26 October 2009

A Perfect Sunday Supper - A Trip to Lygon Street

Melbourne's Commercial Drive, without the hippies and d-bags.

Melbourne's Little Italy is legendary – and for good reason. One out of every ten Melbournians was either born in Italy or has Italian parents and the result is a city that takes its food – 'just like'a mama used to make' - incredibly seriously - sometimes a tad too much so.

After an afternoon spent at the Old Melbourne Gaol (that's jail to us North Americans) I strolled up to Lygon Street, the city's main Italian area and home to a plethora of authentic eateries – everything from gelaterias, pastry shops, pizza places, fine dining and coffee houses. It is a huge swath of people eating, whether they are sitting, standing or walking with a cone or latte in hand.

I was baffled by the sheer choice of places to eat – every place was packed and each one looked better than the next. So I did what any traveler would do – I asked a local.
“Excuse me, are you from Melbourne?” I asked the first group of people who walked by. They paused.
“Yes we ahhh.” They all said in unison, their lack of R sounds proving their Australian citizenship.
“If you could only eat at one place here on Lygon Street, which one would you choose?” They all looked around for a moment, as if stunned at the idea of being forced to choose only one. Suddenly one woman's eyes glazed over dreamily.
“DOC – I would eat pizza at DOC.” Everyone else in her party seemed galled that they hadn't thought of it first.
“Of course! DOC! You must try it. It's....”
“....amazing.” another friend finished.

With a recommendation like that, who was I to second guess? I headed straight there.

After over a year looking through phonebook sized- photo menus this is a revelation.

DOC stands for Denominazione D'Origine Controllata, a term given in Italy to products deemed worthy of carrying the name, Italian foods with ethics and authenticity that keep them from turning into breadsticks at Eastside Bloody Mario's, and it is owned by real live Italian speaking Italians (a rarity in Vancouver!) This Pizza and Mozzarella bar (a new trend that will hopefully pop up in my city soon) is set just off of Lygon on Faraday St – and I knew from the moment that I walked in and was seated that this place was different than the kitsch-fest Eye-talian joints lining the main road.

White walls, minimalist deli-nouveau décor, chalkboards covered in scrawling Italian – the emphasis is on the simple food, with no checked table cloths or chianti bottle candle holders in sight. The menu is populated with basic pizzas, anti pasti (including big chunks of hand torn fresh mozzarella) and salads, and the wine list, while small, contains a nice array of Aussie and imported offerings.

Wine and salt - this is what runs through my veins, ladies and gentlemen!

I ordered the most straightforward dish on the menu - the venerable Pizza Margherita. This simpler-than-simple pizza consists of three toppings: tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves. (I elected to pay a bit more and have them add buffalo mozzarella as well – a favourite!) I am not alone in thinking that a pizza joint can be judged on how well they are able to prepare a basic margherita - there is really no room for error in its simplicity. Sometimes the things in life that seem the easiest are actually the most difficult to execute properly. I paired my pizza with a glass of Panorama Shiraz, keeping with the whole “Hey, I'm in Australia” thing I have going....

In my next life I will be an Italian woman. Or Italian dog. Or goat. As long as I get to eat this all the time...

Twenty minutes later the pie arrived – a paean to the art of pizza. Yes – it was simple, but gloriously so – its lack of fancy, jazzy toppings allowing the basic beauty of its chewy, crispy crust and thin, fresh marinara sauce to shine through. The cheese covering the base was lovely but a little bland – but each bite with the buffalo mozzarella was a revelation. The delicate, almost watery nature of buffalo mozzarella seeped onto the pizza and transformed the crust into a creamy soft velvet, mixing with the sauce but never becoming soggy. Nothing overpowered another ingredient- it was me, some milk, some wheat and a tomato and it was perfect. Viva Italia.

See the wonderful watery runniness of it? They way it slips into the sauce? A perfect buffalo mozzarella.

Finishing my wine (using the tasting techniques I learned on my Yarra Valley tasting tour) I headed across the street for some dessert. Did I ever.

Brunetti is a Melbourne institution – a huge Italian patisserie/espresso bar dripping with marble and staffed by uniformed baristas and chic waiters. I decided that pizza wasn't enough – I ordered two, yes two, desserts and a cafe latte. You only live once – might as well clog those arteries and show 'em who's boss! Jerks.

"Less is More." - Most reasonable people.
"More is more." - Violet Dear

The chocolate canolli was a bit disappointing for me – a little greasy tasting with the chocolate filling more closely resembled a really firm cup of pudding rather than a rich creamy mousse. The Granatine, however, was wonderful – just barely sweet, a tad yeasty and filled with the smoothest, lightest zabaglione cream imaginable – I could have eaten 2 more but decided to call it a day so that I can hoist up my jeggings for a little bit longer...

Normally espresso makes me feel like a meth addict, but this one was mild and lovely.

Sitting in Brunetti as I slurped up my hot latte and ate decadent treats, listening to the musical lilt of Italiano surrounding me I really did feel like I was back in Italy. Lygon Street is such a vibrant, tasty neighbourhood – I think every city needs one.

A Little Italy with as many great dining options as Melbourne's Lygon Street is hard to find outside of the old boot, but I will keep trying.... and eating. And eating. And drinking wine..... with zabaglione cream. Now that's amore.


Geeta said...

It's 10:30 in the morning and you've got me craving a pizza... nicely done :)

I'm going to start praying everyday that I'll be able to travel like you do once I finish uni... you're my hero :)

Bookworm said...

This sounds sooo yummy!! I want pizza now.

Yet another scrumptious post.

Pat said...

Little Italy in Australia. Who knew?

No matter what time of day, no matter if I've just eaten. You always describe the food to make my mouth water. You DEFINITELY need to be a food critic, my dear.

Grant said...

there she was, just as you predicted - Beth Ditto of Gossip in a full page article in THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT on shedding their semi-obscurity of the past. While the GS is not the exactly the NME, you were on the leading edge of that wave.

3pages later on article on how bullies choose their victims by how they carry themselves and how posture promotes endurance in sports, work and life(travel too, with those long bus and plane trips). So i am proposing you be in the forefront of the next zeitgeist hot button issue. To check and see if u measure up, stand an inch away from the wall and see ur hips, shoulder blade and back of ur head touch. If they do ur looking good. Although not as spine tingling as new shoes, Clearly good posture IS the new black.

Stephanie said...

Thanks a lot Violet. Your pictures and stories have finally pushed me over the edge. Sam and I are heading down to Australia this June or July to see the family in Brisbane (and maybe Sydney too) and we're all talking about doing wine tours in Adelaide and Melbourne now.

I'm never going to get that nice condo I want...

Sam said...


Am at work so I can't post on Facebook, but I wanted to know if you knew about this blog, which has made me burst out laughing in the middle of work:


Anonymous said...

I loved this post! (is that still the little cam Mum left U?) If so? WOW! it captures really good frames! Gotta go, suddenly Im very hungry...

the fashionate traveller said...

Haha, I also say "More is more"! Tho usually about make-up and accessories... Great shots and descriptions. Waiting breathlessly for your new post :)

la ragazza d'oltremare said...

Ugh, I love your blog.

You should visit Sicily! The food is amazing.