Toni’s Pizza & Organic Pasta, Chicago, IL

Mario's Special Stuffed Pizza

Mario’s Special Stuffed Pizza

Many would expect that this Italian-American native Brooklynite would have a fundamental problem with Chicago pizza. Thankfully, I have an open mind and enjoy pizza in all of its forms.

There are plenty of big names in Chicago pizza, especially in and around the Loop and Magnificent Mile. None of these are particularly bad, but if you want to eat what the locals eat, you have to venture into the neighborhoods where they live.

One of the first places you’ll find on the way out of the downtown core is Toni’s Pizza & Organic Pasta. A true family business, Toni’s is run by Toni herself, her husband and their children out of a small corner space in River West. In warmer weather, there’s outdoor seating available. In the brutal cold of a Chicago winter, I’d advise delivery or takeout although if you’re lucky, you could find a spot at one of the two small counters inside.

Toni’s uses natural flour & tomatoes, low fat cheeses and locally made sausage to craft hearty pies loaded with flavor, yet maintain enough structural integrity to pick up a slice and eat it like a New Yorker.  While I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much cheese, that idea is stretched here much like the trails of cheese stretching from the pie all the way to your plate as you take the first slice.  Anyone with an Italian grandmother would feel nostalgic over the thick and hearty tomato sauce that tops Toni’s pies.

Toni’s Pizza & Organic Pasta is close enough for a short cab ride from, or delivery to, hotels in the Loop and Magnificent Mile areas. If you haven’t got the appetite for a whole pie, slices are available.

Find Toni’s Pizza & Organic Pasta at
457 N. Milwaukee Ave
Chicago IL 60654
☎ 312 243 1500

Jamie’s Italian, Various UK, AU

Jamie's Italian Polenta Chips

Jamie’s Italian Polenta Chips

Jamie Oliver’s chain of Italian restaurants, although each restaurant follows the same formula and serves nearly, if not completely identical menus, manages to avoid all of the flaws of a formulaic chain restaurant.  The food here is made fresh from fresh ingredients.  The staff are generally friendly and attentive, and the food is top-notch.

I’ve visited outlets in London, Cardiff, Sydney and Perth.  There are dozens of outlets in the UK, and a smattering of outlets across Australia, Ireland, Russia, Singapore, Turkey and the UAE.  Each one is as good as the next.  As an Italian-American who enjoys cooking and eating, I can say that Jamie’s team has the formula pretty well designed!  I’m just hoping for an outlet in the USA.

My particular favorites include…

Polenta chips (pictured above): Crispy on the outside, creamy in the middle, covered liberally in shredded parmigano reggiano and rosemary leaves.

Wagyu breasola salad (pictured below): Fresh, crisp, clean flavors of the salad nicely complement the rich, salty breasola served carpaccio style as a base for the mountain of salad.

If I’m in a city with a Jamie’s Italian, and I don’t have something new & unusual on my calendar for a given meal, I know I can always get some top-notch Italian food.

Jamie's Italian Wagyu Breasola Salad

Jamie’s Italian Wagyu Breasola Salad

Visit for locations in the UK and for locations elsewhere.


Gilroy Garlic Festival, Gilroy, CA

Gilroy Garlic Festival

Gilroy Garlic Festival

The Gilroy Garlic Festival is a 35-year old county-fair-style event taking place each summer in Gilroy, CA – a place known as the “Garlic Capital of the World”.  Events include a garlic cook-off with finalists this year from 6 states and Canada, a Miss Gilroy Garlic Festival contest, concerts, and as much garlic-infused food as you can handle.

Here’s just a random sampling of the items available… pesto pasta, pepper steak, Italian sausage, garlic fries, crab garlic fries, garlic steak tacos, crawfish etouffee, garlic battered catfish & shrimp, Thai BBQ.

The festival is over for this year, but if you’re in California next summer, and you’re a lover of garlic, you’ll know where to go.

Noah’s New York Bagels – Cupertino, CA

Noah's New York Bagels, Cupertino, CA

Noah’s New York Bagels, Cupertino, CA

As I sit collecting my thoughts on Noah’s, I realize that I really don’t want to write a negative review, and honestly, if you’re not a New Yorker, you’ll probably think their product is as lovely as the friendly staff.  I think what really rubs me the wrong way is that they imply through their name that the bagels they serve are similar to the ones you’ll find in New York.  This is simply not true.  Noah’s bagels are round with a hole in the middle and are a bread-like product; the similarities to a New York bagel more or less end there.

According to Wikipedia, “The New York bagel contains salt and malt and is boiled in water prior to baking in a standard oven. The resulting New York bagel is puffy with a moist crust”.  I did not see a bagel boiling kettle in the shop, which partly accounts for the lack of New York-ness.  Noah’s bagels lack the thick, moist crust and are far less dense than a true New York bagel.  Their “schmears” also don’t stack up against New York cream cheese spreads.  Comparatively, Noah’s schmears are thin and watery. While one should never toast a true New York bagel, toasting improves the structure of Noah’s bagels.

The bagels at Noah’s are comparable to what you’ll find at other chains like Einstein Bros. or Dunkin’ Donuts.  They certainly make a good breakfast, and they have quite a bit of variety including things I’ve never seen before, like dutch apple bagels and caraway seeds on everything bagels.

If you’re a New Yorker and/or a New York bagel purist, you’ll be disappointed.  Otherwise, you can have quite a nice breakfast here.

20520 Stevens Creek Blvd Cupertino, CA 95014
Next to Starbucks and behind the Chevron on the corner of DeAnza Boulevard

New York Restaurant Week

NYC Restaurant Week is on now through Friday, August 16th. Participating restaurants, including some of New York’s best eateries, are offering set 3-course menus for lunch ($25) and dinner ($38). See the list of restaurants at Register your American Express card at to receive a $5 statement credit for every $25 or greater purchase at each participating restaurant through August 16th.

St. John Bread and Wine, London

St. John Bread & Wine, Spitalfields

St. John Bread & Wine, Spitalfields

A cute, rustic venue, St. John Bread & Wine is acclaimed chef and author Fergus Henderson’s dining room specializing in simple classic british foods that may have been in danger of being forgotten amongst the celebrity chef emporiums and guerrilla popup restaurants that are common in today’s London.

Open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and supper, the menu changes as the day wears on.  You can enjoy a simple bacon sandwich for breakfast (easily big enough for two unless you’re in training or manual labor), amongst other simple options, at a reasonable price.  If you like, and your morning commute/wander will take you past St. John, you can phone ahead the night before to order your bacon sandwich for take away the next morning.  Lunch and supper dishes often include organ meats and offal, which stands to reason seeing as Henderson is the author of The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating (Amazon affiliate link).  Daily menus vary, but are known to include items such as foie gras and duck liver toast, bone marrow, and my personal favorite, the super-rich blood cake.  If you like black pudding or other blood sausages, it’s a must!  The blood cake is so rich that a fried egg with its runny yolk is used to cut through the richness.

Another favorite and British regional specialty that Henderson is reintroducing to London foodies to is Eccles cake.  Similar to a mincemeat pie (Aussies, it’s not meat, but fruit – ask a Brit or American), and named for the town of Eccles where they were creates and are still served in small bake shops.  Eccles cakes are a flaky pastry dome with a spiced and brandied filling of currants. The cake is usually paired with another hard-to-find-outside-of-England-item, Lancashire cheese – sort of similar to Cheshire or Wensleydale, but unique in its own right.

Of course, as the name suggests, you should absolutely try the breads and wine.  The bakery produces all manner of baked goods, which may just make you want to include St. John in your grocery shopping routine.  Aside from Eccles cakes, St. John has crusty rustic loaves and fresh madelines on offer.

The restaurant sits opposite Old Spitalfields Market and makes for a glorious pre-or post shopping meal or snack.  The address is 94-96 Commercial Street London E1 6LZ.

Breakfast dishes will set you back about £5.  Entrees (appetizers to my fellow Americans) tend to run about £9 and mains £18.  Order ahead for a whole suckling pig that will set you back £420 and feed 50 people.  If you want to put together a suckling pig party, call me anytime!

Ferdydurke & Section 8, Melbourne, VIC, AU


Inside Ferdydurke

Amongst my favorite Melbourne hangouts are these two Melbourne laneway bars. Ostensibly separate establishments, they share owners, a kitchen, and by extension, a menu. I discovered this(ese) place(s) a few months ago, during Melbourne’s summer. They’re even better in winter.

The indoor venue, Ferdydurke, evokes a run-down, maybe postwar or even mid-war Eastern European watering hole with its minimalist furnishings in bare wood, brick & metal, the working brick fireplace, and the communist propaganda decor.  The bar has everything needed to prepare classic cocktails as well as their own classically grounded twists – I recommend the Ferdydurke if you’re looking for something light and refreshing. Polish vodkas and beers are well represented and if you go in on a cold winter’s day you may get to have a cup of piwo grzane – “mulled beer” fortified with brandy, liqueur, spices and raspberries.

Out back, Section 8 is the container bar/beer garden.  The outdoor venue continues the run-down/postwar/postindustrial/postapocalyptic theme with the bar and toilets made from (separate) shipping containers, tables/seating made from shipping palettes & steel drums and a not-quite-complete corrugated plastic roof.  Decorations include mismatched bits of statuary, paper lanterns, industrial detritus and the odd shopping trolley (cart, to my fellow Americans). For those who feel the chill in winter, gas heaters are placed liberally around the place.  The bar is well stocked, offers a bit more casual menu of tropical themed cocktails, and just as good a selection of single malt scotch as you’ll find inside.

The shared menu is a selection of quality hotdogs offered with interesting toppings. The presentations are attractive, considering you’re dealing with a hot dog, and they use quality products.  The buns are tasty, but soft, light and not big on structure. Make sure you tuck and hold the bun tightly around the dog and toppings to avoid making a mess. You can choose one of their creations or mix & match toppings to create your own. During Pierogi Pierogi, originally a one time promotion but now a semi-regular event, Polish soups and pierogi replace the hot dog menu.  The next Pierogi Pierogi event will be on the 21st of July.

The prices are comparable to what you might pay in a New York or London venue.  Aside from the $5 Coopers Lights, beer will set you back $9-15.  Specialty cocktails range from $12-20 inside Ferdydurke and $17-20 outside at Section 8.  Hot dogs are $3 plain or $5 for the menu creations, though Ferdydurke offers a $3 happy hour special on all hot dogs.  Wifi is free inside Ferdydurke;  see the menu board for the password. The signal doesn’t extend to Section 8.

Ferdydurke hosts live bands and/or DJs most nights and Section 8 usually has a DJ.

You’ll find these spots in Tattersalls Lane between Lonsdale and Little Bourke Streets, convenient to QV, Melbourne Central, next to Chinatown and a short walk from several hotels.

Artisinal Gelato Artistry in Sydney

Royale W' Cheese

Royale W’ Cheese

The queue for Gelato Messina spills out the door where employees hand out menus and try to maneuver the mob into something a bit less traffic-blocking.  There is hardly room to move once inside the shop as patrons jostle for position at the long display case full of the creamy confections.

Flavors range from the standards – chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut and tiramisu; to the complex – pannacotta with fig jam and ameretti; to the strange – “Just Waiting for a Mate” Wild Turkey & raisin.

The gelato is rich and delicious.  I tried the Italian nougat which was like frozen torrone morbido; apple pie, containing sweet baked apples and tasting like an apple pie was mixed in with the gelato (it was); finally, the pannacotta with fig jam and ameretti really couldn’t fail to please.

If the flavors weren’t good enough, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the staff at Messina make everything from scratch, gelato, the apple pie that gets mixed in, the ameretti, jams, ganaches – everything.  This commitment to freshness shows in the quality of the product, but not in the prices.  A cup or cone costs between AU$3 and $7, depending on the number of scoops.

Still not content to leave their awesomeness at that, Messina’s Laboratorio and Patisserie, a.k.a “Creative Department” occupies the shop next door, offering single portion gelato dessert sculptures such as the “Royale W’ Cheese” – a chocolate crackle gelato burger patty topped with compressed cucumber, white chocolate “cheese”, and a white chocolate and apricot gel fried egg all nestled inside a sponge cake bun.

Have you ever wanted to learn how gelato is made?  Messina can help you here too. “Gelato Appreciation Classes” are held about once a month.  If you’re interested, book early; the 2013 schedule is already completely booked!

Darlinghurst has become a foodie’s paradise.  After dinner at any one of the new and interesting restaurants, be sure to save room for gelato.

Gelato Messina
Shop 1/241 Victoria St,
Darlinghurst NSW 2010

Additional locations in Surry Hills and the Star casino, Pyrmont

The Sixth Borough, Newtown, Sydney, NSW


Graffiti Theme

Graffiti Theme

I happened upon the Sixth Borough by accident when the place I had intended to try was unexpectedly closed. Disappointed and hungry, I looked around and spotted a sign for “The Sixth Borough”. My New York pride welled up a bit and I had to have a look.

The walls are decorated with graffiti-style graphics representing each of the five boroughs of New York City. The menu lists various burgers, hot dogs, chili cheese fries, nachos, and a Reuben sandwich. Fried pickles also appear, but that’s more of a midwest thing – I’d never heard of them until I started visiting Minneapolis.

I chose the King Kong hot dog, which is a beef frank with mashed potato, chili con carne, mushy peas, cheese sauce & hot sauce. The dog itself isn’t anything to write home about in terms of quality, but it is comparable to a typical NYC “dirty water dog”, so it fits the theme. The toppings, however, make it interesting. With a mix of authentic New York (chili, cheese) and typical Aussie (mashed potato, mushy peas), this dog is a melting pot in a bun, and good to soak up the night’s alcohol intake. If the bun wasn’t a New England style split at the top, I’d give the place a little more NYC cred, but they make a valiant effort and offer a tasty product, so I can’t do more than nitpick a minor detail.

As of March 2013, The Sixth Borough is a BYO, but a posting in the window shows that they’ve applied for a liquor license.

134a Enmore Rd, Newtown 2042
(conveniently located next to the Enmore Theater)

Aussie Meat Pies: Sydney

"Tiger" at Harry's Cafe De Wheels

“Tiger” at Harry’s Cafe De Wheels

Meat pies, for good or ill, are an icon of Australian cuisine. The popularity of the pie is not just amongst tourists. A former New South Wales premier described the meat pie as Australia’s national dish. They can be found frozen in supermarkets, in hot boxes at convenience stores, and lovingly crafted in restaurants at nearly every price point. Pies are often served simply with tomato sauce (ketchup), but often with additional toppings or side dishes to round it out to a full meal. Below are a few good pie options in and around Sydney.

Harry’s Cafe De Wheels, Woolloomooloo
Cowper Wharf Roadway & Brougham Road Woolloomooloo, NSW 2011

A longtime Sydney institution, this place is a retro styled roadside stand festooned with neon lights and photos of celebrities chowing down on a pie. Having a pie here is like having cheesesteak at Pat’s or Geno’s in Philly or a hot dog at Pink’s in L.A.. It’s something you’re told you have to do as a tourist but its not necessarily the best example of the art. As a person who spent quite a lot of time in Australia I was almost embarrassed to eat here, however the place does seem to have its own local following as there were quite a few locals enjoying a pie or some of Harry’s other offerings. Harry’s pies are by no means bad, but you can get one just as good, if not better at many other places in Sydney. The “tiger” is the classic item to sample. It’s an Aussie beef pie, topped with mashed potatoes, mushy peas and gravy. In my opinion, this is the only proper way to serve a pie, although I will concede that a plain pie is much easier to eat on the move.
There are many locations, but Woolloomooloo is the original, so if you’re going to go with kitsch, go with the original.

Central Baking Depot, Sydney CBD
37 – 39 Erskine St, Sydney 2000

Central Baking Depot's brisket pie

Central Baking Depot’s brisket pie

Conveniently located within five minutes’ walk of George Street, Central Baking Depot offers baked goods, sandwiches, pizza and, of course, pies. When I visited, they were offering a chicken & spring vegetable pie, a brisket, mushroom and red wine pie and a standard beef. This is a lunchtime spot as they close at 4:30 pm on weekdays.

I opted for the brisket. the filling was reminiscent of a good beef stew, and the crust was sturdy and substantial while remaining flaky.

Pie in the Sky, Cowan
1296 Pacific Hwy Cowan, NSW 2081

A roadside rest stop along the Pacific Highway about a 45 minute drive north from Sydney offering an impressive array of beef, lamb, chicken, vegetable and fruit pies. The pies are better than most, and with a cliff side location, you can’t beat the view of the largely unspoilt Hawksbury River valley below.

It’s a bit far to go if you’re keeping to Sydney, but well worth a visit anytime a road trip brings you north out of the city.

The Pie Tin, Newtown
1 Brown St Newtown, NSW 2042

The Apple Pie That Ate Newtown

The Apple Pie That Ate Newtown

They’re not lacking variety, from the classic mince pie to more original fillings including pulled pork and Texas style brisket. The selection of sides is nearly as expansive, including salads, couscous, beans and the obligatory mushy peas and mash.

The Pie Tin also serves an impressive array of sweet pies, such as Cherry Ripe delight topped with bits of the eponymous candy bar and “the apple pie that ate Newtown”. At 900g per slice – about 2 pounds to my fellow Americans – this is a serious dessert for a big eater.

For my meal, I sampled two savory pies and something sweet for desert…

Moroccan Lamb
The Moroccan lamb pie is a lamb curry enveloped in a flaky, light crust. With chick peas and regional spices it is evocative of a Moorish feast.

Bangers & Mash
Bits of sausages, onions and gravy in an open pie shell topped with mashed potatoes. Classic flavors in a novel presentation.

Date, Walnut and Butterscotch Rustic Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream
I’m not generally a fan of butterscotch, but here, it works well.

Note: Do not follow the search result for The Pie Tin in Apple’s iOS Maps app here! You’ll end up at a private house several blocks away. You’ll be ok if you plug in the address manually though.

Pieface, Everywhere

Pieface is a chain as ubiquitous in Australia as Starbucks is in the States. It is, without a doubt, fast food. If you’re pie-shy or just after a snack, they do offer mini pies. Pieface has expanded beyond Australia via franchising with at least one location in my hometown of New York, so you may Be able to sample this delicacy or rekindle memories of your Aussie experience without leaving home.

DUB Pies, Brooklyn, NY
211 Prospect Park West Brooklyn, NY 11215

While not in Australia, and with more of a Kiwi influence, people back in NYC have at least one good non fast food option for meat pies. DUB (down under bakery) Pies does the classics and some more interesting specimens such as curry veg (my non-beef favorite), Thai chicken and an assortment of other Kiwi/Aussie items such as Caramello Koalas and lamingtons. If you go in, try an ANZAC biscuit (cookie).

Is your favorite place not listed?  Share it in the comments!