135 Victoria Avenue Albert Park, VIC 320603 96907960
|Opening hours||Mon-Thurs, 5-10pm; Fri-Sun, noon-10.30pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
It opened quietly, without too much fuss, and then - boom! - baysiders flocked to DOC Albert Park like seagulls after a chip. ''Within an hour we had people,'' says Tony Nicolini, who's been amazed at the insta-crowd. ''Ronnie gets in quite a bit.''
Ronnie? That's Di Stasio, don't you know, winner of this year's Legend Award in the The Age Good Food Guide 2014.
Nicolini worked at Di Stasio's then-famous Rosati restaurant in 1986. Now, 27 years later, he owns DOC Espresso, DOC Delicatessen, DOC Carlton, DOC Mornington, and two-month-old DOC Albert Park - ranked among the Guide'sbest pizzerias.
It started in 1997 with Pizza Espresso, the Templestowe restaurant led by dad Vito that established the Nicolinis as artisans. ''Pizza,'' Nicolini says, ''that's what my dad taught me. Pizza is our culture.''
It hasn't always been a smooth ride. Nicolini says he's been ''hauled over the coals'' for hiring Italian nationals instead of locals, and then there was the total doozy in April when a three-centimetre bristle broke off a wire cleaning brush, and was baked on a DOC Mornington pizza, sending a man to hospital. The diner recovered and Nicolini was gutted. The group was fined $60,000.
Such an incident might have destroyed a lesser restaurant - or restaurateur - but Nicolini's following was too loyal, the DOC brand too robust, the pizzas too good. He estimates DOC group has made 1.3 million pizzas - not a bad track record.
Which brings us to DOC Albert Park - slick, modern and fast-paced, with an all-Italian staff of mostly male waiters, a pizzaiolo (pizza maker) from Torino, a long marble bar, pressed-metal ceilings, and Italian meats and cheeses hanging in the glass display. ''It's like a grown-up DOC,'' Nicolini says, ''More polished.''
Riccardo Bianchini has come on board as a partner. The menu has been tweaked, adding some grain salads to the backbone of carbs, such as farro with fresh ricotta.
For starters, there are plump, white Sardinian anchovies, or premium cheeses from the mozzarella bar.
The pizzas are cooked on stone, the ultra-thin bases crisp yet yielding, the fat crust bubbled and charry. Gosh, they're good.
There's the big seller, the San Daniele with fresh buffalo mozzarella and juicy prosciutto. My favourites are Pizza 2002, the bitter chicory offset with creamy gorgonzola and lemon, and the classic red-white-green margherita with passata, mozzarella and basil.
For spice, try the Cornuto, with hot salami, peppers and Calabrian nduja. And check the special: on my visit it was venison sausage, with stalky chiodini mushroom.
At 75 seats, it's squishy - and noisy - and Nicolini is looking at sound-absorption solutions. But it's all part of that Italian buzz, and DOC Albert Park scores A+ on atmosphere - and food.
Do … Try the parmesan gelato with aged vincotto.
Don't … Like noise? Perhaps get takeaway.
Dish … Any pizza.
Vibe … Energetic and buzzy; great for a gang.