Al Albero

354 St Georges Road, North Fitzroy
Phone: 9486 3233

You know, when people say ‘good pizza’ to me these days, I immediately think of a thin crust, minimalist toppings, and hopefully there’s goat’s cheese somewhere in the mix. Al Albero is pretty much the antithesis of that (except for the goat’s cheese bit) and yet there’s no denying it’s good pizza. If not great pizza.

I was first taken there by @essjayeff for a quick dinner with half of the Phat Preston trivia team before heading to the Gastronomica quiz a few weeks ago. On that visit, I thought I’d abstain from documenting, because, well, sometimes it’s nice to take the night off. And also my spidey-senses warned me that fellow foodbloggers might get a little judgey judgey about my iPhoneography.

On my return visit, unfortunately the duck pizza – yep, you read correctly, DUCK PIZZA – had been taken off the menu. I was told that the removal was temporary, and a new menu should probably be in place by now. This return visit was another pizza date, and was very much the antithesis of the Papa Gino’s excursion. The pizza was good, and so was the conversation. And the fella. But again, digress much?

We ordered two pizzas – a medium lamb pizza, and a small of the Albero. We really should have ordered two smalls.

The lamb pizza is topped with meat that’s been stripped off slow-roasted lamb shanks, big hunks of tomato, goat’s cheese and fresh herbs. The base is much more doughy, like a foccacia, so expect to fill up quite quickly. Though the duck pizza is more exciting on paper, I think the lamb pizza is definitely my favourite here.

The Albero is a vegetarian option, with pumpkin, goat’s cheese, capsicum and a whole lot of fresh basil to top it off. It’s good, but I probably would’ve added lamb to it, if I had my way.

There are a lot of reviews on urbanspoon about this place, saying the service is slow and sucks, and the pizza is thick and soggy, but I personally haven’t had any bad experiences there. Both nights I went were quite quiet, but I imagine there would be quite a wait if the place were busy, as it’s only a one or two person operation, in a tiny kitchen, where everything is made from scratch. So you should factor that in, if you’re planning to go.

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Papa Gino’s

221 Lygon St, Carlton
Phone: 9347 5758

There’s a time and a place for everything in life, so they saying goes. I’m not sure who said it, but they’re a very forgiving soul. Because conversely, life’s too short to [insert something negative here]. My insert negative is [go on bad dates].

Recently single again, I’ve started picking up the pieces of my life and going through that strange process known as ‘moving on’. It’s strangely coincidental, but every time in my life that has marked the end of a significant relationship, has also been marked by my moving house. But I digress. I recently went on a date, which life was too short to have really happened. I won’t go into details, because you’re reading to find out about Papa Gino’s, not the travails of my dating adventures. That’s another blog entirely!

After a couple of beers, which impaired my judgment somewhat, I agreed to move on for dinner. Since I was a bit inebriated, I was quite happy when he suggested pizza. I’m a patient guy, so I thought I’d give the conversation a chance to improve. I also thought it might still be early enough for us to get a table at D.O.C.. Alas, I was wrong on both counts. So given my relative inexperience and lack of knowledge about pizza on Lygon St, we ended up going to Papa Gino’s.

I won’t lie and say I’ve never been there before – I used to go there very occasionally for work lunches – but I’ve never really liked the place. It’s a bit too bustle-y, the chairs are uncomfortable, the lighting is strangely bright, and well, the pizza is mediocre. The only saving grace is that when the place isn’t too busy, the waitstaff are charming. But in the evening, it’s usually busy.

This night, he ordered the quattro gustri. Out of these, I think the margherita was probably the best corner. I’m really not a fan of shredded ham on my pizza. It makes me think of McCain’s frozen pizza, and let me just say, as far as pizzas go, McCain never did it once, let alone again. The other mushroomy and olivey corners weren’t terrible, but weren’t much to write about either, so I won’t.

Always one for carb-on-carb action, I ordered the campania, which was topped with diced tomato, mozzarella cheese, potato, onion, prosciutto. It wasn’t a bad combination of ingredients, but the quality and the execution let it down, I think. The tomatoes, which while obviously fresh, were under-ripe, and therefore a bit bland and watery. The potato was sliced too thickly, and this made the pizza feel a lot heavier than it needed to be. Similarly, the onion was a bit too chunky, and could have been cooked a little longer, too. The prosciutto was fine, but it’s hard to stuff up prosciutto, right? I’m going to try to be positive here and say the herbs were a nice blend of oregano and rosemary.
I wouldn’t recommend Papa Gino’s – at least not for pizza, and not for a date. Perhaps if you’re wanting somewhere for a group of colleagues to go for lunch? Perhaps. Even then, I’d stay away from the pizza.

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I Carusi

46 Holmes St, Brunswick
Phone: 9386 5522

For the best part of a decade, I lived in Brunswick. As a suburb, it will alwys hold a special place in my heart, even though it’s already very different from the place I once knew. I remember when I Carusi became the place to go for pizza, back in the early to mid-2000s. There was so much hype, and it being in my neighbourhood, of course I ignored it and never got around to going.  One of the paradoxes my foodblogging activities produces is that I actually hate crowds, and I loathe the idea that a place is ‘completely packed’ or that I’ll need to queue for a table; yet trying out the new ‘cool’ places often means I end up throwing myself in just such situations.

It’s been a good half a decade since I Carusi was the ‘it’ place to go. But when I stopped in on a Sunday night with Mr R and his friends Mr S and Ms C, it was still full. This might explain why we waited about fifteen minutes for our wine to be brought, only to be presented with the wrong bottle, which I had to take back to the kitchen personally to have exchanged, after the waitress disappeared for another five minutes. We got there in the end, I suppose.

I ordered the ‘pizza for a friend’. Pumpkin, pine nuts, rocket and goat’s cheese. If there’s ever goat’s cheese on a menu, you can be pretty sure that I’ll order it, at least 75% of the time.

The pizza was good, if a little oily. I thought it was also lacking a little in the salt department, but perhaps that’s just the style.

Mr R and Ms C both ordered the pizza with the prosciutto and the porcini mushroom. Which they both promptly finished. The wait had made us all a little hungry!

I can’t quite remember what was on Mr S’s pizza, but there looks to be some rocket and a whole lot of Parmesan cheese on top!
We were all tempted by the dessert menu, because, well, it’s dessert. And on a chalk board. I suspect desserts seem more special and seasonal on a chalk board. Even when they’re not.

Mr S and I both saw the words chocolate pizza and got excited. So we decided to share the dark chocolate pizza with pear. It came with a vanilla ice cream that was pretty awesome, and it was a bit messy to eat.

It was a bit of a shame that the pear was blandsville, because that was the only problem with it, but it was also the most lingering memory of the dish.

Mr R and Ms C had more refined tastes (or less chocolatey ones)and opted for the vanilla ice cream with fresh berries.

I’m not sure I’d go back to I Carusi in a hurry. There are places around which are putting up better pizza for comparable prices. Though that being said, I probably wouldn’t avoid the place. You know what they say, pizza is like sex: bad pizza is still pizza.

I Carusi on Urbanspoon

Baden Powell Hotel

65 Victoria Pde, Collingwood
Phone: (03) 9486 0811
http://www.badenpowellhotel.com/

For the past year, it’s been a bone of contention as to whether the Prince Patrick Hotel or the Baden Powell Hotel should be called my local. Well, there’s also the Peel, but this isn’t that sort of blog. So you can pretty much triangulate the exact co-ordinates of my house, for those playing along at home.

Anyway, having been here on a couple of occasions before, and being pleasantly surprised by the quality of the pizza, I recommended that Alex of the MSG should add it to the Pizza Battle list. He was a little dubious, but the opportunity arose, so we went down to test it out.

We started off with some snacky stuff; chips are always a good thing to judge a pub’s kitchen on, I think. We also got the arancini.

The chips were pretty top notch. Thick cut, they were crispy outside, and soft and fluffy inside. The aioli that came with them was pretty good too, though not particularly garlicky. More like mayo, really. The arancini were significantly bigger than I thought they would be, and you could probably just have the dish on its own for lunch, though a side salad might be a nice accompaniment. They’re filled with a bit of beef sugo (bolognese) and some mozzarella so you can have fun stretching the cheese about when you cut into it. Dey wuz some good rice balls.
We followed this up with the Bruta – salami, bocconcini, artichoke puree (and not mentioned on the menu, but quite plainly, basil was on there). When it arrived, Alex was immediately bothered by the amount of oil floating across the top of the pizza. And while there was quite a bit, i don’t think it was really the Gulf of Mexico, and that’s sort of to be expected when you order a pizza with salami on it.
The base was pretty good – crispy yet with a bit of bready give, it wasn’t too dry, and had a nice charred flavour from the oven. That being said, it was no D.O.C. or Ladro crust. The toppings were generous, and the chilli oil provided as a condiment wasn’t really necessary. The thought of adding more oil was a little off-putting, actually.

All in all, the Baden Powell is a great, relaxed place to share some good pizza with friends. The service was nothing short of impeccable – friendly to the point of charming, efficient and responsive almost to the point of being pre-emptive – though it was pretty empty, so the staff weren’t particularly stretched that evening.

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+39 Pizzeria

362 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9642 0440

I had been invited to go along to one of the pizza battle heats being organised by Alex of the MSG blog. I rushed off early from the Moortangi Estate tasting to meet @alexlobov and @jillianjtl for some pizza battle tasting, around the corner at +39. It was jammed full of people, with quite a few milling around the entrance as I stumbled in. These people looked a little peeved at me when I walked right past them and found Alex and Jillian already seated at a table up the back.

+39 is the creation of the people behind D.O.C., and style of pizza is pretty much the same. The vibe, however, is much more urbane, with exposed concrete everywhere, and moodier lighting. And yes, it was a very busy Thursday night, but the service was patchy at best. We had to ask twice for our drinks, were presented with menus after we had already ordered, and waited about half an hour before even receiving our drinks. Thankfully, the pizza came not too long after.


Alex ordered something off the specials board, involving Italian sausage, some fancy mozzarella (scamorza?) and silverbeet. It was pretty good – I liked the sausage, but we’ll not go into my history with Italian sausage, because this is a family blog.

I have a soft spot for broccoli on pizzas (I’d like to think it’s because it creates the illusion of nutrition, but it’s actually I just like broccoli a lot) and when I saw that +39 had paired it with anchovies (see my D.O.C. post about the quality of their produce) my decision was made for me. This pizza was pretty great, though after about two slices, I found myself following Jillian’s lead and adding some of the pickled chillies to it for a bit more of a kick.

Jillian ordered a pizza with another fancy cheese – taleggio? fontina? – truffle oil and rocket. It’s hard to go wrong with the heady earthiness of truffle, so keeping it simple here was a good idea.

I liked +39, despite the lacklustre service. I’d say wait for the hype to die down somewhat, and hopefully it’ll be a better experience for you.

+39 Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Bimbo Deluxe

376 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9419 8600
www.bimbodeluxe.com.au

Bimbo Deluxe is an odd place. From the large bulbous glass bottles of infused vodka above the bar, to the strange little bell-shaped room with the funny accoustics up the back, it’s got a mix of character and enterprise that never really gelled for me. That aside, cheap pizza is a pretty strong draw-card. With $4 pizzas at most peak periods (except Friday nights), it’s hard to argue. Especially with pizzas that are pretty good, even if they’re not on par with Ladro or D.O.C. And even when they’re not $4, they’re still pretty cheap (most under $10).

This visit, I was going to order the agnello (lamb) pizza, as I’ve had it before and it never fails to satisfy, but on Alex‘s Foursquare recommendation, I opted for the fontina and potato pizza.


Such intense cheese, and carb-on-carb goodness, how is it possible to go wrong? They didn’t go wrong, but I should note this pizza is pretty heavy going once it starts to cool. You really start to feel the stodge of the potato and cheese combination.

Mr D had the roast pumpkin and pine nut and rosemary pizza.


The pumpkin, again, is a little heavy, and its sweetness makes it quite rich. The rosemary is a naturally great foil for this, and pine nuts are well toasted and plentiful.

While it isn’t somewhere I’d go on a first date, or take my family out for a meal, it’s a casual, if somewhat grungy – both tables we sat down at had pizza debris and there were no staff around early evening bussing or cleaning – place which serves up decent pizza which is so cheap you can afford an extra beer or two!

Bimbo Deluxe on Urbanspoon

Soto

517 Malvern Rd, Toorak
Phone: 9826 8815
http://www.sotodiningroom.com.au/

I had the good fortune of tagging along to the tail end of one of Mr N’s friends’ birthday celebrations the other night. The group was moving on for dessert, but I had yet to have dinner. Thankfully, the kind folk at Soto (short for South of Toorak, the new incarnation of Pizza e Vino) still kept the kitchen open late on a Tuesday night. It was also their official opening night, renovations having been finished over the weekend.

Soto has a modern feel to it, with architectural ruses such as curtains to separate dining spaces, and a good mix of traditional and communal dining. Being a large group, we took over the large square table which dominates the front area of the restaurant. The service was responsive, welcoming and generally very convivial.

For my late repast, I chose one of the pizzas from the menu. It was a decent thin crust, with prosciutto, confit potatoes, asparagus and ricotta(?) artfully placed, topped off with some fresh basil and what I think was baby cress. It was very tasty, though I’m not 100% sure the asparagus was necessary.


The rest of the group meanwhile indulged in desserts and coffee. Here’s a look at Mr N’s chocolate fondant, which looked deliciously gooey, and there was a chorus of approval from around the table for the various desserts.

I was impressed by this new version of Pizza e Vino, and hopefully I’ll be back soon to try some of the mains from the menu. I’m fairly sure I remember seeing belly pork on there!

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D.O.C.

295 Drummond St, Carlton
Phone: 9347 2998

When my friend Ms J comes to visit from Sydney, it’s often hard to find a place to go for dinner. Ms J was originally from Melbourne, so she knows all the old favourites, and there’s something of an onus for me to try to take her somewhere ‘new’. (New is a relative term here, as she moved to Sydney a few years ago.) I can’t really take her out for Thai or Japanese food, because let’s face it, while I love many of our Thai and Japanese restaurants in Melbourne, Sydney pretty much does it better. So according to Ms J, one cuisine in which Melbourne wins hands down is Italian. Last time she visited, we went to Donnini’s. This time, I thought pizza was in order, so we wandered down to D.O.C.

It was a Sunday night, and the place was pretty much full. People were waiting about 20 minutes for a table inside, but seeing as the frigid Melbourne winter hadn’t kicked in yet, we were happy enough to sit outside, even though in hindsight, it meant that we had to pretty much inhale the pizza to eat it before it got cold. Which isn’t really too far from my regular pizza-eating practice anyhow, I guess. Oh, and being outdoors in the streetlight is what accounts for the extremely poor lighting in the following photographs!


D.O.C. is one of those thin crust, minimal toppings pizza joints. I’m not an authority on the subject, but general consensus is that this is the more ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’ style of pizza. I can see why this style has gained ascendancy, being considered more ‘high-end’, because the minimalism really highlights the quality of the ingredients, and there’s not really any way for the restaurant to hide a poor or mediocre product. Thankfully, D.O.C. doesn’t need to hide anything. The base – the base! – is superb. Thin, crispy yet yielding, without the breadiness which you get at a lot of pizza places. I think it’s a toss up between D.O.C. and Ladro as to which has the best crust in town (that I’ve tried). You should check out MSG’s Pizza Battles for a definitive competition.


Ms J ordered the Pizza D.O.C., with the house special buffalo mozzarella and basil. The mozzarella really is something worth trying; it’s one of those “I don’t care if I’m lactose intolerant and I’ll pay for this later!” moments.


I had the Pizza Napoletana, because I had a hankering for anchovies that night. This pizza delivered, in spades. Beautifully salty, oily goodness. Tempered by the slightly acidic tomato and the rich mozzarella. This combination just really works for me. One sad note: I had a pip in one of my olives, which was a little unexpected. I’ll still be back for more, nonetheless.

D.O.C. Pizza and Mozzarella Bar on Urbanspoon

Little Creatures Dining Hall

222 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone:
(03) 9417 5500

I’ve been to Little Creatures a few times, and while I love the concept, there’s something not quite right about it. It might be the lack of accoustic planning, which leads you to have to speak rather loudly to your friends across the table. But that just encourages you to lean closer, and become mre intimate with your loved ones, right? Good thing. It might be that the service is a bit patchy, but then when a waiter or waitress does arrive, they’re almost unfailingly charming. I don’t know what it is, but much as I’m happy to go there, I wouldn’t plan a get-together there. But that’s probably just me.

Enough of that, onto the food. Mr N had the pizza with corn and chorizo – and feta? I forget – which had a satisfyingly crisp base, and good, clean flavours. I like the little dough bubbles on the edge.

I was feeling a little seedy, so I opted for a cheese kransky and some hand-cut chips. Which were so very moreish. I’m a sucker for potato skins. And aioli. Was it aioli? Was it mayo? I really have to post these things sooner – I forget. It was good, anyway.

Little Creatures Dining Hall on Urbanspoon

Fuel Espresso Bar & Cafe

4 Margaret St, Moonee Ponds
Phone: 9375 4499

I don’t go out for breakfast on weekends as much as I used to. I think living for a while in Viet Nam changed my tastes somewhat in terms of what I like to eat in the morning. I still really miss the fact I could run downstairs from my place and grab a banh mi (Vietnamese pork roll) or some xoi cuc Ha Noi (Hanoi-style sticky rice with chrysanthemum) or even a quick bowl of pho.

So when Mr N suggested we go out for breakfast last Saturday, I wasn’t sure what to get from the menu. I settled on a breakfast pizza, with salami, bacon, mushrooms and spinach. And yes, that IS indeed a poached egg with hollandaise sauce on the top. Given the hung-over state I was in, this pizza didn’t just hit the spot, it nailed it.


Mr N had the (massive) omelette with cherry tomatoes and chorizo. I didn’t try any, but the omelette looked very fluffy, and the chorizo was sufficiently spicy enough to challenge Mr N this early in the day.

The service was quite attentive, and though the meals did take about 25 minutes to come out, they had warned us of this in advance, and it seemed fair enough, as the place was very busy.

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