden paddles should be used for begins and ends with ‘rowing boats’, but the cheeseburger on the paddle looks pretty good! It tastes pretty good too, the brioche bun is grilled to a buttery crunch, the cheese perfectly melted and the pickles are big enough to be tasted with every bite. The ‘100% angus’ beef patty is no better than your average Macca’s beef patty though and lets the burger down a little by being the only thing that doesn’t taste that fresh. But it’s still a really decent burger.

Then the stupidest burger I could think of comes to the table, a big green lump of idiot on a wooden paddle. Once I’ve stopped laughing at it, I take a bite and holy shit, it’s actually not even kind of terrible. Like eating some weird pineapple nacho burger. Crunchy lettuce, crunchy corn chips, even the meat tastes better because of the spice from the chipotle mayo and jalapenos. Hopefully Macca’s put this on the menu in the future as the McStupid.

Enjoyably silly, pretty tasty and not a top-knot in sight. You shouldn’t go out of your way for this experience, but if you ever find yourself at a McDonald’s with a ‘Create Your Taste’ computer set up, have a crack. It’s fresher than regular McDonald’s and presumably healthier, without stooping to the cringeworthy levels of The Corner cafe. ‘Create Your Taste’ is pretty good, but you know what’s fantastic? While McDonald’s are trying strange new ways to make their menu appeal to the more health conscious, KFC are applying for a liquor license. There’s a fast food outlet that knows what its audience wants.

The Corner by McCafé

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

“I’ll pay you more if you get a photo of the server with the top knot in front of the menu board” I say to our photographer, who accepts this challenge with the vigour you’d expect from a freelancer in his early 20’s who never gets paid on time. We’re at The Corner, the latest million dollar experiment by everyone’s favourite ginormous international corporation, McDonald’s. A spokesperson from McDonald’s will tell you that it’s a lab for them to experiment with exciting new and healthy food items, but The Corner has already been labelled by writers all over the internet who hate trying too hard as ‘the hipster McDonald’s cafe’.

But you can’t blame them. The Corner is almost a parody of the Australian cafe in 2015. It feels like McDonald’s have used one of Miranda Devine’s annual rants about what a hipster is as a checklist for what The Corner needed. I wanted to check if the whole cafe was powered by a fleet of skinny men on unicycles, but instead I had to use all of my brain power to figure out how to order before running to the hospital next door so they could remove the other half of my appendix.

You order your drinks, pastries and breakfast items from one counter and your actual lunch items from another. Drinks include random words thrown together and carbonated, like the balsamic strawberry soda and the mango coconut iced tea, one of which was sold out and the other of which I wish was sold out so I didn’t drink it. They take a lot of pride in their coffee at The Corner, which is cold drip, and the cafe is emblazoned with the slogan “EAT GOOD FOOD, DRINK GREAT COFFEE”. So their coffee is great, but their food is just good? Let’s find out.

Once you’ve ordered your drinks, you make your way over to the lunch counter where you begin the fun voyage of choosing what protein you want and whether you want it with salad, with rice or on a bun. At The Corner, meats are referred to as proteins, which I assumed was because there were proteins you could choose that were not meats, however the only proteins available are meats. Why didn’t they call just call them meats? It gets especially confusing at the end of the counter when you are given the option of ordering a ‘protein ball’, which is not a meatball, rather a dry-textured nut-sphere, perfect for throwing at a photographer or complaining about in a review.

The meats and salads themselves aren’t bad. McDonald’s have used all their trillions of dollars to make a one-of-a-kind food lab, capable of serving food that you’d be pleasantly surprised to eat at an airport. I’m sure at least a million dollars was spent coming up with the genius idea of removing “Mc” from the front of all their menu options (McProtein does have a nice ring to it though).

As you leave The Corner, smiling back at the 30 staff members that just seem to walk around smiling for their entire shift, you’ll think about the salad you just ate, happy that you’ve saved a few calories and been a part of a fun experiment. Then you’ll realise that you’ve never felt like eating a Big Mac more in your life.

REVIEW: ‘The Double Down Diner’ by Porteno x Messina

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

One of the cooler announcements for Sydney Festival this year was that Porteno and Gelato Messina would be teaming up to create a pop-up diner truck in the Festival Village. A four year old restaurant that’s still hard to get a table at joining forces with an gelato company whose name is almost more well known than the word gelato? This could be the best pop-up of all time!

The Double Down Diner looks fantastic, a wooden black and white rectangle in the middle of the colourful Festival Village. Porteno’s Good Eats is on the left and Messina’s Tasty Treats is on the right. They’ve both got fun and extensive carnival menus, and amazingly, they’re both selling a take on chicken and waffles.

Porteno are also selling corn dogs, reubens, Philly cheese steaks and fries with dorito salt. At 3pm there’s no line at all, and the food is prepared with lightning speed as all the elements of each dish are sitting already cooked, being kept lukewarm in a bain marie or under a heat lamp. Lukewarm is an understatement – on a 35 degree day, my fries taste cold. The waffle with fried chicken, coleslaw and maple syrup is tasty but almost ruined by a stiff piece of bacon which had been sitting there for so long it was able to give us a review of the highlights at Sydney Festival the night before. Obviously when the Village is busier, more food is being cooked and is therefore fresher, however it’s a bummer that people who come in the quieter hours are rewarded with limp food.

Gelato Messina’s Tasty Treats fair a little better – ice cream is supposed to be cold right? Their take on chicken and waffles features a waffle topped with a piece of deep fried ice cream, made to look like fried chicken, covered in a maple caramel sauce. It’s fun, a little bland by Messina’s standards, but the sauce kicks in some richness. Also fun is Messina’s Royale With Cheese, a burger consisting of a crunchy chocolate gelato patty, white chocolate cheese, passionfruit mustard and strawberry ketchup, served in a warm brioche bun. It’s nowhere near as good as the gelato burger that used to be served at the Gelato Messina Lab a few years ago, but it’s sweet, cute and, like every part of The Double Down Diner, very fun. I’d be very impressed if anyone could eat a whole burger to themselves though, that thing is dense.

It feels pointless criticising a pop-up diner that could never live up to the hype of the restaurants behind it, but both Porteno and Messina are known for their level of exceptional quality in everything that they do. Yes, The Double Down Diner is fun, and certainly not a bad experience, but it’s a shame this isn’t the mindblowing collaboration it should be. Maybe next year?

Pizza Hut’s new Vegemite stuffed crust pizza

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2015

Pizza Hut introduced their ‘stuffed crust pizza’ in the mid nineties and for a solid decade they kept their stuffed crusts simple, lining the edge of their pizzas with extra cheese and folding the dough over it, forming a cheesy tube. It was a fun new way to eat pizza! Crust first! There was no reason to change anything. Then in 2006 weird commercials from Japan and Korea started showing up, advertising a hot dog stuffed crust and Pizza Huts all over the world realised the true potential of stuffed crust pizzas: to only appeal to the most cooked bong-lords who take pride in eating the dumbest bullshit they can think of.

Pizza Hut invented a machine that every six months decides a completely random ingredient that should never be anywhere near a pizza and stuffs that in their crust for a limited time only, or until somebody dies from a stuffed crust that’s just way too hectic. After cursing humanity with the cheeseburger stuffed crust and more recently, the Dorito crunchy crust, the evil machine has decided to celebrate Australia Day by shitting on everything the Italians have ever blessed us with and creating the ‘Mitey stuffed crust’, a pizza stuffed with cheese and Vegemite.

I think Vegemite is a cool invention. Smeared on buttery toast, it’s one of my favourite breakfasts. Other things I enjoyed it smeared on are un-toasted toast (aka bread), Vita Weats and crumpets. I think anyone who doesn’t like Vegemite is a traitor, but I would punch literally any friend or family member in the face if they suggested I smear a little on my pizza. Lately I’ve been shortening my lifespan with new fast food experiments, so I thought I’d take another one for the team and order a couple of these abominations.

Pizza Hut’s website uses a picture of a Hawaiian pizza as its featured ‘Mitey Stuffed Crust Pizza’, which just sounds like the worst possible combo possible. So I ordered one. I got a plain cheese with the Vegemite crust too, which seemed to me like the least disgusting. After just 20 minutes of the predicted 30 minute delivery time had passed, Suresh P delivered me my pizzas, without judging me in any way at all.

Opening up a box of chain store pizza will always let out a gnarly smell of sweaty pizza. Add Vegemite to the mix and you’ll be asking everyone around you if ‘pungentest’ is a word, because this is the pungentest thing you’ve ever smelt.

How does it look? Like the standard sad, limp disc of pizza that thousands of people have delivered to their door every second. Except there’s the addition of a black ring of death, oozing from the swollen crust and threatening the very existence of every chunk of ham and pineapple that it surrounds. Fantastic. I couldn’t wait to put this in my mouth, like I do with everything that looks and smells like the worst thing ever.

If you’re careful enough, you can eat just the pizza part and avoid the crust completely. While recommended, that’s not why you’d order a pizza with a Vegemite crust. Pizza Hut has an entire range that is completely devoid of Vegemite. To really experience the ‘Mitey Stuffed Crust Pizza’, you have to actually take a bite of the Vegemite part.

We’re only three weeks into 2015, but I’ll be very surprised if I experience anything worse than taking a bite of the Vegemite-y part of this pizza. Vegemite is one of the strongest, most overwhelming tastes in the world. So is the tomato sauce that tops every pizza at Pizza Hut. These two things have an argument in your mouth. A loud, disgusting argument. As you chew, the only question that resonates louder than “why does this exist?” is “why is this in my mouth?”.

For this pizza to exist three insane things had to happen. For one, someone had to even think of the combination in the first place (unless the evil machine I was talking about in the second paragraph ACTUALLY EXISTS). That someone had to then convince their boss to even consider making this real, and finally, a team of professionals made it real and tasted it and decided to charge money for it. Maybe these three things don’t seem that insane to read about, but try to imagine these events taking place as you try to swallow a mouthful of black pizza.

Before you commit to an entire ‘Mitey Stuffed Crust Pizza’ (who the hell even calls Vegemite ‘Mitey’ btw), order a regular pizza and smear some Vegemite on the crust of one piece. If you enjoy the taste, punch yourself in the face. Happy Australia Day.

2019 UPDATE: I don’t remember doing this, but apparently after eating a few slices, I flipped the pizza off and fed it to some dogs? Wildly irresponsible stuff, but this is a wonderful photo essay. Photos by Al Kalyk!

REVIEW: Boom Chicken and Bing Master

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Last week we made a bunch of dated Friends jokes and brought to your attention the new Chippendale takeaway spot Mr Bing Gourmet Wrapz. Since the start of the year, Mr Bing has been serving piping hot jian bings, which are a Chinese / Taiwanese answer to the question “what would happen if an omelette and a burrito had a baby?”.

Over on the basement level of Westfield in Parramatta, a hotspot has been doing roughly the same thing for roughly the same amount of time. And if you thought the possible Chandler -referencing Mr Bing was a good name? This Parramatta joint has the most incredible name ever: Boom Chicken and Bing Master. It’s a kind of name that makes you wanna immediately get Terry Durack on the line and ask if you can borrow three hats, because you’ve found the best restaurant of the year.

Boom Chicken and Bing Master is one of the many fast food options in the underground strip that connects Westfield to Parramatta station. They offer two things: Taiwanese fried chicken (aka Boom Chicken) and jian bings, which their name states they are the masters of. Where Mr Bing’s menu inspires you to sample as much of it as possible, here your eyes are drawn to one thing only: The Boom Chicken Bing. Taiwanese fried chicken wrapped in an eggy crepe. Have Good Food Guide ever given somewhere four stars?

Hot, messy and collapsing out of the foil bag it’s served in, the Boom Chicken Bing delivers. A greasy tube of heart attack with a good kick from various chilli pastes and sauces. As heavy as it is, I can’t see myself ever ordering anything else from the Bing Master.

Losers allergic to the joys that Parramatta can bring will be unfairly rewarded by a Boom Chicken and Bing Master opening in the city soon. The jian bing revolution has begun! Get ready to eat all your meals wrapped in eggs!

REVIEW: Mr Bing Gourmet Wrapz

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Friends fans rejoice! They finally named a food franchise after Chandler. Ever wondered what he did after the series finale? He spent almost two decades in Asia, devouring snacks and honing his catering skills and late last year moved to Sydney to open a franchise in Chippendale called Mr Bing.

Ignore the last paragraph, especially if you were more of a Frasier fan. A jian bing is an incredible snack from China, a great big pancake that’s equal parts omelette and equal parts crepe, wrapped around various fillings, most popular of which is fried bread and pork floss. It’s also really popular in Taiwan, and probably would be popular everywhere if it were easier to find. You used to be able to get a jian bing at the Dixon St Markets of a Friday night in Chinatown, although it was called a ‘Chinese hot dog’. I featured one in my guide to the best hot dogs in Sydney video that I made a few years back. It was delicious, but merely the tip of the egg wrapped iceberg when it came to the variety of jian bing.

In the last few months, Sydney has gained two dedicated Jian Bing joints. First the incredibly named Boom Chicken & Bing Master opened in Parramatta (we’ll be heading there next week!), and more recently Mr Bing popped up on City Rd in Chippendale. It’s a hole in the wall takeaway spot. It’s super cute and the menu is impressive, taking the humble little bing on a little holiday for each option, filling some with Korean BBQ pork and others with a weird take on an Aussie beef burger. These options are a little over the top, packed with unnecessary mayo (eggs on eggs on eggs) and odd flavours.

The namesake Mr Bing is a classic Chinese jian bing and absolutely what you should be ordering, filled with a stick of fried bread, sweet bean sauce and sesame seeds. For a couple bucks you can add an extra egg and some pork floss. It’s sweet, moreish, soft, crunchy, eggy and filling, but I still wanted two. I opted for a smaller Taiwanese style jian bings with ham and cheese. A good choice!

If you like kebabs and burritos please make some room in your diet for another cylinder you eat out of a paper bag. These jian bings are legit. It’s just a shame Mr Bing isn’t open an night, although Jian Bings are typically breakfast food, they’d go down nice with a few too many beers.

REVIEW: Work in Progress @patrickfriesen

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Before you ask, no, I did not just accidentally hit publish on an article I’d just started about Twitter. The name of this restaurant is ‘Work in Progress @patrickfriesen’. Work in Progress is the Merivale owned bar in the CBD and for the month of March they’ve enlisted chef Patrick Friesen to take over. Friesen’s Instagram handle is @patrickfriesen, a username he shares with this Twitter user, who describes himself as “a follower of the teachings of Jesus”. Maybe Merivale knew about this other @patrickfriesen and were hoping the connection would bring a more wholesome crowd to their new pop up. Maybe this is all a big ploy to get Friesen more followers than fellow Merivale chef Dan Hong. The name is a little baffling, but being a little baffling is something all Merivale venues do well.

Luckily, Merivale also do well when it comes to hiring chefs who cook great food. You may have eaten a @patrickfriesen dish at Ms G’s or at Papi Chulo, where he’s been head chef since it opened. Similar to Hong, a lot of Friesen’s food could be described as ‘stoner’, and his Work in Progress menu is a celebration of late night Asian snacks, bowls of noodles and fried chicken. A little refined and perfect for those in need of munchies.

They will have to battle through the usual Merivale missteps, including a fit out that looks like the title page of an angsty high school student’s art folder, and an iTunes playlist that tries so hard to please everybody that it pleases nobody. But, these things are easy to overlook with a bowl of wontons in your hand, brilliantly flavourful with pork and pepper and a good chew on the wrapper. Agedashi tofu is served covered in mayo and bonito flakes, as sweet as it is salty.

It only gets better – egg noodles covered in snow crab or duck, the latter soaked with spicy Sichuan and a dessert of fried chicken – Korean style of course, served with ginger or chilli. The Pnomh Penh wings are the best of the fried bird on offer, complete with extra zingy lime and white pepper sauce. That Cambodian combo rarely gets featured in fast food, and it’s great here.

Patrick Friesen has put together a killer menu and it’s clear that he loves the food he’s paying homage to as much as his Twitter doppelganger loves the teachings of Jesus. It’s the kind of spot that deserves a permanent location, like a low-key Mr Wong hole in the wall or something. Just change that soundtrack, for the love of all that is deep fried.

Review: Chicken Institute

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Korean fried chicken. It’s crunchy, it’s delicious and it’s rapidly become the most readily available fried chicken in Sydney. Gone are the days when ‘Southern fried chicken’ was found on every second menu, in the last year Sydney officially replaced Kentucky with Korean and the new KFC has taken over. The original classic Arisun’s has started to expand, and Chinatown now comes close to rivalling Strathfield with its growing population of KFC joints.

The head chef of Paramount Coffee Project has just opened a new restaurant which proudly boasts Korean fried chicken on the menu (so proud that it’s referred to as ‘damn good chicken’ on the menu. The restaurant’s name is Chicken Institute. After eating a wide range of Korean fried chicken, both wonderful and sub-par, I was keen to eat at a restaurant with a name that suggests “ok motherfuckers, you wanna learn a thing or two about chicken? Enrol in a course at the goddamn Institute of Chicken and get KNOWLEDGED”. I bought a new set of exercise books and set out to get my PHD.

While far from bad, a meal at Chicken Institute doesn’t leave you with the feeling that you’ve learnt all there is to know about fried chicken. Instead you actually feel like popping into the kitchen with a short list of improvements that could be made to the menu like the cocky self appointed fried chicken expert you were born to be.

The ‘damn good fried chicken’ comes in four different flavours – original, sticky, peri peri and the caramel glazed fried garlic chicken. While the flavours are good (almost damn good), $20 – $24 gets you a silver bucket with four boneless pieces of fried chicken thigh. No wings, drummies or breast. Why would an institute offer such a limited syllabus of chicken pieces? And deny their students the glory of eating meat off the bone? The bright neon pieces of pickled radish on the side get a few bonus marks though.

Elsewhere on the menu are dishes similarly let down by a few oversights. The bibim-bap is way too healthy, a bowl of pretty raw vegetables with bland red rice and pearl barley. You’ll use every bit of the that fried egg and kim chi to try and make the dish more flavourful. Kimchi poutine is considerably better (and considerably less healthy), its mix of fries, kimchi, sauce and cheese is the closest thing Sydney has to the spectacular ‘Ooey Gooey Fries’ at Chego in LA, however it would come even closer if a melted tasty cheese was used instead, the small scattering of grated hard cheese barely registering a cheesiness at all.

Most is forgiven when dessert offers you a cute goldfish shaped cake filled with ice cream, peanuts and condensed milk, complete with a glove in case you feel so inclined to pick the fish up and eat it with your hands. Just try not to take that glove to the kitchen and challenge the teachers at the Institute to a fried chicken duel.

REVIEW: Arisun Express / Azoto

Originally published by Two Thousand in 2014

Arisun in Chinatown is a place you can spend three hours in. Eating fried chicken, drinking jugs of beer, arguing with the staff before walking out exclaiming “don’t change a thing!” and genuinely meaning it. It’s a perfect venue, far more entertaining than the Entertainment Centre around the corner. A drunk uncle of a restaurant that you can’t wait to visit again, even though he never remembers your name.

For me, Arisun is a commitment. One does not simply order half a chicken and call it a night. I’m in it for the long haul – ordering their biggest, coldest jug from the get go and then upgrading to a ridiculous beer tower within twenty minutes and demanding they fill another tower with fried chicken. My favourite style of Arisun chicken is the one that comes with a three day hangover, but I can’t eat it as much as I used to. I’m a father now. I need something a little less encouraging.

Enter Arisun Express, Arisun’s hopefully extremely successful attempt at toppling the Colonel’s KFC empire. Here you can order a whole Korean fried bird – or popcorn chicken style, small pieces of deep fried Arisun nuggets in a variety of glazes. Arisun veterans will be happy to know that the classic soy glaze is as good here as it is down the road, but the sweet and spicy glaze might have it beat, with a double crunch from the batter and bright red sugar that candy coats each bite sized bit.

There’s more in their cups than just chicken – this is Arisun after all, home to a lovely selection of joyously drinkable Korean lagers, best served as cold as possible. In fact, you can get your Hite served frozen! Your schooner comes topped with a cute spurt of beer slushie. On its own, the frozen beer will make you recall that time you left that six-pack of Carlton Colds in the freezer too long, but tilt your glass towards you and drink your beer through the icy froth for a wave of frostiness. Very cool.

In Arisun’s same little box of World Square real estate is Azoto, Chinatown’s second liquid nitrogen based gelato bar – something we clearly needed two of. While the fun desserts look great, the ice cream itself isn’t as good as it is at N2 and when there’s frozen beer on the menu, why would you order ice cream?

Arisun Express is an awesome addition to Liverpool street. At best it’s a quick and easy alternative to a weekend killing Arisun bender on a Friday afternoon, at worst it’s a cup of fried chicken that you can eat on the walk to Arisun, a warm up for the real thing.