Shopping basket smugness

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How do your regular shopping baskets shape up?

When compared to your fellow shoppers?

I’ll admit it – I can be quite smug about ours.

Although I’m pretty sure the only person to whom such smugness is apparent is myself.

I hope so anyway.

After all, I don’t go mouthing off in a superior way about it. Or at least not at the cash register.

Though I do occasionally ask our checkout chicks or chaps if ours is the healthiest (most righteous) basket that has passed before them during their day.

The answer is almost always, after a moment’s reflection: “Yes.”

I do know this for sure – our shopping invariably seems to feature a whole lot more fresh fruit and vegetables than those we generally see around us.

When I do a mental count, I’m frankly surprised by how little serious meat we buy – things such as roasts, steaks or even chicken bits hardly ever, and never from a supermarket.

So consequently we very rarely have to dispense with any of those ghastly polystyrene trays.

We don’t do frozen stuff at all, really. Not vegetables or pizza bases or anything else.

OK, we do peas.

We don’t do snack foods, either.

Lollies we do do. And good-quality corn chips – not the hard-as-nail salt-free organic types, but not horrid, toxic Doritos either.

But we’re far from perfect.

We haven’t figured out a way of buying milk and yogurt without also buying plastic.

Could be such is not at all possible anywhere in metropolitan Australia.

Our deli items and much else besides are likewise embraced in plastic of one sort or another.

Although I’m pretty sure that when it comes to dishwashing liquid and the like that there are more worthy and admirable ways of going about things.

Perhaps most reprehensibly of all, we still leave our places of shopping toting a handful of plastic bags, though they do get routinely re-used.

At least once, for school lunches, footy gear … that sort of thing.

One thing checkout folks have told me is that they’re regularly surprised by some of the items they see in their customers’ baskets.

As in: “Wow – I can’t believe anyone is actually buying that!”

So … how do your shopping baskets shape up?

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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Fresh On Young gets a revamp

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Fresh On Young, 34 Young St, Moonee Ponds. Phone 9375 3114

Fresh On Young – the subject of the second Consider The Sauce story – remains a reliable favourite for us.

It’s a bit out of the way, but when it fits in with our rambling, it’s a fine place for great prices and produce, fresh and otherwise, of many kinds.

So we’re excited to note the place is undergoing a significant revamp that involves use of space, until now used for loading/storage purposes, that will in effect double the width of the premises.

When I talked to him, manager Lee was reluctant to give too much away before the unveiling in a couple of weeks’ time.

But the gist of it seemed to be an accent on an extended fresh meat and seafood section.

He cited the retail environment, including of the ongoing Coles/Woolworths battle, as being proof aplenty that standing still is tantamount to going backwards.

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!

Tasman Market Fresh Meats

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Tasman Market Fresh Meats, 26-30 McDonald Rd, Brooklyn. Phone: 9318 9077

The last time we hit Tasman Market Fresh Meats in Brooklyn, it was a warm/hot summer day and we pretty much froze in the chilly interior.

It was just like shopping in a freezer.

In fact, doing business here IS shopping in a freezer, such is the quantity of chilled and frozen produce on hand.

On that day, we couldn’t muster enough of a shopping list to breach the $20 EFTPOS limit, so left empty-handed.

We suspect this is the sort of place more suited to larger family units than our two-person show.

Nevertheless, today Tasman happens to be on our route home from that morning’s rugby match and we are happy to stop and shop.

As well, the snag stand outside does fine duty in providing Bennie’s post-match snag – with onions, BBQ sauce, $2.50, thank you very much.

It’s a sunny Saturday morning but still very chilly, so the temperature seems the same inside and out!

We wonder if we’ll see any meat derived from the notorious “it’s raining sheep” incident of a day or so earlier and a few kilometres up the road!

Our meat-eating tends to be a matter of moderation and spontaneity inspired by both temperament and restricted fridge and freezer space.

So unlike most Tasman customers, we’re not here for the meat – though there is a whole lot of it.

There’s even a fairly extensive range of offal, but how the prices compare overall to other outlets and markets is difficult to gauge.

The lamb shanks, for instance, don’t seem any cheaper than anywhere else.

While there is a vast amount of plastic used in packaging here, the signage and the butchers on hand make it clear the service can be more customised and flexible than may at first appear to be the case.

We know someone who loves this stuff, and we no doubt eat enough of it ourselves on our periodic visits to charcoal chicken shops, fish and chip joints and the like.

But ours is not a mindset that would see us actually toting bags of the stuff home.

The best bargains we spy – and those that go in our basket – are of the dry goods variety.

Three cans of Mediterranea canned tomatoes for $2.

The big 700g bag of Le Serenate biscotti provides low-rent crumbly cookies, but still fine for school/work lunches.

Two packs of pasta for 88 cents each; some cheap olive oil for cooking so we don’t use the good stuff for same; some hot chilli pate just for fun.

Bennie and I have struck deal about the breakfast standoff – he’ll give the bought cereals away and eat the same as dad, just so long as dad does away with the white sultanas (“white maggots”) and uses other dried fruit instead for the muesli.

So we grab almonds, dried apricots and dates to join the oats already waiting at home.

We don’t recall – from previous visits – there being fresh produce here.

Truth be told, the Tasman range is not much more than basic, but does the trick I dare say for those wanting to cover their bases without making another stop on the way home.

We pick up an armful of bananas, some sweet potatoes, a $1 bag of mandarins.

It’s a little out of the way for us, so Tasman is unlikely to become a regular haunt.

But it’s been just the ticket today for us in a $37 shop that has set us up for the rest of the week.

As we leave, Bennie opines that it still seems more like a butcher than a supermarket.

And they don’t stock coffee.

New Footscray IGA – a quick tour

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Supa IGA, corner Albert and Paisley streets. Phone: 9396 1404

Our first ever visit to the new IGA – one part of the site that used to be Dimmeys/Forges – gets off to a sour start when I almost get into a somewhat heated argument with the Seventh Day Adventists manning a booth outside.

Luckily, I pull myself up with a stern admonition – “life is too short for this BS” – and head inside.

We are wielding a shopping list of very modest length, so check the whole place out – right around, and up and down every aisle – before we start throwing items in our basket.

The store is done out in urban-industrial, which would be a tad oppressive if it were not for the incredible prevalence of colourful products of Asian derivation.

Truth is, many of the Asian products seem to be of the highly packaged and processed snack food variety.

I’ve been told my sniffy disdain for such fare renders me thoroughly unfit for residence anywhere in Asia, particularly Japan.

So be it!

That said, in many ways this supermarket is a typical IGA – especially when it comes to non-food items.

This may be the only Australia’s only IGA sporting live seafood tanks, but I know there are supermarkets of other persuasions who do likewise.

The non-live unfrozen seafood range seems quite good.

On the other hand, the deli counter and bakery sections do little to impress.

The fresh produce selection seems pretty handy, but hardly offers staunch competition to nearby Little Saigon Market.

The fresh meat range seems particularly lame on this Saturday afternoon

All of which makes us think this may only be an occasional stop for us – when we’re in the area, ready to shop and figure and we can cover all our bases there.

We find bargains though.

There’s broccoli at $1.50 a kilogram, for instance, and Zafarelli pasta at $1 a 500g bag.

From the endless range of Asian sweets, savouries and frozen lines, Bennie chooses a Meiji Yan Yan Double Cream.

This turns out to contain biscuit sticks and strawberry and chocolate sauces to dip them into.

He loves it, of course, but tells me the ratio of sticks to goop is out of whack, and that he has to resort to scooping out the rest of it with his fingers.

Life’s so bloody hard sometimes!

Sims Footscray

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The deli section at Sims in Footscray is a winner.

Sims Footscray, 511 Barkly St, West Footscray. Phone: 9687 2117

The Footscray branch of Sims doesn’t get quite as much of our time or money as it used to.

Other places – the Circle in Altona, Sunshine Fresh Food Market, the combo of our local Yarraville IGA and the Village Store a few doors along – tend to get our shopping action these days.

Still, it proves useful still on occasion – it often depends where we’re heading home from.

Will the big boys squeeze Sims out?

According to a very short article at Wikipedia, the Sims family package of supermarkets is now down to two – Footscray and Werribee.

Stores in Hoppers Crossing and Sunshine have been sold and rebadged under the macPlus Retail Group banner.

The two remaining Sims stores are affiliated with IGA in some way, but I seriously wonder how the Footscray branch is going to deal with the growing pressure of rapid growth – the store backs on to Bunbury Village – and the arrival of the big boys.

The Highpoint development project currently being erected will house a new Woolworths supermarket, and just up the road from Sims there’s an Aldi and a Coles at the Central West.

We like the range of Black & Gold sweeties at Sims.

Sims stocks Bickfords cordials – bit not the bitter lemon flavour! Grrrrr …

They do stock muesli basics, though. The white sultanas and roasted almonds for same are obtained from Sunshine Fresh Food Market.

Sims often has pretty good specials. I’ll be interested to see how these super cheap Italian tomatoes scrub up.

For a store that has quite a robust Mediterranean flavour, the range of oils and pastas is on the humdrum side.

For some splendid reason, the Footscray Sims just about always has really cheap red capsicums.

I love the way the smell of them getting blasted in the oven fills up the house.

Peeling and seeding roast capsicum is one of those Zen things – you’ll end up with a puddle of mush if you’re in any way cranky, impatient or hasty.

So soothing to just let your fingers ease the seeds and skins away!

The deli section at Sims is definitely one of the store’s strengths, with a really excellent range of cheeses.

The meat section is no great shakes, but there are quite often specials on items that are approaching the date they’ll have to be disposed of.

We tried a couple of these rather fine-looking but affordable pizzas … and found them to be not very good at all. The Village Store in Yarraville has a different and better brand.

I’ve often been frustrated when being unable to find fresh coriander at Sims. And then, when I do find some, I find it’s $3 a bunch!

The bread and specialty biscuit arrays don’t do much for us, but we like the range of rolls and buns for work and school lunches.

The ATM comes in the flavour of free – for my cards, anyway!

In some ways, that we don’t use Sims so much these days is a little sad for us. It’s just the right size – you know, not too big, not too small.

And it’s eccentric and and has a heart, unlike its corporate competitors.

Long may it remain open!

What We Eat At Home: Part 1

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Bum Hummers pickled onions – spicy (but not too much), piquant and sour. I wonder why they’re called that?

Before it became an eventuality, it was initially presumed Consider The Sauce would be a compendium of eatery reviews and other stuff we get up to when out and about … AND stuff we get up to in our kitchen.

That has most certainly not turned out to be the case.

One reason for that is that we are daunted from doing so because of the number of high-quality blogs and websites around who do cover cooking at home.

Another reason is we reckon there is likely very little interest “out there” for any sort of ongoing rundown regarding our limited, rotating selection of meals, be they stews, soups, dals, salads or whatever.

We love what we do and eat at home, but certainly don’t expect anyone else to find it interesting.

A final reason is that there’s no reason why a food blog has to do it all, so we don’t.

Nevertheless, just for fun, very much for our own entertainment and as a matter of record, here we start a look at our kitchen regulars that may – or may not – turn into a series.

Yes, there are hipper and more righteous yogurts around, but we go through heaps, so this is an affordable, dependable option for us. For breakfast, for dessert with strawberries or mango, for raita, for tzatsiki.

Kiwi Gold – one shared each morning for breakfast. Life’s too short for the bitterness of regulation kiwifruit!

Look, anyone can go out and buy salt-free and/or organic corn chips. Whether they’d want to actually eat them is another matter entirely. We find these have just enough salt for flavour purposes. We love em! The newly available Mission chips are a viable substitute, but – damn! – they’re hard on the jaw muscles!

Weetbix for him …

… muesli – rolled oats, crushed oats, white sultanas, roasted almonds – soaked in milk overnight for me.

Something new for us – Istra snags from The Village Store. There are cheaper options available, of course, but gosh these are good!

Also a relatively new thing for us – cookies and biscotti and nougat from Pace Biscuits.

Coffee – just about any reasonable quality vacuum-packed product will do me, especially if it’s on special.

We’re happy to pay for and experiment with really good, boutique virgin olive oils … but so often we find we have run out when the only viable option available is the reliable Cobram range from our local supermarket.

Bickford’s cordials … Bennie prefers lime juice, Kenny prefers bitter lemon – if he can find it!

Jam – we don’t use a lot, and find a good-quality local product does the job just as good as imports, either fancy and high-priced or of the budget variety.

The Village Store – Yarraville

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6 Anderson St, Yarraville. Phone: 9687 8375

Like its predecessor in these premises, it may still have the FoodWorks name and logo emblazoned on the exterior, but proprietor Marc Heine is adamant his new venture will be known as The Village Store.

The T-shirts worn by the staff agree with him.

Marc and his crew have only been open a week or so.

This is our first official visit, Bennie and I in this case joined once more by Rakha, who first joined us on blog duty for a visit to Yummie Hong Kong Dim Sum.

We are sporting a modest mid-week shopping list and are interested to see how we fare.

The Village Shop in some ways initially seems to be captive to space restrictions, making it on some levels pretty much your typical small suburban supermarket – quite a broad range but not a lot of depth.

The fruit/vegetable and meat sections are both smaller the those of the neighbouring IGA, though the quality is high.

Marc is interested to learn that we did our fresh produce business, as per usual, down the road apiece at Dominic’s because we were specifically after Kiwi Gold kiwifruit and the smaller size of Fuiji apples, among other things.

If, as one poster at the Village Shop Facebook page pointed out, the new place has yet to command a “point of difference”, we are nevertheless appreciative of some of the speciality lines Marc stocks and even more pleased to somewhat unexpectedly find a couple of our utilitarian regulars on the shelves.

My suggestion is that if you have a beef or a suggestion, for sure take it up with the boss – he’s all ears, so to speak.

Just inside the front doors, on the left, is the Hausfrau Coffee Counter, signalling a collaborative effort between the Village Shop and the stalwart coffee joint/bakery around corner. It’s open from 7.30am to 12.30pm, but only for takeaways.

Then follow the bread, fruit/vegetable and meat sections – and even an ATM! We’re unaware as yet whether it’s a $2 or a $2.50 contraption.

The mainstream biscuit/cookie range leaves us underwhelmed so it’s a pleasure to lay eyes on the range of Italian and more speciality styles further back towards to deli counter.

That deli counter is modest in size but seems to cover most of the expected bases.

Best of all, is finding that the Village Shop stocks three essentials of our household – our favourite brand of corn chips and Black & Gold rolled oats and crushed oats.

We don’t tick off every item on our list, but manage to do so for more than I expect.

The wine section will have to wait until next time.

Bennie and Rakha thoroughly fail the mission I had set them – to each find the most crazy, whacky item they could.

We finish our shopping at Dominic’s before adjourning to Barkley Johnson for a well-earned coffee, hot chocolates and light-as-a-feather Greek-style yoyo’s.

New Seddon supermarket …

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It’s open – see a rundown of our first visit here.

Hot on the heels of news concerning a new supermarket in Yarraville comes another Consider The Sauce scoop – a new supermarket in Seddon!

It’s going to be in the premises of what has been for our entire western sojourn a rather unlovely and profoundly unbusy furniture store – two doors along from Sourdough Kitchen and right next door to greenie household goods outfit LoveLuvo.

The lovely lady in LoveLuvo tells me that …

*As far as she’s aware the new business will have no franchise affiliation with any of the supermarket chains.

*It will have a Mediterranean feel with an accent on fresh produce.

*It harbours some ambition to be something like a smaller-scale version of La Manna at Essendon Airport, though presumably with a proper deli counter/section.

La Manna Direct

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10 English St, Essendon Fields. Phone: 9026 9209

Essendon Fields is a bit like a cross between a shopping centre and an industrial estate – with an airport attached.

Having pre-planned my journey to avoid tolls – up Mt Alexander Rd and Keilor Rd, along Matthews Ave, turn right on to English St – I enjoy the drive, rubber-necking at many shopping strips. This can be a bit of trap, of course! Eyes on the road, Kenny!

I’d been hipped to La Manna by Consider The Sauce visitor Marine when she commented on one of our early posts – Fresh On Young in Moonee Ponds.

Having done some online sleuthing, I’m aware that I’ll be able to enjoy a lunch and a shopping foray at La Manna. I am bearing a fairly long, for us, shopping list. Our cupboards are bare!

My first stop is the La Manna cafe.

Considering the pronounced Italian and/or Mediterranean flavour of the whole enterprise, and the slogan “For the love of food” emblazoned outside, I expect more of the cafe. Maybe some soup and good bread, or some pasta.

Instead, I find an eating place with a few salads, some good-looking stuffed baguettes, pies and the like.

I’m hungry and not too fussy. I settle on a Bocastle Cornish pastie ($4) and a slab of frittata ($5).

The pastie filling consists of little more than potato strands and a very meaty-flavoured mince. It’s peppery and good.

The frittata is better. So packed with vegetables – leek, mushroom, carrot, tomato, capscum and even red beans – that it’s not even very eggy, it’s a satisfying and affordable lunch.

Then it’s out in the cavernous space of La Manna proper, one hand pushing a shopping trolley, the other grasping camera, shopping list nearby.

I start at the end that hosts the cheeses, cold cuts, antipasto items, meat and seafood, adjacent the cafe.

The glaring lights make taking photos a challenge.

Unsurprisingly, the range of products is amazing.

But I’ve already discovered my enthusiasm is dented by the amount of plastic used on all the meats, cold cuts and seafood. I’m no purist – we accept plastic shopping bags and re-use them at home – but this seems excessive.

And all that packaging means there’s no deli counter – and not much else by way of face-to-face inter-action with the staff.

This makes me realise that our food outings are about much more than a mere exchange of a credit card for goods. I miss the banter and questions and answers and humanity that are part of every transaction at our favourite shops, markets and stores.

As well, knowing I’ll be making a Greek salad for dinner, with no deli counter I am unable to buy a piece of fetta just right for the job, forced to settle for more than I want at a steeper price than I’d envisaged. Nor can I buy a handful of fresh kalamata olives. Worse, the packaged fetta, when I make my salad, manages to be both rubbery and tough.

There is, though, a lovely lady cooking up Hahns ‘Merican-style hot dogs and offering samples to customers.

And, yes, there are staff members everywhere, all of whom would no doubt be happy to help me.

But the stock seems presented in such a done-and-dusted way as to discourage individuality.

Moving on, I scoop up 500g bags of dried apricots ($5), roasted almonds ($8) and sultanas ($4) for muesli – not super dooper bargains, but not bad either. Likewise three sacks of Lowan rolled oats at $3.36 each.

The fruit and vegetables seem priced pretty much at Coles/Woolworths levels. And our local Sims in West Footscray is selling Fuji apples for under $5, a whole bunch less than La Manna.


Moving along once more, I start to find real fine buys:

It’s time to make a new batch of pasta sauce, so I grab up an armful of La Gina chopped tomatoes tins at 80 cents each.

A couple of packs of Reggia spaghettini cost $1 each.

Lavvaza Crema e Gusto coffee sets me back $4.

Best of all, I snap up a 500ml bottle of Olive Valley EVOO for $4. This product comes from Nar Nar Goon in Victoria and the price is amazing.

Serious shopping just about done, I toss in a parcel of mixed almond biscotti ($6.95). I have three of them at work that night. They are brilliant – moist, fresh and even better than I’ve had from the likes of Brunetti’s or Cavallaro’s.

Apart from the daily delivered “specialty breads”, it seems all the cakes, biscotti and so on are made on the premises.

If I find the La Manna experience a tad sterile, it says more about my preferences than anything else.

If I had a larger family to feed and La Manna was closer to home, it’d become a regular stop for sure.

I receive a nice surprise at the checkout counter – I’m eligible for that week’s 10% discount on my bill total, taking $71.08 down to $64.77.

Timing visits to coincide with such offers would seem to make a lot of sense.

In any case, I’ve applied for a customer loyalty card at the La Manna website, which can be found here.

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