So after a little break from the month of Melbourne, we are back on track with the last couple of posts.
I know all you Melbournites have already heard of Pellegrini's, and have probably been there 20 or so times. It's so 1950's. That's right. It is. Seriously. I think it opened in about 1954. That's what one of the waiters said, however I couldn't really tell if he was joking or not! This is generally the way with the staff at Pellegrini's, however more on that later. Even though this place has been blogged to death, it's such a cool little place, I wanted to tell you about it anyway.
When reading reviews of Pellegrinis you will almost always hear the word institution, because it definitely is.
Stepping through the door means you wave goodbye to modern dining convention and join a different time. The paraphernalia on the walls listing Pellegrini's as top Italian Restaurant in Melbourne during the 70's and 80's, and makes it clear that Pellegrini's have probably had their hay day- but even sans cutting edge cuisine, you must visit if you want an authentic, 1950's style experience with half decent, home cooked Italian fare.
Stepping into Pellegrini's reminds me of the old time Italian and Greek run cafes when I was growing up. You know, when the food was home cooked, the special happened to be what was left over from a weekend long cooking fest and if you knew the owners, they would also find some cannoli or baklava for you (I suspect from the family stash.)
The wait staff here are notoriously rude or flirtatious or cranky, depending upon who is there at the time. Sometimes you are lucky enough to have a waiter that encompasses all three traits. Taking a seat at the old school bar, I looked up at the board to see what my options were. There are no menus here guys, just what is on the board, and sometimes a special or two. I hear Fridays are good for gnocci. You can see lots of people are confused when it comes to protocol and you can't expect the waiters to help you out, in fact, I think they delight in people stuffing up a little and are a little sad when someone just nails the whole ordering thing.
After checking around, I noticed that quite a few were having the lasagne, and so decided that I would go - a - bowl. And when I say go - a - bowl, I mean literally G.G. vs a HUGE bowl of the stuff. I also said I wanted 'what he was having' - which turned out to be a watermelon and lemon granita, hopefully to help wash down the pasta.
The funniest thing is, when you order, the waiters either shout at the Nonna down the back preparing, or use a little two way sort of thing that reminds me of something you would see in the diner in Happy Days or Grease. This place really is the real deal.
The food comes out remarkably quickly, and the icy granita is cold and flavoursome- sweet watermelon with a bitter twist. So good, in fact, I have three or four over the course of the hour I sat at the bar watching the world go by.
Accompanying the lasagne are two pieces of bread, of which I left behind. I knew there was no chance of finishing the bowl if I ate the bread too and so I was forced to choose. The lasagne was satisfying. A bowl full of contentedness, shall we call it. After a week of eating out for every meal, and just about depart to the airport, this was exactly what I needed. Some simple, home cooked fare, that didn't push any culinary boundaries, but just made me happy.
Or maybe that was the waiters, who were swearing at each other in Italian, joking about and being horrendously rude to some customers, barely acknowledging them as they put their meals on the counter and signalled for them to collect. Hey, my Italian buddies taught me everything they know in regards to profanities, and I have to say, these guys were pulling out a few good ones and were shocked to hear me laugh when a particularly funny phrase slipped out! I couldn't understand what they said afterwards, (because as a 15 year old, the swear words are the ones that really stuck) but it was nice to have one up on them!
I visited at lunch time on a Sunday, and it's pretty fascinating to see all the wedding parties that come by to have their photos taken at Pellegrini's. The waiters have a laugh every time. Apparently, all the photographers tell couples they will take them to somewhere special, that no one ever goes to, and some fights have ensued when more than one bride has turned up at the same time.
This is all part of the theatre at Pellegrini's. In actual fact, it almost is like paying to go to a show, because this really is an experience, rather than somewhere you just go to eat. But you can go here just to eat, and I'm sure you will never leave hungry- because if you manage to get through a whole bowl of whatever pasta or soup you choose, there are always the Italian desserts that sit staring at you in the mirrors. After G.G. defeating the lasagne, I wasn't really ready to vs a massive piece of ricotta cheesecake too.
I'd love to have been a fly on the wall at Pellegini's over the years, I can't even imagine the frivolities and furious fights that would have occured but I'd think there would be many, mainly between the staff and a regular or two. I'd love to see someone document this place, maybe even a movie or a little book, because it's not often somewhere lasts for 60 years and still has the same benchtops. Actually, I'm still not even sure if that's the truth, but even if it's not, I'd like to believe it is.
When to go: Whenever you are craving pasta and are in the mood for a good laugh. Try to get a seat at the bar. It doesn't matter if you go alone, in fact, I think you are better off because the waiters will talk to you, and that is half the fun.
So, tell me readers, have you ever been to a place like this?
Pellegrini's Espresso Bar
66 Bourke Street
(03) 9662 1885 (although I'm not sure they would answer if you called)