599 Elizabeth St, Melbourne. Phone: 9329 2599
When it comes to Italian eatery styles in Melbourne, I reckon there are roughly three.
There’s the flash and the cutting edge – top ingredients, zealous efforts at authenticity, high-end prices.
I’d eat this food more if I could afford to.
Think Florentino, Bottega, Sarti, Il Bacaro.
Then there’s your bog standard suburban pizza/pasta joints – perhaps not so much Italian as mostly Aussie, though I know they have a place in the hearts of many.
Can’t say I’m with them – I don’t like pineapple and processed ham.
Then there’s a third style of Italian dining in Melbourne, one of which I’m very fond and find immensely comforting.
I think of it as “old school”.
It usually has a touch of the ’60s or ’70s about it and mostly seems a product of early waves of post-war immigration.
Pelligrini’s is the most famous of its kind, but there’s quite a few others – the Italian Waiters Club, Sila in Brunswick St, Gelo Bar in upper Lygon St.
You generally won’t find food to make high-falutin’ critics swoon at these places. You will often get a good feed at a good price, almost certainly enjoy brilliant coffee and – perhaps most importantly – feel really, really welcome.
Cafe Perri, just up Elizabeth St from Vic Market, has that sort of vibe about it, even though it’s only been going three years.
I know about the place because I’d placed it on my mental “to do” list while making one my frequent visits to Classic Curry, which is right next door.
Frequent visits, that is, until we discovered the other Classic Curry in Sunshine.
Cafe Perri feels just right for my Saturday lunch. I don’t want spicy. I don’t want exotica. I want comfort food – and that’s what I get.
With only cursory examination of the menu, but after conversing with proprietor Eugenie Perri, I settle on penne bolognese ($9).
Eugenie, who hails from Calabria, hustles off to the kitchen and about 15 minutes later I have my lunch in front of me.
The sauce seems rather pale and little on the watery side at first. But it tastes grand, and has bits of fresh tomato and carrot in it. Best of all, it coats the dried pasta really well. I make liberal use of the grated parmesan dispenser to give the dish a boost and soon it is no more.
I ignore the two slices of white bread the come with my pasta – though in some ways I think they’re a hoot.
The Cafe Perri menu has a motto at the top: “Menu from $3 up to $19.”
It covers a range of typical breakfast options, or you can have risotto, various chicken dishes, pork sausages with salad and bread for $17 or housemade canoli for $4.
There are pizza slices to be had for $3.50.
There’s calzone of salami, bacon, cheese, olives and ricotta for $9, $12 or $14.
What’ll lure me back, with Bennie in tow, is the opportunity to sample the homemade gelatis.
I order a coffee as I take pictures of the interior and exterior.
Eugenie starts asking me about Consider The Sauce. He calls it up on his laptop, then insists on taking my photograph as I hook into a second coffee.
I wallow in the delicious feeling of reading newspapers for which I haven’t paid.
I delight in the fact the music – cool jazz, heaps of Van Morrison – is clearly, enjoyably audible, and fully part of my lunchtime pleasure, yet not in any way intrusive. That’s a neat trick that eludes many, many people in the restaurant business.
The boss and I discuss the hospitality industry, families, parenting, fatherhood – he has four kinds aged 9 to 21.
I like him.
I like his restaurant.
I don’t want to leave.
It’s that kind of place.
There are more pictures of Cafe Perri and an online menu here.