CTS Feast No.8: Vicolo – the wrap

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Maria (La Morenita) meets Maria (Vicolo).

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CTS Feast No.8: Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar, 28-30 Young Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 9500. Tuesday, June 17, from 7pm.

It’s something to marvel at – that what started as a simple gathering at Hyderabad Inn in Footscray for about 10 people almost a year has seen the Consider The Sauce Feast concept progress to an eighth outing.

This time we were the guests of Maria at Vicolo in Moonee Ponds.

Of course, a fine time was had by all.

And once more, it seemed like about at least half of the guests had been attendees at one or more previous Feasts.

Thank you!

The Vicolo turn-out was a particularly gregarious crew, all of whom seemed happy and eager to make happy conversation with their immediate table neighbours.

That made my task as host very relaxing – a big thank you for that, too!

I thought the food was super.

 

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Conchiglioni ripienne di ricotta e spinache al forno (giant pasta shells filled with ricotta and spinach, oven-baked in our delicious Napoli sauce) was a light and simple starter with a fine tomato sauce.

 

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Those who chose risotto paesana di vegetale verde e pesto Genoese (risotto with zucchini, asparagus, leek, and green peas and our home-made basil pesto) as their main course were happy.

The sample I tried was flavoursome with pesto and beautifully, slightly al dente vegetables.

The serves were huge!

 

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If anything, those who opted for osso buco cacciatore-style con polenta (tender beef osso buco oven-braised with rosemary, red wine and winter vegetables over soft polenta) were even happier.

It was rich, sticky and wonderful.

This was Bennie’s first experience with this dish – he loved it, but drew the line at sucking up the marrow.

 

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Panna cotta della casa di mandola (homemade almond cream dessert) was divine, the wafting flavour of marzipan being all the more effective for its subtlety.

 

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The lemon tart was equally luscious.

Plenty of people managed to have a good taste of both desserts by doing deals with their neighbours!

Thanks again to everyone, particularly to Maria and her staff.

 

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Consider The Sauce Feast No.8: Vicolo

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CTS Feast No.8: Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar, 28-30 Young Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 9500. Tuesday, June 17, from 7pm.

After an initial visit to Vicolo and then being a privileged guest at the joint’s 10th birthday party … it’s Feast Time!

I’ve had a ball getting to know Maria from Vicolo, who has lined up a dynamite night for us.

To secure your ticket for CTS Feast No.8 at Vicolo, click here.

This time out, the number of guests we’re inviting is 40.

The price is $25 per person.

Yes, that’s a little more than previous CTS Feasts – but there’s a very good reason for that.

And that reason is the night’s menu … check it out:

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CTS FEAST NO.8: VICOLO

ENTREE

Conchiglioni ripienne di ricotta e spinache al forno (giant pasta shells filled with ricotta and spinach, oven-baked in our delicious Napoli sauce).

MAIN

Osso buco cacciatore-style con polenta (tender beef osso buco oven-braised with rosemary, red wine and winter vegetables over soft polenta)

OR

Risotto paesana di vegetale verde e pesto Genoese (risotto with zucchini, asparagus, leek, and green peas and our home made basil pesto).

DESSERT

(Desserts will be allocated on a 50/50 basis to guests, but feel free to swap with your neighbours!)

Cassata di limone (homemade lemon tart).

OR

Panna cotta della casa di mandola (homemade almond cream dessert)

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That’s right – a classy three-course Italian meal for $25!

If you need any further convincing of just what an exceptional opportunity this is, check out Vicolo’s regular menu here.

Guests will be responsible for paying for their own choices of drinks and/or coffee.

As with other recent CTS Feasts, the ticket monies will be split between the restaurant, in order to help cover some of the costs, and CTS, for our work in setting the night up.

To secure your ticket for CTS Feast No.8 at Vicolo, click here.

Thanks to Anna and Yvette from X2 Marketing for helping facilitate this event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vicolo turns 10

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Maria, Nonna Nella and Bianca.

 

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Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar, 28-30 Young Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 9500

Since Consider The Sauce’s first visit to Vicolo, yours truly has returned a couple of times.

That’s been to take advantage of the joint’s $15 lunch special of risotto and a glass of wine.

One time I had a zesty, lighter number with vegetables and lemon rind.

On another and by contrast, I went with a robust ragu and sausage number.

They were both brilliant.

Maria has done what she said she would – turned this long-time risotto hater into a convert!

I mention this to make the point that Vicolo is rapidly becoming part of our routine and that this time out I am not merely fronting for another snout-in-trough freebie at a place I would otherwise not frequent.

Though – let’s make no bones about it, and yes food blogging is sometimes the best gig in the world – I leap at the chance to attend the restaurant’s special 10th anniversary dinner as an extremely privileged non-paying guest.

And why wouldn’t I?

Specially when it’s not just Maria in the kitchen – in there she’s been joined by her mum, Nonna Nella, and daughter Bianca.

Three generations of Italian cooking – how wonderful!

 

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Once again I am joined by Yvette and Anna from X2 Marketing – by now, this has gone way beyond work and I genuinely like hanging with this crew – and this time, too, by their respective partners, Michael and Rob.

I suspect there are more extra hands at hand in the kitchen, and there certainly is on the floor.

It’s a full house, the vibe is upbeat and happy, and the guests seem evenly split between Maria’s extended friends-and-family and regular customers – with us lot in the middle.

It’s busy, busy, busy, but we find the service and food arrival times to be good.

Some of our party choose to eat from the regular menu, but I will highlight here dishes from the special birthday list (see below).

 

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We get a couple of sets of Nonna Nella’s antipasto ($22) to share.

It’s all fine in a wonderful old-school way. I specially like the rich fishiness of the sardine involtini and the zipoli (fried long doughnuts stuffed with anchovies), both bottom right.

 

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My brodo di pollo (chicken broth with polpette and home-made pastina, $15) is my night’s highlight.

Describing this as chicken noodle soup would do it a gross injustice.

Nor does the above photograph in any way convey the depth of simple, soupy flavour or the hidden presence of masses of noodles and marble-sized meatballs.

 

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I had goat, in casserole form, on our previous visit, so somewhat regretfully pass on the capretto in crostata (traditional cacciatore-style goat pie with verdura, $38).

But I’m glad Michael gets it and he enjoys the rich heartiness of it.

 

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My pesce spada (swordfish bagnara on grilled potatoes with orange and fennel salad, $38) is, for fish these days, quite well done.

That’s an appropriate term, as eating this IS like eating a steak – one, though, that is juicy, tasty and in no way dry. The salad and rather smoky roast spuds are the perfect foils.

Bangara?

Maria says: “Bagnara was the lemon, olives, capers, parley and olive oil dressing that garnished the fish!”

 

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Our table mostly goes without dessert, but Michael and I both plunge right on ahead with the pannetone pudding ($12).

This, of course, is a bread and butter pudding – and a fantastic one. Instead of the listed figs, our puds are topped with the most luscious berries.

For dessert, Yvette has … lasagne (in joke …).

 

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Finally, Maria sends us – unbidden – a plate of “dolcette – Nonna Nella’s little sweet things”. They, too, are lovely … but by this time we are all uniformly sated.

Thanks, Maria!

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This is the second in what will be a trilogy of stories about Vicolo.

The third will likely be published in a few weeks – regular readers will guess, I’m sure, where we’re headed with this … and it’s going to be brilliant!

Consider The Sauce’s meal at Vicolo was provided without payment being required. Management had no prior knowledge of what would be ordered, and neither sought nor was granted any editorial input into this story.

Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar on Urbanspoon

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Check your spam daily

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Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar, 28-30 Young Street, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9372 9500

Just like everyone else these days, I am always looking for where the next opportunity or possibility may arise.

So I have developed a daily routine of always checking the spam file of my email account.

What I find there is almost always … spam.

But, just very occasionally, there is something more interesting.

Through that routine I find an interesting approach from publiicst Yvette and her company X2 Marketing.

Her firm represents, so she tells me, a small number of western suburbs restaurants. Would I be interested in some sort of collaboration with her company and the restaurants involved?

A very, very good half-hour phone conversation ensues.

I like it that Yvette and her partner, Anna, have no set ideas how food bloggers and their clients may interact and they seem to be open to ideas. Even better, the Consider The Sauce Feast concept spark a good deal of enthusiasm.

Both women come from a corporate background, yet have ended up in the same place as CTS, preferring the personal touch and a general embracing of the “small is beautiful” ethos.

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Two of the eateries they represent hold no interest to Consider The Sauce at all, but one of them most certainly does.

So it is that all three of us meet at Vicolo, in Young Street, Moonee Ponds. (CTS did not pay for its meal – full disclosure below.)

I am very familiar with Young Street in Moonee Ponds – indeed, Fresh On Young was the subject the very first CTS story.

But I have always been deterred by the somewhat forbidding glass facade of Vicolo, despite a good review from Lauren at Footscray Food Blog.

So I am delighted and happy to find that behind the glass is a classy Italian joint.

I really dig meeting and talking with Yvette and Anna. Despite our different backgrounds, I’d like to think we are on the same page.

On this Thursday night, there is a happy vibe in the place, which is crowded with what I presume are regulars.

Even better, I adore the boss lady, Maria, and the way she sparkles and genuinely seems to care about every table of guests.

Yvette, Anna  and I star with a trio of spuntini.

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Whitebait ($11) are warm verging on cold, but I’m guessing that in the antipasto swing of things this is perfectly acceptable. They’re crisp and unoily, with the fried richness being cut beautifully by the excellent tangy salad.

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Arancini ($10) are a big step up from the tough, unappetising footballs found in generic eateries across the land. These are delicate and variously flavoured with goat, pumpkin and cheese.

Similarly light of flavour and weight is the gorgeous salt and pepper calamari ($11).

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As we await our main, Maria is only too happy to give me a brief tour of the kitchen, expressing the hope that I’ll be comfortable with the fact her two cooks are Korean folks trained by herself pretty much from the ground up.

As if I would care!

One of them, Naggie, is happy to be photographed. The other, not so much …

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Maria explains how she prepares her renowned risottos in a restaurant context – by mostly pre-cooking the rice and keeping all the flavour packages separate, with the end product being as genuine and delicious as you could wish.

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The house red sauce, Maria explains, is made from only the best tomatoes – tinned and puree both.

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I get lucky with my choice of main – it’s a casserole-style goat number ($36) that isn’t even on the specials list. It’s sticky, rich and in every way excellent, the tender meat falling easily from the bone in a way that only comes from long, slow cooking.

My companions enjoy their pasta choices – linguini marinara with fish, mussels, pipis, scallops and calamari ($26.50); and lasagne ($23.50).

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Desserts all come with a $12 price tag, with the lemon tart and tiramisu going down a treat.

On the basis of our combined meal, I’m happy to conclude that Vicolo does classic Italian very well.

As for possible future collaborations between Vicolo and/or X2 Marketing, stay tuned …

Consider The Sauce’s meal at Vicolo was provided without payment being required. Management had no prior knowledge of what would be ordered, and neither sought nor was granted any editorial input into this story.

Vicolo Cafe & Risotto Bar on Urbanspoon

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Mediterranean Keilor

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Rose Creek Estate open day, 2 Craig St, East Keilor. Phone: 9337 5471

At 2 Craig St, East Keilor, there’s a large, two-storey but otherwise unremarkable suburban home.

There’s also 300 olive trees surrounding a vineyard and much more besides.

Including, but in no way restricted to, a fabulous garden, all sorts of fruit trees and a superb chook family.

The whole set-up is so magnificent, we’re surprised we haven’t heard about it before – or the annual open days.

Then again, it’s situated in a suburb that seems part of the west but through which we travel only on occasion but rarely (never) have a reason to stop.

Regardless, we so enjoy our visit that even if it’s a long time until we return – perhaps for the next available open day – we feel a good deal better about the world just knowing this place is where it is and as it is.

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When we arrive, there seems to be a couple of hundred folks enjoying the day, with as many coming and going as we take it all in.

Indoors, there are wine and oilve oil tastings going on, and a long table replete with samples of olives, cheese and simple bruschetta of bread, parsley and oilve oil.

Before Bennie gets carried away by gorging himself on fare that is, after all, meant to be considered of the sample variety, we seek out more serious tucker.

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I’d been informed somewhere along the way that pizza is often the Rose Creek open-day go.

No pizza today – instead, there’s good-looking sausages being given the heat treatment over coals and served in bread rolls with leaves and brushed with a thyme branch dipped in herby oilive oil.

Yes please!

We’re a little taken aback at the asking price of $10 – the two apiece we have been contemplating could set us back $40.

But the proof is in the eating, and on that count we have no complaints at all, and one serve each is plenty.

The bread is fresh and wonderful, the snags even better.

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They’re made, I’m told, to order by a butcher to the estate’s specifications and using its pepper sauce and semillon. They’re rustically stuffed with gorgeously meaty, high-quality pork the like of which we never see in our usual pork sausages at home, regardless of where we source them.

From there, and before we score a very fine cafe latte and a hot chocolate, it’s a case of us city boys ambling all over, and up and down, sucking up what seems to us like a miraculous Mediterranean vibe in the midst of Melbourne suburbia.

Check out the Rose Creek website here.

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Consider The Sauce goes ape … but the monkey doesn’t sing

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Crazy Wings, 177 Russell Street, Melbourne. Phone: 9663 6555

Brunetti, 214 Flinders Lane, Melbourne. Phone: 9663 8085

Career has become a very relative term in our household.

Plain old work is probably a better way of putting it.

And, financial imperatives aside, lack of work presents its own joys, space and opportunities to further pursue what I now see as my “real career”, that being principally father and blogger.

Still, a work situation that has very suddenly gone to three and now four days a week is cause for relief and celebration; it’s a situation that could last for a month or maybe the rest of the year.

But it means the “real career” pursuits can continue.

It means a multi-hundreds electricity bill will not cause an anxiety meltdown.

It means the car will be serviced.

And, yes, it’s worthy of celebration.

Truth is, though, we wouldn’t be heading for this Friday night’s King Kong at the Regent had I not snagged a couple of very excellent but full-price stalls seats.

So off we go … heavy traffic negotiated with ease, $7 parking sorted, we have plenty of time to wander further into the CBD than we expected.

We pass many eating places as we amble without feeling inclined to rise to their various baits.

And then we’re in Russell Street and there it is, the famous – perhaps notorious is a better word – Crazy Wings.

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It seems like a typical, busy low-price Chinatown joint except the air is headily perfumed with barbecue aromas, cumin to the fore.

We are pointed to a table and proceed to familiarise ourselves with the ordering process, which entails ticking off items on a long list resembling a yum cha sheet that is then taken for processing/cooking by the staff.

We play a straight bat to the many items of an exotic (for us) or weird nature, and studiously avoid the eponymous crazy wings.

And then the fun begins.

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A double serve of the standard original taste wing ($2 per skewer) turns into a double double serve as it’s the Friday special, and we’re really happy about that.

They’re marvellous, tender and redolent with – yes – cumin.

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Likewise for the lamb meat skewers ($1.50 each) … but then things start getting a little screwy.

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Ox tongue ($2 each) has the sort of silky tenderness I’ve been expecting but there’s something almost, um, petrochemical about the seasoning.

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As we move into our vegetable selections, including BBQ eggplant ($2.50, above), we are starting to weary some of the sameness in the seasonings.

And as with all our subsequent non-meat skewers – cucumber ($2.50), enoki mushrooms ($4.50) and even honey BBQ steamed bread $1.50) – there seems, to us, to be a disconnect between what’s threaded on the skewers and what’s been used for seasoning.

There doesn’t seem to be any cohesion and not much point. We’d prefer a salad.

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The same holds true for chewy and enjoyable BBQ squid ($1.50).

Still we ARE having a ball.

We love the vibe.

We love the way the many orders are hustled by the staff from kitchen to tables not on platters but as fistfuls of smoking skewers. At the tables, they are placed on wooden trays and right on top of already discarded skewers.

As with every other table, our wooden tray starts to resemble a greasy, charred game of pickup sticks or a mini-bonfire in the making.

We’re having such a good time, we get a bit reckless and order more – including a serve of the crazy wings.

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Whatever our issues or bemusement with our food up to this point, they are instantly rendered small fry, for this is where we part company with the Crazy Wings’ ethos completely and forever.

Bennie and I eat no more than the equivalent of a teaspoon each.

In more than three decades of eating spicy food, this is the hottest food I’ve ever tried – by a very, very wide margin.

And there’s no slow burn here – the heat is virtually instant, as is the unpleasant burning of lips and mouth.

Worse, the little we do eat is not just spicy but tastes plain bad – metallic, nasty, industrial.

Hard as we find it to figure, we suppose there may be people who may enjoy such ridiculously seasoned food.

But for us, there seems nothing macho or admirable about doing so.

It just seems a waste – of food, effort, money and appetite.

As well, I wonder about the health aspects of such insanity – for older and younger people in particular. Could there be allergy issues at play here as well?

Should we return to Crazy Wings, we’ll play it even straighter, stick with the plain meats and seafood, and maybe go for some of the handful of rice or noodle dishes.

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So well organised are we that we have ample time for lovely, leisurely coffee, hot chocolate, pistachio biscotti and chocolate panzarotti at Brunetti’s in the city square.

The CBD branch seems to divide opinions just the way the Lygon Street HQ does, but we like it.

We feel relaxed and comfortable – and even warm on a cold night, thanks to the outdoor heaters.

And King Kong?

Well musical theatre is never going to be my fave thing, but there’s a brilliant light show, loud music, lots of dancing, generous nods to Broadway tradition … but not, to my mind, much by way of genuine emotion or soul.

Still, as Bennie’s first such experience, and as part of a swell boys’ night out in the CBD, it could hardly be bettered.

Crazy Wings on Urbanspoon

Brunetti on Urbanspoon

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Great $5 pizzas – worth the drive to Tullamarine

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Pasta Al Dente, 18 Assembly Drive, Tullamarine. Phone: 9335 1944

Eiffel Tower, 12 Assembly Drive, Tullamarine. Phone: 9330 2588

Comments are one of the truly great things about blogs – something that sets them apart from regular websites, unless they have active forums incorporated into them, and in most cases regular media, including newspapers and their online versions.

It’s great to get such feedback – and sometimes that feedback is immediate. It’s immensely gratifying to know what you’ve written means something to someone somewhere!

It’s also often fascinating to see how the comments on any particular blog post evolve, the twists and turns they take.

And – this is the really cool part – the comments often come in the form of reader tips.

We love that and often follow up on them.

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So it was when CTS regular Lou commented on the post I knocked out about finding lunch at my new Airport West work venue.

Lou asked: “If you’re in Tulla for a while, a write up on all the wholesale food places near assembly drive would be great. I hear there is a fine deli, a pasta outlet, and cake shop at least, but have never made my (short) way down the ring road to check them out!”

It’s only as I navigate myself towards Assembly Drive, with a few missed turns along the way, that I realise I have been this way before.

But that was long ago – when Bennie was just a baby.

I wear Consider The Sauce goggles these days, so places and people can look quite different.

What I find at Assembly Drive is some really good stuff.

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Pasta Al Dente is somewhat inaccurately named. Oh sure, there’s stacks of dried and frozen stuffed pasta all over the joint, but there’s also regular grocery lines and good deli and bakery sections.

But anytime around lunchtime, as I immediately discover upon entering, Pasta Al Dente is all about pizza.

Lots and lots of pizzas, freshly baked and served at $5 a pop to a neverending stream of customers.

There’s some pretty good-looking rolls/sandwiches, arancini and suchlike, but I don’t observe anyone having anything other pizza.

Some of the pies go straight out the front doors, others stay to be consumed at the single high, long table.

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My wonderfully irregularly shaped pizza (second top photo) is real fine, chosen from a list of about 11.

It’s not heavy on rampant flavours – nor should it be, with the toppings amounting to the basic cheese and tomato joined by mildly flavoured ricotta and spinach – but it’s as fresh as can be, emitting steam when the cardboard box is opened.

Oh dear – those cardboard boxes.

I understand the physical restrictions that probably make these containers an unavoidable business decision on the part of the place’s management, but still … one cardbaord box for every $5 pizza sold; that’s a lot of cardboard boxes!

Finally, the price tag makes me wonder anew why there is such a vast price differences between most classy Italian thin-crust pizzas and, on the other hand, Lebanese pizzas. I know we’re talking different kinds of businesses with different kinds of overheads and pricing.

But still … $20 and $5 – that’s a BIG difference.

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After my terrific pizza, it’s time for some shopping. Nothing heavy duty; just green olives, some biscotti, a few cans of tomatoes – and I’m keen to see how this house brand lasagne shapes up on the plate, given I am way too lazy to make it myself.

When I wander a few doors down the road to an even more inaccurately named house of pure Italian-ness, I realise I should’ve saved my biscotti money.

Eiffel Tower sells pizza and good-looking focaccia, too, but as the intensely pleasurable yeasty, vanilla-laden perfume tells my nostrils as I enter, this is a serious baking house.

They’ve got all the bases covered, too, from epic wedding cakes and lollies to heaps of high-quality biscotti and cream-filled goodies such as canoli.

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Cheap?

Oh yes!

I’m all filled up, so am disinclined to pursue the matter, but I’m told a slice of the cheesecake in the top right of this photo costs $2.50.

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I do, however, pay $2.50 for a fine cafe latte and 50 cents each for two biscotti mouthfuls of joy, one of them an intensely chocolatey semi-gooey flavour bomb.

So what else is there on Assembly Drive?

All within walking distance of the two businesses discussed above are discount liquor and clearance outlets, an OK fruit and vegetable place and a cheese factory and shop. There may be other food-related places in adjacent streets.

But Pasta Al Dente and Eiffel Tower alone guarantee we’ll be back this way soon.

Besides, Consider The Sauce gets a real kick out of finding food on industrial estates!

Pasta Al Dente on Urbanspoon

Eiffel Tower on Urbanspoon

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Brunetti

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Brunetti, 380 Lygon St, Carlton. Phone: 9347 2801

If there had been a red carpet and VIP list involved, we wouldn’t be up the first or on the second.

Nevertheless, we reckon we’re smack bang in the middle of a bona fide Melbourne event – a happening packed with buzz and delight.

It’s the opening day of the ultra-swish new Brunetti and we’ve fronted for breakfast.

So have a lot of other people; everyone, staff and customers alike, is revelling in the moment.

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We know there are those who never had much or any time for the previous Brunetti incarnation in Faraday St, finding it too slick, flash and imposing.

For them, the new premises are likely to be even more problematic – because the new Brunetti is huge, taking up almost the entire space of what used to be Borders and running from the Lygon St entrance to the more formal restaurant space at the Drummond St end.

In between there is everything you’d expect – gelati, pizza oven, biscotti, pastries, cakes and more.

And a raised caffeine hub with two gleaming monster machines already doing grand business.

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Our semi-regular Brunetti visits have almost always been about mid-week gelati treats, takeaway biscotti or breakfast, and doubtless that will continue to be the case.

We’ve never had much truck with the more substantial fare, though it seems it may possible to pursue those avenues in the new place with more ease and perhaps even greater quality.

Because there is a lot of comfortable seating spread along the length of the premises.

The place will still be a madhouse at peak times – in our experience, that means any weekend after about noon in spring or summer.

But there is no denying the spaciousness and style of the new place – it’s like the old Brunetti on steroids.

If you loved Faraday St, you’ll likely love Lygon St. If not … run!

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It’s a special adventure so I let Bennie off the leash – he enjoys not one but two apricot Danish pastries at $4.10 each. They’re fresh and hit the spot.

His two hot chocolates are slightly better than good but don’t send him into raptures. Same thing goes for my two cafe lattes.

My toasted ham, cheese and tomato is a $9.50 dream that has me issuing moans of delight.

Really, it’s hard to imagine how a toasted sandwich could be better – excellent bread uniformly, perfectly toasted; great tasting ham; gooey melted cheese.

When Bennie has a taste, the cheese strands stretch from his sandwich-holding hand to his gob until they snap and bounce happily off his chin.

Brunetti on Urbanspoon

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Uncooked puttanesca sauce with short pasta

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This recipe is a simple, quick and cheap winner for summer – or for your typical heatwave!

And it’s another we’ve adapted from Michele Scicolone’s 1,000 Italian Recipes.

Vary the quantities to suit yourself.

We have it warm, with the tomatoes slightly cooked from interaction with the hot, moist pasta.

On this occasion, we used one punnet of tomatoes, a BIG handful of parsley, three fat anchovies, a single fat garlic clove and no capers.

Whatever you do, though, don’t be stingy with the olive oil!

The book lists salt, but we find the anchovies the care of that.

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INGREDIENTS

Cheery tomatoes

Anchovies

Flat-leaf parsley

Capers (optional)

Dried oregano

Extra virgin olive oil

Red chilli or dried red pepper

Freshly ground black pepper

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METHOD

1. Halve tomatoes and place in bowl.

2. Add to bowl finely chopped garlic and anchovies, oregano, chopped chilli and black pepper.

3. Mix.

4. Add hefty doses of extra virgin olive oil.

5. Mix again.

6. Let stand at room temperature for at least an hour.

7. Cook pasta, then drain while reserving some of the cooking water.

8. Add pasta to tomato concoction, then mix all ingredients together.

9. Add some of the cooking water if pasta is too dry.

10. Let sit for another five minutes so flavours can blend.

10. Serve.

Altona Fresh

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Altona Fresh, 62-76 Second Ave, Altona North. Phone: 9399 1390

At the launch of Feasting In Footscray, invited guests were provided with showbags of goodies, among which were copies of The Foodies’ Guide To Melbourne by Michele Curtis and Allan Campion.

At home, I proceeded to nonchalantly flip through the book, homing in – of course – on content concerned with the western suburbs, somewhat smug in the assumption that any such content would hold no surprises.

I was wrong.

Altona Fresh – what’s that?

Yet when I googled the address and checked out the street view, I realised we had driven past Altona Fresh in pre-CTS times.

The world looks very different these days, besides which the establishment’s exterior is a tad on the dull side.

So it’s a joy to set foot through the automatic doors and discover a true foodie haven.

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I enjoy chatting with Sandra, part of the family that has run the business here for 20 years and an earlier generation of which operated out the premises that continues as The Circle Fruit Fiesta.

It’s interesting to discover how the store’s product range has evolved as the area has changed.

So while there’s an undeniable Italian-ness about the place, there are, too, many products of a more rounded and diverse range.

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The Foodies’ Guide To Melbourne describes Altona Fresh as “being “like a mini-Mediterranean Wholesalers”.

It’s true this place is more compact than the famed Sydney Rd emporium, but I think the comparison does Altona Fresh a disservice.

There are, however, two major differences – Altona Fresh sells fresh produce and doesn’t sell alcohol.

More generally, though, the range and breadth of what is available here seems to match or equal anything to be had at Mediterranean Wholesalers.

Sandra tells me the fresh produce is these days taking up less space than previously, but what I see is of excellent quality and pricing.

For this first visit I only have a small shopping list, so this story and the photos that accompany it are necessarily a somewhat superficial look at what is sure to become regular fixture for us.

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I buy some Maltese sausages from the bustling deli section – $10.99 for snags that appear splendidly rich and highly seasoned.

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We’re not a big cheese household, but the Altona Fresh line-up impresses.

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And how about this swell array of olives and antipasti?

Check out the Altona Fresh website here.

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Ciambotta

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This rustic Italian vegetable stew would go real swell served cold with fish, chicken or sausages at a barbecue, but we only ever have it as a light main meal when we’re a little weary of heavier, richer fare.

This is based on a recipe found in Michele Scicolone’s 1,000 Italian Recipes.

Her recipe calls for one red and one yellow capsicum.

For this brew, I went with two red, as the yellows at the place where I did the shopping were more than $12 a kilogram and looking a bit sad on it.

I used kipfler potatoes, thinking the discs would go just right with the other vegetables, but they took too long to cook, so we’ll stick to our usual desiree in the future.

This is so simple and easy to cook – it basically takes care of itself.

And the way the tomatoes and – to some extent, the eggplant – break down to form a terrifically unctuous sauce that soaks into the spuds is fabulous.

In fact, it makes even a muddling, middling cook such as myself think I’m pretty hot sh… stuff.

While it was cooking, I went looking for other recipes, and was surprised – I don’t know why – to find Scicolone has a blog.

And as she says on it: “I’m always amazed at how good it turns out.”

She lists a few other additions and variations – green beans, courgettes, more elaborate seasonings, cheese or eggs or basil at the end and so on.

But once you start talking about courgettes, I start thinking ratatouille.

No surprise then that further sleuthing revealed there’s little or no difference between the two dishes.

Goes great as leftovers gently warmed up or as sandwich stuffing.

INGREDIENTS

1 medium onion

4 plum tomatoes

2 potatoes

1 medium eggplant

2 red capsicums, or 1 red and 1 yellow

Salt, freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

METHOD

1. Roughly chop onion and cook in olive oil on low-medium heat until soft.

2. While the onion is cooking, chop remaining vegetables into bite-size pieces.

3. Add vegetables to cooked onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook covered on low heat for about 40 minutes – or no longer than when the potatoes start falling apart a bit. Gently stir occasionally, as potato pieces can stick.

4. Eat.

Salaam Namaste Dosa Hut

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Salaam Namaste Dosa Hut, 604 Barkly St, West Footscray. Phone: 9687 0171

Does a restaurant have any sort of obligation to tell customers what is in their food?

The food for which they are paying and which they are eating?

My persistent inquiries about the seasoning specifics of my rice meal at Dosa Hut are met with smiles, giggles, shrugs and vague mutterings.

It’s all good fun and I’m not even close to chagrined that I fail in my quest.

Bemused, maybe.

But maybe, too, some things are meant to remain unknown.

Dosa Hut should be celebrated widely in the west for being the first eatery to bring dosas and associated goodies into our part of the world.

That seems a long time ago now.

That first incarnation had a dingy shack aspect with a service vibe to match.

A second incarnation – detailed here – took a significant step towards a more formal and professional approach.

Now Dosa Hut has its third incarnation – and it’s another cool step upwards.

There’s branded windows, chic interior decor, a lot more room.

As far as I can tell, the menu remains much the same – though I suspect the range of dishes available of the Indo-Chinese variety has grown.

My simple, plain samosa ($1.95)  is beaut – mildly seasoned, beautifully tender potato, ungreasy pastry exterior.

From the Indo-Chinese list I choose “Schezwan Chicken Fried Rice” ($12.95). 

You might be thinking that’s quite a hefty amount to pay for a glorified Indian take on a familiar Chinese staple in a cheap eats diner.

You would be wrong.

This is a killer dish; a sensation.

Heaps of fluffy rice is riddled with chewy fried chicken chunks, omelette, peas and finely diced green onion and carrot.

It’s all quite dry and very un-oily, though like just about everything in the Indo-Chinese recipe book, it’ll never pass for health food.

The first few mouthfuls indicate spice levels of a benign nature.

That, too, is misleading. This dish has a magnificent slow-burn spiciness that glows yet never really reaches high-intensity levels.

Given the staff’s reluctance to clarify my seasoning queries, I’m only guessing. 

The orange colouring from a mix of turmeric and chilli powder?

The magnificent slow-burn heat from a LOT of white pepper?

It matters not – I love every mouthful.

It’s a big serve, one that should really be shared.

But I go closer to finishing it than I thought I would.

Salaam Namaste Dosa Hut on Urbanspoon

Pasta and broccoli

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This has long been a mid-week standby for us.

Of course, it’s a close relative of pasta aglio, olio e peperoncino, so the same rules apply.

As with wok cooking, everything needs to be chopped, diced and prepared before the real action starts.

And timing is everything.

I suspect we have more broccoli than you’d the ratio you’d find in an authentic Italian version. But I figure it’s a good way of getting kids – such as Bennie and myself – to eat more vegetables.

This particular batch was turbocharged – a new bottle of anchovies, four of them instead of three, heaps of garlic and chilli.

It tasted bloody amazing!

I know that various, regular CTS visitors will have their own versions of this recipe, so I’m looking forward to hearing about all the different variations.

This recipe is for two people – adjust quantities for more.

Because of the anchovies, there’s no seasoning need other than that listed below.

And of course when it comes to making your home smell grouse, this can’t be beat!

INGREDIENTS

1 head of broccoli

1 packet short pasta

virgin olive oil

2-3 cloves of garlic

3-4 anchovies

chilli flakes

parsley (optional)

METHOD

1. Get a big pot of water going on the stove.

2. While it’s coming to the boil, chop broccoli into bite-sized pieces.

3. The chop the garlic finely and add to the required amount of chilli flakes (fresh red chilli can be used).

4. Finely chop the anchovies and add to the garlic/chilli mix.

5. Add pasta to boiling water.

6. Put a heap of olive oil in pan and warm it up with very low heat.

7. When pasta is about 3-4 minutes from being done, throw in the broccoli, mix with pasta and turn up heat until water is boiling again.

8. Just after adding the broccoli to the pasta, turn olive oil pan up to medium high and throw in the garlic/anchovy/chilli mix.

9. Stir frequently so anchovies breaks up and all flavours integrate.

10. Drain pasta/broccoli, add to pan and turn heat to very low.

11. Mix pasta/broccoli with pasta really well. I don’t mind a bit of sizzle here, with the pasta and seasonings getting a bit crispiness going on.

12. Add parsley and mix in well.

13. Serve in bowls and drizzle each bowl with a little more virgin olive oil.

14. Inhale.

Pier 35 Bar & Grill

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Pier 35 Bar & Grill, 263-329 Lorimer St, Port Melbourne. Phone: 9646 0606

It’s a bleak, bitterly cold Melbourne winter’s day, so undoubtedly there are better times for visiting Pier 35 Bar & Grill.

But as it turns out, for a school holiday treat that is affordable and tasty, our visit could hardly be bettered.

For starters, the place is nice and warm!

And it’s classy, with very good service, in a way that we don’t come across too often in our trawling of the western suburbs.

Even better, a big ship cruises past just as our meals arrive.

The waterfront vistas are unremittingly grim and industrial, but even that strikes us as a change of scenery worth savouring.

Pier 35′s menu gravitates towards Italian food and steaks, with an assortment of other influences.

Main courses generally hover between the mid-$20s and mid-$30s and up to the mixed grill for $48.

We, of course, hone right in on the lunch menu, which has a longish list of meals for $14 and is available seven days a week.

The line-up includes fish and chips, calamari salad with red capsicum pesto, and grilled lamb skewers with cabbage salad, pita bread and tzatziki.

The BLT is described as “classic” yet comes with chicken – which strikes me as something of a contradiction.

I’m unsurprised Bennie orders it anyway – it’s a winner, too.

The chips – there’s just enough of them – are crunchy and good.

The chicken looks like it should have that nifty charcoal flavour. Not so, says he, who describes it as “just chicken”.

The bacon, though, is of high quality, there’s lots of it and it’s well cooked.

Good, thick bread, mayo, lettuce, tomato – I put it to Bennie that this is probably the best BLT he’s ever had.

He doesn’t disagree.

Ordering seafood pasta from a $14 menu may seem like pure folly, so I’m very happy to announce that my seafood spaghetti “with market fresh seafood, garlic, white wine and basil” is fantastic.

As you’d expect, there’s only a modest amount of seafood – a couple of fat prawns, two smallish mussels, some salmon, a chunk of calamari, some other fish of a broken-up and indeterminate nature.

But it is indeed very fresh, as well as beautifully cooked and delicious.

But the best part is the pasta itself – it’s immersed in a sauce that is decadently, almost obscenely, oily; there’s garlic overkill that is nevertheless just right; fresh tomato bits add texture; and, best of all, all is imbued with a delightful wine flavour.

No basil to speak of, but I’m a long way from complaining – I love my lunch.

Pier 35 presents as a really cool option for western suburbanites looking for a change from injera, pho or curries.

And, based on our lovely budget meals, could be that the more formal side of the restaurant is worth a look, too.

Check out the full Pier 35 menu here.

Pier 35 Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Alchemy with tinned tomatoes

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Our basic tomato sauce

We can tell you exactly how much of this stuff we have eaten over the years.

It is precisely the mid-point between lots and lots on the one hand and, on the other, heaps and heaps.

Seriously, we really have tucked away plenty, though that has been less so in recent months as our blender broke and has yet to be replaced.

However, a few weeks back – when we were having a dinner that included a rare, for us, commercial bolognese sauce – I opined that it was actually pretty good.

“Not as good as yours,” Bennie said.

“What, you mean my tomato sauce?” asked I.

“Yeah,” said Bennie.

Dead chuffed I was, but it also was a signal that it was time to fire up, blender or not.

Truth is, just chopping or otherwise smashing the tomatoes is fine.

We prefer our tomato sauce to be a sort of blank canvas, so we keep seasoning to a minimum.

So no garlic, no basil or other herbs, no meat.

We add all those and more – bacon, chorizo, polish sausage, Italian sausage meat, tuna, depending – when we unfreeze and use the individual portions.

As well as with pasta, this goes good with roast chook, fish, snags & mash and so on.

Makes the house smell sweet, too!

The vegetable quantities are negotiable, though if you use too many you’ll get a vegie stew rather than a sauce.

INGREDIENTS

Celery

Onion

Carrot

6-8 cans whole or chopped good-quality tomatoes

Olive oil

Bay leaf

Salt (about a teaspoon)

Pepper

Sugar

METHOD

1. Without being too fastidious about it, chop the carrot, onion and celery as finely as you can.

2. Cook vegetables over medium-high heat with plenty of olive oil.

3. As the vegetables cook, whizz or otherwise smash the tomatoes.

4. When the vegetables are well cooked and wilted, add tomatoes, keeping the heat the same.

5. As the sauce comes to the boil, add salt, sugar, bay leaf and pepper.

6. Cook for several hours at the lowest possible simmer – at least until the oil rises to the top.

7. Eat, freeze, enjoy.

It’s really cool how the tinned tomatoes and vegetables you have at the start become something entirely different after a couple of hours.

Pasta aglio, olio e peperoncino

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Of the many varied ways we use pasta in our home, this is perhaps our favourite.

It’s a spicy, salty, oily flavour explosion.

It’s also quite tricky – the timing is everything.

As with wok cooking, everything – garlic, anchovies, parsley – needs to be ready and chopped well before the pasta is cooked.

And don’t even think about making the “sauce” – if that’s what it is – until the pasta is about 95 per cent done.

I was surprised to find, on checking our various Itralian cookbooks, that none them included the anchovies.

Oh well – we do!

And all those recipes use less parsley than us.

What can I say? We love the green stuff!

I can’t imaging using short pasta with this – though we do when making the closely related version using broccoli.

Because this pasta concoction is not one that holds its heat well at all, we use the pasta water to pre-heat the bowls.

Everyone will have their own comfort levels when it comes to the chilli, garlic and anchovies.

Almost as good as the taste is the way cooking this pongs up the house!

INGREDIENTS

Extra virgin olive oil

Garlic

Anchovies

Chilli flakes

Parsley

Long pasta

METHOD

1. Get the water going in a really big pot.

2. Finely chop garlic and anchovies; leave on chopping board alongside your required level of chilli flakes.

3. On a separate board, chop the parsley.

4. When the pasta is about half way done, gently warm a generous amount of the oil in a pan on a very low heat.

5. When pasta is all but done, turn pan heat up to a low medium.

6. Throw in the garlic, chilli flakes and anchovies.

7. Stir frequently to break up the anchovies. The garlic should get only a light tan so some care and attention is required.

8. Drain pasta, using the water to pre-heat bowls.

9. Turn pan heat to very low and toss drained pasta into the pan, swirling it around so all the good stuff is sticking to it.

10. Throw in the parsley and swirl similarly.

11. Serve in pre-heated bowls and top with another dollop of extra virgin olive oil if desired or needed.

12. Eat.

13. Lick lips and smile.

Meeting Mr Bongiovanni

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Anthony’s grandfather and grandmother flank his then-toddler father in their North Melbourne butcher shop.

There have been many surprises attending the opening of long-awaited food emporium A.Bongiovanni & Son in Seddon – its size, scope, range and pricing just for starters.

What has not been so surprising are the varying levels of negativity that have arisen.

These seem to range from fears for smaller local businesses posed what is seen by some as a predatory carnivore to outright hostility towards what is perceived as an attack on community wellbeing by a moneybags outsider.

Doubtless that will continue to be the case and healthy debate will continue for a long time to come.

But spending time with the man behind the shop and its arrival, Anthony Bongiovanni, it’s impossible to deny the passion he has for Seddon.

He’s a businessman for sure – and a self-confessed ambitious one at that.

But he’s one who I am inclined to take at face value when he makes a determined assertion that he wants to see Seddon bloom.

As he points out, he has been a prominent community member for almost a decade and president of the Seddon Traders Association for the past four.

“I want a better Seddon,” he says. “I have a passion for Seddon. I’m not out to take people’s business away.

“I made a deliberate decision not to stock non-food household good so we wouldn’t be directly competing with the supermarket around the corner.

“With this sort of place, I couldn’t not stock bread – but considering the size of the place, we haven’t gone overboard. We certainly don’t want to hurt Sourdough Kitchen.

“We want to provide more options. I’ve never seen so many people on the street.

Anthony points out the wooden pannelling above the fruit and vegetable section. It took him and his father-in-law three weeks to install using wood from old fruit boxes of the type just visible bottom right.

Anthony himself is another surprise.

Where I’d had a mental picture of a suave Italian patriarch, I instead meet an enthusiastic young man in his early ’30s.

But he’s packed a lot of living and work experience into those three decades.

He has a long background in the liquor and building industries.

On his mother’s side of the family, there’s a history of fruiterers; on his father’s side is a line of butchers.

His grandfather’s butcher shop in North Melbourne was named C.Bongiovanni & Sons.

Anthony has continued that tradition by including “& Son” in the official name of his new enterprise after his own two-year-old son, Samuel.

At one stage, he ran a joint called Bongiovanni’s Food & Wine Bar in North Fitzroy, but it was too small to make it profitable.

Anthony is happy to see its failure as an outright positive.

“I lost just about everything, but it was the best thing that could have happened,” he says.

Anthony leased the building that these days houses Thirsty Camel – it was Betts Electrical then – in the mid-’90s, eventually buying both that building and the one next door, which housed a furniture store.

He resisted interest from the furniture folk in renewing and extending their lease, and entertained leasing proposals that involved the likes of a gym or yoga centre.

But they didn’t work for him.

“I wanted something that would boost Seddon,” he says.

I suspect the genesis of A.Bongiovanni & Son was long dormant but profoundly present in Anthony’s soul.

But things only really started moving when he was perusing Ebay one night and saw a bunch of good-quality shop fittings for sale. He rang the woman involved the next day, eventually doing a great deal the got him not just shop fittings but a forklift as well.

Then followed more purchases of fittings from Ebay and all of a sudden the plan was up and running.

There were major hiccups along the way, mostly notably with the securing of a strong, reliable electricity source.

Turns out the existing power infrastructure was woefully inadequate to service such a shop, and wasn’t all that flash at doing so for other existing businesses either.

The eventual cost was well above $200,000, with Anthony contributing about a third.

Anthony’s grandfather on the left.

Then followed the long and challenging job of securing products and distributors for them.

“I travelled interstate, I went to food fairs and farms,” Anthony says.

The shop carries more than 20,000 products and deals with more than a 1000 suppliers.

The likes of Raw Materials handle a range of products and producers, but many of the items that line the shelves of A.Bongiovanni & Son come from single-product makers so the work simply has to be done.

While the business does carry some cheaper items – incredibly cheap in some cases – Anthony is unapologetic about mostly following a top-notch philosophy that mirrors his own approach to food.

“Whether it be chips or sausages, I’m happy to pay a dollar more or eat a little less to get that high quality,” he says.

As we wrap up our conversation, we spend some time marvelling over photographs Anthony has of yesteryear scenes of Footscray such as the Western Oval, long-gone tram routes and shops.

Then he lends me a copy of Per L’Australia – The Story Of Italian Migration by Julia Church, a mind-blowing photo history upon which I plan to feast.

He tells me there’s further big plans afoot for A.Bongiovanni & Son, but only smiles when I press him for details.

Cooking classes?

Demonstrations?

Live music?

“There’s more,” he says with a smile.

And finally, he dismisses the moneybags suggestions.

“Everything here … I started from scratch.”

Heading back to my car, I stop by Sourdough Kitchen to inquire about how they feel about the new business just up the road, but they’re too busy to talk.

See earlier post here.

A.Bongiovanni & Son

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See profile of Anthony Bongiovanni here.

A.Bongiovanni & Son, 176-178 Victoria St, Seddon. Phone: 9689 8669

Our first visit to the flash new Seddon food emporium is in the early evening of opening day.

We only need a few things and are not intent on doing a serious shop, but are intrigued to have a good look around.

First impressions:

Having long been familiar with the furniture store that preceded it, we find it a little smaller than we expect.

But factoring in storage and refrigeration requirements, it all adds up.

The word we’d heard that this was going to be like a smaller version of La Manna at Essendon Airport has only partly eventuated.

On the one hand, this business is not going to put the supermarket around the corner out of business for the simple reason that – unlike La Manna – there is no loo paper or laundry powder or paper towels or … you get the picture.

Nope, here it’s strictly food and drink all the way.

On the other hand, like La Manna everything except the fruit and vegetables is packaged and packed and packaged again.

There’s a lot of plastic going on here.

There’s also a strong Italian factor, but they cover a lot of other bases, too.

At first blush, and with some notable exceptions mentioned below, this seems a pricey place.

Pricey, but top line just about all the way.

Whether it be ice cream, chocolate, pasta, antipasti, juices, ready-made curries or biscotti and much, much more, overwhelmingly most of the stock effortlessly falls into the “deluxe” category.

Finally, there is an undeniable “wow” factor.

Given the nature of the prices and the lines carried, it seems unlikely A.Bongiovanni & Son will be a staple of ordinary household shopping for us or just about anyone else.

But I reckon there’s little doubt it’ll become a regular stop when we want just the right kind of quality ingredients or just the right kind of treat we so often deserve.

Now that’s some really cheap pasta and tinned toms – although they have deluxe versions of both, especially the pasta.

The oil line-up looks pretty solid, although we didn’t stop long enough to get into specifics.

They have their own line of frozen stuffed pasta at a really good $3.49 – ravioli, tortellini and gnocchi.

It being the kind of night on which dad has nothing planned for dinner and we’re tired and uninspired, we grab a bag of the ravioli and a tub of Element bolognese sauce.

The beef ravioli we have a little later on are the best store-bought filled pasta I’ve ever had – no kidding!

Really, really tender with a nice nutmeg-infused flavour.

We’ll be having them again for sure, and trying the other two formats as well.

When it comes to the nuts and lollies, I think it’ll be a case of “prefer others” for us.

We’re really keen on hearing what other folks think of this long-awaited establishment!

Ms Baklover has got a more detailed post up at Footscray Food Blog.

She’s right to be in a celebratory mood – in our rush on a long and tiring week day, we didn’t even stop to marvel that such a place has opened up right in our neighbourhood!

Minestrone

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It’s winter for sure.

The freezer is more or less empty.

It’s time for a great big pot of goodness called minestrone.

Bennie’s not a fan, but I sure am.

Oddly, this Italian soup’s ingredients overlap with a variety of other dishes we make at home, but it is quite different from them all.

Minestrone is minestrone and they’re not.

I’m sometimes tempted to order minestrone when out and about.

But mine is better.

If there’s one Italian dish I do that could be called authentic, this is it.

Anyone who makes this soup knows that it’s better allowed to cool and then reheated. It’s even better the next day.

And, somewhat surprisingly, it does freeze well. Just leave out the pasta and be gentle in the reheating and it’s fine.

Many recipes tell cooks to use stock. Go ahead. I don’t bother with it these days – unless there’s some already at hand. Certainly, don’t buy stock. Water is fine!

Flicking through the various Italian cookbooks I use, pondering which minestrone recipe to follow, I finally say to myself: “This is ridiculous – I know how to cook this!”

So I do!

INGREDIENTS

Olive oil

1 large onion

1 large carrot

2 celery sticks, leaves and all

flat-leaf parsley for cooking

2 courgettes (I have decided to use this term from here on in, because I can never remember how to spell zuch … whatever …)

1 good handful of green beans

1/2 small savoy cabbage

2 medium spuds

1/2 can cannellini beans, or 1/2 cup dry beans soaked overnight.

1 can tinned tomatoes

1 stubby dried-up heel of grana padano or parmesan

Salt

Pepper

1 small handful of short pasta or broken up bits of long pasta

Parsley for serving

Extra virgin olive oil for serving

Padano/parmesan cheese for serving

Good bread for serving

METHOD

1. Chop onion, carrot, celery and parsley – not too big, not too small. Throw in pot with plenty of olive oil and cook on medium heat until wilted.

2. Add spuds, courgettes, green beans – chopped likewise.

3. Add beans and chopped up tin tomatoes and their juices. These beans had been soaked overnight but not cooked before being added to the soup. They cook fine and tender in the time it takes for the whole soup to come together.

4. Add cheese heel.

5. Season with salt and pepper.

6. Add enough water/stock to cover by about an inch.

7. Cover and cook on a slow simmer for about an hour or an hour and a half.

8. Turn heat off and let soup cool for several hours if you have them available.

9. Reheat gently.

10. Add pasta 10 minutes or so before serving.

11. When pasta is cooked, ladle into bowls.

12. Garnish with more chopped parsley, drizzle with virgin olive oil and grate cheese over all if using.

13. Serve with some great bread on the side, grilled/toasted if you prefer.

N-Joy Gourmet Foods Salami & Goats Cheese Pizza

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Seen those vacuum-packed pizzas that seem to have become all the rage of supermarket stockists in the past year or so?

There seems to be several suppliers providing them to all our regular supermarket haunts.

They certainly look nice with their sort-of fresh ingredients on display – they look much better, in fact, than your normal supermarket pizzas from the freezer, which we’d never consider buying.

We’ve tried a number of them by now.

Some have been OK.

Just.

Some – most – have been awful.

Even when the toppings have passed muster, the problem has been getting the pies crispy – despite following the cooking instructions scrupulously.

Crispy?

Nah.

More like flaccid, limp, soggy.

This is our first road test of a N-Joy Gourmet Foods pizza.

As well as the advertised cheese and meat there’s olives and artichoke bits. Well actually, they’re more like artichoke shavings.

Get the oven real hot and into it goes our pizza.

After fives minutes or so the verdict is … hmmmm, certainly smells the business.

When it’s just about done, a big bubble has, um, bubbled up in the centre of the pie.

Out of the oven it comes to be sliced.

The spicy salami rather heavily dominates.

The goats cheese tastes good but it’s a bit overwhelmed and there’s only so much of it.

The olives and artichoke shavings are relegated to decoration status.

Happily, though, it has form and structure – it’s something approaching crispiness and a slice can be held in one hand rather than two.

This is the best of its ilk we’ve tried … so far.

Meanwhile, it’s fair to say that those pizza purists who start from scratch AND those more pragmatic folk who use store-bought bases or even pita bread really do have a point.