Philly cheesesteak with a drink and chips at Fat Franks – $12
Only a handful of ingredients go into a Fat Franks Philly cheesesteak. A long, soft hoagie roll imported from America is stuffed with thinly sliced rib eye, fried onions and Cheez Whiz before it’s wrapped tightly in paper to keep the sauce from dripping out.
“Philly cheesesteaks were invented in the suburbs of Philadelphia in the 1930s by Italian immigrants Harry and Pat Olivieri,” says co-owner Carmelina Catanzariti. “Cab drivers were sick of hotdogs and asked the Olivieris for something new. They picked up some thin rib eye at the butcher, grilled it at their stand, put it on a hoagie and melted some provolone on top. The rest is history.”
Fat Franks’ original location is in Wetherill Park, and, while there was a stint in a food truck in Haberfield five years ago, Newtown is the eatery’s first permanent inner-west location.
The cheesesteaks are substantial – you could eat half for lunch and save the other half for dinner – but for the very hungry, Fat Franks offers a lunch deal with chips and a can of soft drink for $12.
LP’s smoked beef and cheese pie at Black Star Pastry – $10.50
Anyone who frequented Black Star Pastry’s original Australia Street store will know of its beef-and-Guinness pie. But the company’s general manager, Josef Murray, decided that a new location called for a fresh menu.
“The original pie has been with Black Star for quite some time. With the new store, we thought it was time to evolve,” he says.
Inspired by his New Zealand roots, Murray got together with Luke Powell from LP’s Quality Meats to deliver Black Star’s next generation of meat pie.
“Luke is from Wellington, I’m from Wellington, and something that’s really moreish for us Kiwis is a steak-and-cheese pie. This pie is a twist on that.”
The beef is slow-cooked in the smoker until it falls apart, then a red-wine jus and mushroom mixture is stirred through. The traditional New Zealand recipe calls for cheddar, but Murray went for a mixture of provolone and raclette, chosen for their excellent melting properties.
The flaky, buttery pastry rounds off the filling, hand-held meal, but those still hungry can add a salad for $6.
As for tomato sauce, Murray says go for it. Black Star makes a tangy tomato ketchup and serves it alongside horseradish cream with the beef-and-cheese pie.
Quarter chicken with roasted veg and gravy at Clem’s Chicken – $9.95
Spiro Tsakalides says a lot of factors have contributed to his family’s eatery, Clem’s Chicken, thriving on its Newtown corner for 39 years.
“We take a lot of pride and we care about what we do. We’ve been here a long time,” he tells Broadsheet.
The pride is clear in the food, displayed behind a long glass barrier under heat lamps. The chicken is juicy (you can see it glisten as Tsakalides slices your order), the garlic-cream potatoes are delicious, and the dark, rich gravy lends umami to each bite.
There’s plenty of choice for an affordable lunch, but Tsakalides recommends a quarter chicken, roasted vegetables and gravy for $9.95.
He makes his recommendations between smiling and greeting customers, revealing what’s likely the real reason Clem’s has thrived: shops and eateries have come and gone, but Clem’s Chicken and the Tsakalides family are part of the community’s beating heart.
Assorted pastizzi at Pastizzi Cafe – $3 each
Newtown’s Pastizzi Cafe has a lot of food on its menu, but the trays of pastizzi stacked behind the front counter take centre stage.
“They are all made at the cafe, from the pastry right through to all the fillings,” says owner Debbie Ross. Pastizzi are a Maltese take on the dumpling. Traditionally filled with ricotta and peas, Pastizzi Cafe has 12 classic flavours and five “gourmet” ones. Ross says the beef-and-dark-ale and spinach-and-ricotta fillings are popular, but our pick is the chicken and mushroom. At $3 each for an original flavour and $4.30 for gourmet, there’s room in the budget to try them all.
Pastizzi Cafe made the move to bigger premises because it had outgrown its south King Street space, but Ross says she’d love to go back.
“The south end has a nice community feel. We’ll be reopening on the south end due to popular demand, and we need more space to make pastizzi.”
Gelato at Mapo – $5.50
Gelato doesn’t quite constitute a meal, but after sampling a couple of pastizzi down the road, you’ll have just enough left for a scoop of gelato from Mapo.
Mapo’s gelatos taste exactly as the flavours are meant to. That means a scoop of nectarine is a heightened, more delicious version of the stone fruit, and the delicate milk base of the fior di latte isn’t overpowered by too many ingredients.
“We use 60 per cent fresh fruit, water and sugar. That’s it,” says owner Matteo Pochintesta. “We use what we can find in season and change it through the year.”
The menu is split into basic and experimental flavours, such as the fresh apricot cheesecake, made from a lemony, fresh apricot jam, cream cheese and milk.
Dipping noodles at Rising Sun Workshop – $17
At $17, Rising Sun Workshop’s platter of udon noodles, dipping sauce, pickles and gim-bugak seaweed crackers is on the outer limits of what could be considered cheap, but the dish is plenty for two to share – especially if you add a side of pork belly.
The components of the dish cover the flavour trifecta of salty, sweet and sour, but dipping noodles are as much about texture as they are flavour.
The twist of udon noodles is cooked to a bouncy texture, ready to swirl in the sauce, and the various pickles and shiso leaves are a nice palate cleanser between bites. On the crunchy end of the spectrum is the gim-bugak, a cracker that starts life as a sheet of nori before it’s dredged in a rice-porridge slurry, dried and deep fried.
“It becomes its crunchiest self,” says owner Nick Smith.
“[The] Japanese and Koreans are masters of crispy-soggy. Someone could spend a lifetime making the lightest, crispiest tempura, then throw it into a soup. At first, you think, what madness is this, but then you taste it and you get it.”
To understand what he means, set one end of a gim-bugak cracker in the dipping sauce and leave it to absorb some liquid. Use the still-crisp end of the cracker to spoon up noodles and pickles. It’s crispy-soggy perfection.