Burgerlympics Round 1: The Wolfpack

Team GO (Gary and I) were rather devastated when Wolfpack was selected by Team CJ (Charleen and Jerome). It would have been our pick as it was at the time our favourite burger joint. Having made peace with the situation, we wiped the tears from our eyes and the drool from our mouths and set out on a sunny Sunday afternoon to Parkhurst.

GENERAL

Décor:

I love the décor at Wolfpack. From the bare brick wall to the orange and turquoise chairs and tables, Wolfpack just smacks of retro awesomeness (*not a real word). The restaurant is divided into two sections, downstairs where we sat, and upstairs –  an amazing little astro-turfed rooftop with wooden tables and chairs. The roof is my favourite spot, sit there if you can.

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Vibe:

We’ve been to Wolfpack a few times and it is always packed. It isn’t particularly big and diners are crammed in, this makes for a rather noisy time. I’m not adverse to noise but I do find it a little much at times. Maybe they need to turn the music up or ask people to talk softer, not quite sure, but I found myself struggling to hear the people next to me and speaking in my loudest possible voice (my normal voice is pretty damn loud so that’s saying a lot). Once again, if you can, sit on the roof.

SCORING

Patty:

I ordered a beef burger (something I’m going to try and do at every place we visit) cooked to medium. My patty was a little under done and a lot under-seasoned. The basting on the patty was fantastic but it definitely needed some salt and spice.

Average score –  7/10

A coupla’ comments – “needed more seasoning”; “perfectly cooked”; “needed more spice!”; “perfectly cooked, thick and juice”; “more seasoning needed, a little sauce or basting”

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Toppings/Combos:

Being a place that specializes in burgers, Wolfpack has all your bases covered. I’ve looked at the menu quite a few times and I’m still always hard pressed to make a decision. This time around I kept it simple with bacon and avo. The bacon was incredible (but let’s be honest, it’s hard for bacon not to be) but the avo/guac was lacking in…something. The menu describes it as “feta creamed avocado” and I think it was a bit heavy on the feta and light on the avo. More avo!

The Big Bad Wolf – the signature Wolfpack burger – was ordered by quite a few diners and it received rave reviews. You can’t go wrong with a beef burger topped with every ingredient on earth (slight exaggeration –  it only has 8).

All burgers come with a choice of sides – either fried (fries, polenta chips, onion ring etc) or fresh (salads). I ordered my burger with polenta chips and an extra portion of wasabi onion rings. I got less than a handful of polenta chips which I thought was a bit mean but the wasabi onion rings were incredible!

Average score – 8/10

A coupla’ comments – “avo and bacon good but I should have added cheese”; “crisp lettuce, great roll, fresh”; “good, but cheese cooled and got dry”; “cant’s ask for more (big bad wolf)”; “delish, especially the onion rings in the burger”.

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Ease of Consumption:

For those who are a little confused, “ease of consumption” basically means how well your burger stayed together. You should never, and I repeat NEVER, have to eat a burger with a knife and fork. You also shouldn’t be left with soggy bread and no toppings or half a patty and no bun. Wolfpack burgers are amazing, there is the perfect ratio of bun to patty and the buns themselves hold up pretty well to all the toppings and delicious patty juice.

On a side note: Wolfpack offers a “gluten free” option for all the gluten intolerant/paleo/high fat, low carb/”bread is the devil” people out there. Do not order it. It’s crap that will cost you an extra R12.00. Please note, I did not order a gluten free bun – I love me some carbs – but I did taste it so I am speaking from a place of knowledge…and regret.

Average score – 8/10

A coupla’ comments – “banting roll sucked”; “not bad, but I’m good at keeping it together”; “two handed goodness, fitted in the mouth”; “the bottom bun was smaller than the top and it got messy/tricky”

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Service:

Service at Wolfpack has always been great. We were a relatively large table and all our orders were taken correctly and came out at the same time. Our waiter was always close by to make sure we had enough to drink and waited patiently as we checked, re-checked the bill and counted and re-counted the money. I note that some fellow restauranteerers commented that it was a little slow…perhaps they are just impatient haha.

Average score – 8/10

A coupla’ comments –  “A little slow”; “no issues but drinks took a little long”; “good, order was on point”; “efficient”.

Awesomeness:

To be honest, I was a little disappointed with Wolfpack this time around (Disclaimer: I was in a bad mood on the day but I have tried to not let this fact cloud my judgment). I found it a bit noisy, the patty a bit bland and the polenta chips a bit sparse. The service, wasabi onion rings and Fiery Ginger beer (on tap) rescued it for me.

Average score – 8/10

A coupla’ comments –  “a good experience, beers are good”; “great beer selection & mates”; “above average”; “enjoyed the cocktail”; “noisy and not in a good way”.

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Overall: 39/50

If you haven’t already been to Wolfpack –  go! Although personally, I was a little let down this time around I will definitely go back. It is an iconic burger spot with a lot to offer by way of selection and service. As a group, we all left with full tummies and big smiles – I guess that says it all.

The Wolfpack

21, 4th Avenue Parkhurst

087 550 3520

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Burgerlympics

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Having spent close on a year searching for Joburg’s best pizza (see our results here), I was pretty pizza-ed out. Ok, that last part was a lie, but I was wondering whether my body, and mind, could undergo another competition of this nature. So, I sat myself down and asked myself some important questions:

Each question started with “Olivia”, because not only did I need to get serious with myself but that is also my name –

  1. Olivia, do you like burgers?
  2. Olivia, do you want to eat lots of them?
  3. Olivia, do you enjoy talking to yourself like a crazy person?

I answered yes to all 3 questions and just like that I had convinced myself to take part in the most celebrated and renowned FoodOlympics of them all…BURGERLYMPICS!

I faced only one more challenge –  to convince Team Restauranteering. It didn’t take much – the promise of delicious burger juice dribbling down their chins, hot melty cheese oozing out of soft buttery rolls and crispy potatey goodness dipped into tangy tomato sauce seemed to do the trick. (and of course we voted #democracy).

In case you hadn’t already guessed (hey, we all have slow days) the only difference between Burgerlympics and Pizzalympics is that we will test out Joburg’s best BURGER joints and not PIZZA places. I know, right? Wow.

The Process

Pretty much the same as Pizzalympics:

  1. Nominate your favourite place;
  2. Everyone go to person’s favourite place;
  3. Everyone order a burger (meat, poultry or veggie – but if you’re ordering a veggie burger we probably can’t be friends anymore so don’t bother coming or ever contacting me again)
  4. Score honestly.

Scoring

Slightly different catagories this time around:

  1. Patty
  2. Toppings/combos
  3. Ease of consumption (i.e how well your burger held together and went into your tummy, via your mouth, obviously)
  4. Service
  5. Awesomeness (anything goes here)

Each category will be scored out of 10 giving an overall score of 50.

The Rules

Once again there are only 2 rules in relation to a nominated restaurant:

  1. It must serve alcohol;
  2. It must not suck i.e steers (disclaimer: this rule does not mean you cannot nominate a franchise it just means it cannot be a sucky one)

Good luck everyone.

May your buns be big and your patties juicy!

Pizzalympics Round 8: Cosa Nostra

Our final pizzalympics evening saw us sitting in an old Italian restaurant in the heart of Norwood. Cosa Nostra has been around for years and it was the perfect place to host the closing ceremony.

GENERAL

Décor: As mentioned, Cosa Nostra has been around for years and the décor is a true reflection of this. Old photos of Italy adorn the walls alongside a wealth of old Italian nicknacks. The wobbly wooden chairs and tables feel like they are missing a couple of nails and everything looks like it could use a good dusting – but this just adds to the warm trattoria charm which I love.

Vibe: From families sharing plates of pasta inside to old men sharing cigarettes outside, Cosa Nostra is home to regulars.This isn’t a high heels and cocktails kind of place but rather a basic home style Italian restaurant where you can sit with a bottle of wine (or a jug of sangria, if that’s your poison) for hours on end.

Service: You could tell this wasn’t Patricia’s first rodeo. She tackled the orders with graceful ease and a big smile. My only complaint would be that the food came out in batches of 4 or 5. I can only assume that this is because the pizza oven could only handle 4 or 5 at a time. That being said, all our food was on the table within an hour.

Pricing: Average

SCORING (apologies for the lack of photos)

Base: Across the board everyone found the bases unevenly cooked. Half of some pizzas were charred, the other half undercooked. I’ve eaten at Cosa Nostra before and this is not usually the case – bases are usually perfectly cooked and crisp.  I’ll put it down to trying to get 12 pizzas out quickly and accurately.

Average score: 3 out of 5

A coupla’ comments: “Base too thick, prefer thin base”, “Undercooked”; “Not crispy enough”, “Edges a bit more burned than I like”, “Hate a soggy centre”, “Was a bit undercooked and soggy”

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Toppings: Cosa Nostra will not be winning any prizes for creativity. You wont find weird and wonderful combinations or toppings that you can’t pronounce…and that’s just fine with me. A restaurant such as Cosa Nostra is not concerned with blowing people away with their creativity. It’s all about proper Italian food made the way Nonna used to.Oh, and yay – real olives!

Average score: 3.5

A coupla’ comments: “lots of cheese”, “mince was perfect with the right amount of chilli”, “toppings were small and difficult to find”, “generous but a little bland. Pizza was lukewarm”, “delicious”

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Awesomeness: This isn’t really awesome, but I didn’t know where else to put it – it is extremely hot inside this restaurant. The poor AC cannot handle the intense heat generated by the pizza oven and the tiny windows don’t help. Go naked.Oh yes, we had sangria and it was good!

Average score: 3.5 out of 5

A coupla’ comments: “It’s all about who you’re with”, “Nice to not wait for an hour”, “Awesome but not amazing”, “great authentic atmosphere, pizza ok”, “Nice vibe and cool old spot but pizza a little disappointing”, “They were really quick but menu lacked a bit of X factor”

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Overall: 10 out of 15

As mentioned, I’ve been to Cosa Nostra before and eaten quite a few items off the menu. I’ve never been disappointed. Don’t let this review sway you. Go, just don’t go in a big group.

Cosa Nostra

Corner Grant and Isis Roads

Norwood

 011 728 1833

Pizzalympics Round 7: Cafe Picobella

We’re nearing the end of our pizza challenge. It’s been a delicious 9 months that’s for sure!

With only 2 restaurant choices left, we decided to give good old Melville a chance – Café Picobella to be exact. With Toni’s still on my mind, I was somewhat skeptical about what Café Picobella would have to offer.

GENERAL

Décor: Set in a cute little house on a side road in Melville, Café Picobella is the epitome of a quaint Italian trattoria. Outside, tables and umbrellas fill the porch, overlooked by a massive tree. Inside, the walls are adorned with pictures of saints and religious icons and beautiful chandeliers provide warm lighting. It has the feel of a little old chapel which I quite like. One suggestion, fairy lights outside – fairy lights make everything better.

Vibe:For some or other reason I expected more of a vibe from a Melville restaurant. I think I might be living in the past somewhat. The restaurant was full but it just lacked a little something something. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Service: Average at best. I’ll lump the service from the kitchen together with front of house for this one. Service was slow and painful. I can’t remember who our actual waitress was as we saw so many people throughout the night so I can’t put the blame on any one person. We ordered just after 8pm and the food only started coming out at about 9. Some pizzas only made it to the table well after 9pm (these were the pizzas that had to be remade after they were made incorrectly the first time round). The issues were compounded when, at pay-up time,  the solitary card machine started giving hassles. Managers and staff ran around trying to fix the issues but made little progress. I left with a slightly bitter taste in my mouth but I can’t really blame the restaurant for a bank problem.

Pricing: Average.

SCORING

Base: Amazingly thin and crispy. Exactly how the perfect base should be. Some pizzalympians found the base too dry but I quite like it that way.

Average Score: 4 out of 5

A coupla’ comments: “nice and crispy. Well cooked” “Crisp, but the dough was not the tastiest” “Bit powdery” “Burnt on one of the edges”

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Toppings: Café Picobella has a wide range of toppings and some quite unique combinations. I like that they offer calzones as well (2 mini calzones made from a choice of 2 pizzas). I ordered my usual Quattro Stagioni and was a little disappointed. My pizza was luke warm (a pizza should only be eaten piping hot or icy cold) and the olives tasted old and dry. I also had to add extra garlic, which I never do, and a heart attack inducing amount of salt to get some flavour. I just felt that overall my pizza lacked flavor and seasoning.

I also tasted the Picobella Deluxe which is meant to have parma harm, avo and bocconcini (mini mozzarella balls). The pizza was covered in parma ham (which isn’t normally a problem) but there were only 1 or 2 bocconcini to be found. Disappointing.

Average score: 3.5 out of 5

A coupla’ comments: “Toppings generous but lacked depth of flavor”, “Awesome to actually taste the bacon” “too dry”, “very yummy” “not enough cheese”

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Awesomeness: Once again, we sampled the sangria. It wasn’t bad but wasn’t great. A bit too winey for my liking (need something sweet added to it) and a lot of orange pieces. Nothing worse than biting into soggy citrus skin when you think it’s an apple.

Average score: 4 out of 5

A coupla’ comments: “No complaints but was just nice, not awesome”, “base too dry, sangria too much orange with skin”, “felt Italian and romantic even with all you chops” “Service slow but pizza made up for it”

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Overall: 11.5 out of 14. I think most pizzalympians enjoyed the pizza at Café Picobella but the average service and delay in getting our food let it down. I would probably go back but not in a big group. I think this could be an awesome “date night” spot!

 

Café Picobella

66 4th Avenue

Melville

Tel: 011 482 430 (it was full, make a booking)

Pizzalympics Round 6: Toni’s

After much deliberation (and I do mean MUCH deliberation), this round’s nominators finally settled on Toni’s in Craighall Park. I’d never heard of Toni’s, so I quickly jumped online to check it out. I was somewhat disheartened to see that it was a franchise/chain/more-than-just one restaurant (note: this is not prohibited by the rules, just something I generally don’t go for) but boy was I wrong to judge this restaurant based on this minor detail.

It is not often I wake up the next day craving the very same thing I ate the night before but Toni’s pizza really was that good…nay…magical!

GENERAL

Décor: Beautiful mosaic pizza ovens aside, I felt Toni’s fell a bit flat in respect of décor. I like my Italian pizzerias to have that old school warm glow-ey candle feel. Toni’s is a little too modern and clinical for my liking. Also not a big fan of plastic chairs.

Vibe: I didn’t think that the restaurant was particularly full, especially for a Thursday night, but considering Toni’s is a massive restaurant I might have just not noticed. Being a table of 9, we created our own vibe and entertained ourselves.

Service: Best service so far. Our waitress was brilliant. She was on the ball and super attentive. She took our orders with absolute precision, which considering their intricacies of our orders (see note on half and half below) was no mean feat. The manager checked on our table several times throughout the night and even took our picture!

oh, look! It's us!

oh, look! It’s us!

Pricing: Average pizza place prices for a bigger than average size pizza. You’re looking at around R90.00 for a decent pizza.

Before we get into scoring, just a quick note on half ‘n half. At Toni’s you’re allowed to order half of one pizza and half of another. If, like me, you struggle to make up your mind (curse you indecisive tummy) then you will love half n half! By the way, you will be charged for only one pizza but the more expensive of the two.

SCORING

Base: If I am being super critical which, let’s face it, I always am, my base could have been crispier. The edges were crunchy perfection but by the time I got to the pointy end of the slice, it was becoming a little mushy. Even though a few other diners shared my sentiments, Toni’s averaged full marks for base. (If you’re wondering about the maths, I always round-up if more than half a point out unless it’s a half point exactly).

Average score: 5 out of 5

A coupla’ comments: “Would have been a 5 if it wasn’t a bit soggy towards the centre” “BOOM” “Wow, best base around” , “Perfectly thin”, “Asked for crispy and got it perfect”

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Toppings: Toni’s has an extensive menu and due to the half n half option, the possibilities really are endless. Toppings are evenly distributed and don’t weigh down the pizza.

Average score: 5 out of 5

A coupla’ comments: “Maybe a bit more chilli”, “Amazeballs”, “Delicious. Even distribution and delicious combos” “Flavours worked well together, really delicious. Could have had more bacon” “Love the calzone, gonna have it again”

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Awesomeness: I was most disappointed by the sangria which tasted slightly watered down and not quite winey enough. A special mention must be made of dessert. We NEVER order dessert (I’m not sure why, we just don’t). This time around the whole table shared the dessert pizza – pizza base smothered in nutella and topped with melted marshmallows. Not really my cup of tea (not crazy about nutella –  I know, I know –  and found it too sickly.

Average score: 4.5 out of 5

A coupla’ comments: “Brilliant service, average sangria, attentive manager”, “Amazing”, “really delicious, nice atmosphere, good service and sangria was great – with cherries” “Too much of happiness” “Love cherries, kak music and great company”

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Overall: A staggering 14.5 out of 15! Toni’s deservedly takes the lead (and I secretly hope it stays there)

The scores speak for themselves. Toni’s has leapt to number one on the score boards and number one in my heart/tummy!

 

Toni’s Fully Furnished Pizza Co

c/o Lancaster & Clarence

Craighall Park

Tel: 011 447 1318

Pizzalympics Round 5: Ottimo

Round 5 of Pizzalympics took us to an old pizzeria in Kensington, Johannesburg East. Ottimo has been around since 1992, which speaks volumes. Based on this, and the fact that everyone I spoke to raved about it, I had a sneaky suspicion that Ottimo would take the lead.

GENERAL 

Décor:  Your typical Italian pizzeria – everything Italian, everywhere. As it should be. If you are not a Ferrari  and/or football fan, you will be converted.

Vibe: We were advised that Ottimo did not take bookings. As such, I expected it to be jam packed. It wasn’t. That being said, there was a steady flow of traffic in and out, sitting down for a quick plate of pasta or fetching a couple of pizzas. Ottimo strikes me as the kind of place you go to for a quick pizza – I didn’t really want to sit there with a bottle of wine for a few hours.

Service: Not great. Our waiter was either really new or really hard of hearing. Practically every drinks order had to be repeated and some were forgotten. He was hardly ever around and on a few occasions we had to go looking for him. Our 10 person pizza order was, by and large, taken correctly (I didn’t ask for extra feta on my pizza yet there it was) so I guess I can’t really complain. I thought it was quite odd to see a waitress sitting on the floor near the bathroom, but hey, maybe her feet were sore.

Pricing: Really reasonable. A bigger than average pizza will cost you between R60.00 and R80.00.

SCORING 

Base: The base at Ottimo is exactly how the base of every pizza should be. Not perfectly round but perfectly cooked  –  thin, crispy and slightly charred in places. Utter perfection!

Average score: 5 out of 5

A coupla comments: “Thin, crispy, very good” “Wow, best base in a loooooong time. Excellent” “Perfect. Crispy and yum”

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Toppings: Ottimo isn’t trying to re-invent the wheel. It knows what works and why. You won’t see colourful combos on this pizzeria’s menu and that is just fine with me! Sometimes all you need is a good ol’ regina. Toppings are well distributed and each slice holds its shape and toppings. This is definitely a pizza that can be eaten without a knife and fork…just as all pizza’s should be. On a slightly disappointing note –  I nearly always order olives on a pizza. I expect them to be proper olives, sitting in brine and pitted by the chef before lovingly adorning my pizza. Those olives that (I assume) come already pitted in a tin are not acceptable. Nothing natural has a perfectly round hole in the middle. They taste nothing like an olive, do not use them. ESPECIALLY when putting delicious “normal” olives in the salad.

Average score: 4 out of 5

A coupla comments: “Almost the perfect balance…chilli””Great! Fresh” “A bit cheesy and stringy” “Meh, I’m going to try a different pizza next time” “Perfect. Asparagus for the win”.

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Awesomeness: As per usual, we ordered the sangria (with me limiting myself to one glass…I had two) it was not as good as some others we’ve had. It tasted a bit watered down and the design of the jug meant we landed up with half of it on the table and all the fruit left behind. One further point, no one really “checked on us” throughout the night. I expect a manager to at least pop past and see that everything is ok, especially in a small family style restaurant with a group of 10 people.

Average score: 4 out of 5 (in reality, 3.6 but I rounded up)

A coupla comments: “Very good venue but perhaps lacking some pizzaz” “Service not great, sangria not great” “Awesome but slow service” “Love cars, love bikes but kitch”

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Overall: As expected, Ottimo takes the lead with 13 out of 15.

I think there can be no question that Ottimo makes some of the best pizza in Joburg! It was truly fantastic! However, for me, it fell a bit flat in respect of atmosphere, vibe and service. If I’m in the area I will definitely pop in for a quick pizza but I’m not sure I would make a special trip.

OTTIMO

179 Queen Street, corner Cumberland

Kensington South

011 615 2823