Checking out the new Footscray Coles

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When it comes to supermarkets, Consider The Sauce is most definitely a Sims, smaller-is-generally-better kinda guy.

We’ll shop at the biggies but would never make a habit of it nor hold any of them in any great esteem.

Still, I’m interested to check out the new Footscray Coles on account of it being a significant local happening.

And I have friends who live nearby for whom getting basics such as milk – especially outside of regular hours – is something of a hassle. For them, Footscray Coles is of some significance.

As well, I’m interested in seeing what the manager’s claim to have tried hard to reflect the local cultural demography – spied in an advertorial feature in the local press – actually means in reality.

 

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The truth is, not a whole lot.

Of course, the quantity and range of multicultural products the store boasts is way more extensive than would have been the case, say, 20 years ago.

But I didn’t see anything that would see people switching away from Bharat Traders or India At Home.

And the signage seems to fall into something of “try too hard” category.

 

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I mean, what does “Authentic International Food” actually mean?

All is shiny and new and the deli counters have the sort of coverage routinely seen in big supermarkets these days.

 

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And, yes, the shelves groan with an extensive line-up of that depressingly awful “product”, bottled water.

The retail spaces opposite the checkout area are now occupied solely by Bakers Delight, Liquorland and the pharmacy.

 

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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.