You’ll notice something strange at Ugly Pizza. People walk in looking very confused, and then leave. That’s because this isn’t just a pizzeria. The secret is the fridge door, the absurdly large one that protrudes oddly out of the back wall. It’s not a cool room; it’s the secret entrance to Huxley’s, a speakeasy-style American sports bar.
The two venues are part of Feros Group’s (Saritas, Gerrale Street Kitchen) new Caringbah food hub, which next year will also include a massive rooftop restaurant and bar. Chris Feros, the restaurant group’s CEO, says the group’s latest round of openings are inspired by his eating and drinking excursion to the US.
The pizzas are modelled on New York takeaway pizza; massive, crusty-edged, cheese-heavy triangles that are generally folded in two. “It's a thin base, crispy with a crust that's aerated. No more than four toppings,” says Feros Group executive chef, Mitchell Davis. Ugly pizza will soon be sold that way (a display cabinet is being built) but until then there’s 18-inch or a gargantuan 24-inch for eat-in or delivery.
“We're trying to keep it as authentic as possible,” Davis says. Every ball of dough is hand rolled with premium, high-protein Italian flour and proofed for 24 hours. The perfect protein ratio and proofing time is essential to create the distinct flavour and texture of the crust.
The pizzas, which make up almost the entire menu, bar a few sides and salads, are categorised by their base – red or white. “In New York they have the red pie and the white pie. The red pie has a tomato-based sauce and a white pie has a mozzarella, ricotta or béchamel and mozzarella sauce.” From the red side there’s the classic pepperoni; the El Monterey with pulled chilli beef, chipotle, sour cream and peppers; and a Hot Stuff with three kinds of sausages, Serrano peppers and house-made chilli sauce. The white pizzas are the barramundi, bacon and pesto, and the Vito, a homage to one of Ugly Pizza’s inspirations, Vito’s Pizza in New York,, with caramelised onion, goat’s cheese and pine nuts.
You’ll see from the fit-out that the food isn’t the only idea Feros imported. One wall is covered in Italian cycling memorabilia. There’s a chequerboard floor and an awning shades the front of the restaurant. The only thing missing from this image is a dozen red-chequered tablecloths and 20 years of character and history. The other thing that’s missing is any signage or indication of what’s behind the pizzeria. Word seems to have spread, though; for all the bewildered loiterers trying to find the bar, there’s an equal amount of people who head straight through the fridge door. By 7pm, most of Huxley’s forest-green booths and TV-screen-lit bar stools are full of people eating staples of American cuisine.
The menu in the bar is also by Davis. He’s a member of competition-winning barbeque team Badass BBQ, so he has some solid know-how when it comes to smoking meat. The ribs are the signature. Enormous pork and beef ribs are served saucy and tender from being smoked in Davis’ impressive barbeque set up. “We use live fuel. Gidgee rump and ironbark, they're local woods,” he says. “The Americas have maybe 15 woods they can use. In Australia we have about 60. We have far more variety.”
Davis is a veteran of Sydney’s pub scene. He was making American-style burgers with brioche and American cheese before either were readily available. “I'm pretty happy with the burgers,” he says with a casual shrug. His latest line uses milk buns, the now ubiquitous easy-melting US cheese and a beef patty with a rare 70-30 meat-to-fat ratio. “I use sirloin, brisket and chuck. My mince is a bit more expensive than most, but it's a good patty.” Depending on the day, you can get one for $10; or $1 spicy buffalo wings with blue-cheese mayo; a $10 bucket of fried chicken; or a foot-long double-dog hotdog.
Behind the bar there’s equally ridiculous American cocktails that look like elaborate desserts; two-litre jugs of beer; and alco-shakes. Otherwise there’s a good selection of craft beer and wines helpfully labelled as cheap, decent or good.
Huxley’s and Ugly Pizza
32 Banksia Road, Caringbah
(02) 9524 5444
Mon to Thu 5pm–12am
Fri & Sat 12pm –12am