Little Joe

3416 Warburton Highway, Warburton, VIC

All Details
Little Joe cafe in Warburton.
Little Joe's thin pizza bases blacken wonderfully on the stone. Photo: Eddie Jim

Nina Rousseau

"We've had people make bookings and walk out because we haven't got pineapple for their pizzas," says Greg McMahon, co-owner of Little Joe, a cracking new pizzeria that has unequivocally elevated Warburton's dining scene.

"Hawaiian" territory it isn't, but Little Joe is doing plenty right, opening on the town's busiest weekend – the Nordic Festival in May – and running flat-stick ever since.

It's owned by two local couples – McMahon and Madeline Reilly, and James Holdom and Amy Bliss – who met working at Innocent Bystander, a renowned pizzeria-winery in Healesville. Holdom cooks; the others wrangle front-of-house.

Little Joe cafe in Warburton.
Warburton's Little Joe cafe is doing plenty right. Photo: Eddie Jim

The foursome took over the former Polish Jester restaurant, gutting the century-old cinderblock building with sparkling results: white walls, Moorish-style tiles, red gum timber floors, and a wood-fired oven that took two weeks to "burn in".

Everything on the menu is made from scratch, from the house-baked Turkish bread to dip in olive oil and dukkah, to the breakfast pastries and the skinless sausage – a combo of pork mince and back fat, roasted fennel, garlic and paprika.

Snacky starters hang on Middle Eastern flavours, such as lamb shoulder rubbed with paprika, cumin and garlic, marinated for 24 hours in beer and sherry, and barbecued medium rare. It's tossed with green pickled chilli, fresh peas and feta, making a snazzy Lebanese-style salad.

Mini bisteeya-style pastries are tasty parcels, filled with a sweet-savoury mix of shredded duck leg.

Oh, and do try the bite-sized balls of arancini – they rock. Arborio rice is slow-simmered in a leek and fennel stock, then mixed with dill and a buttery leek and thyme fondant, and a nib of provolone that goes melty in the middle.

In terms of "name" restaurants, Holdom says he hasn't really worked anywhere "massive", and it's ironic that he failed pastry-making twice during his chef's apprenticeship but has since won accolades for his croissants and worked as head baker at Innocent Bystander. He has tried hard to create a pizza dough recipe that distinguishes itself from the rest – so, no sourdough. Litte Joe's bases have good flavour and chew, with fat crusts and ultra-thin bottoms that blacken nicely on the stone of the wood oven.

Topping combos include Istra calabrese with fior di latte and basil; garlicky potato with crunchy roasted walnuts and feta; and that soft pork sausage with onion and provolone and rosemary. And there's a pizza with "no green stuff" for the kids.

All up, a smart, professional operation, equally at home in Warburton as inner-city Carlton. McMahon and Reilly's hospitality background is solid: former Di Stasio and Melbourne Wine Room; and McMahon was a co-founder of Cicciolina.

"We wanted to set ourselves apart by doing something different," says McMahon, and they've certainly done that. Little Joe is a boon for Warby. Top job.

Do ... you know this pizzeria is named after Warburton's Mount Little Joe?

Don't ... forget to make a booking

Dish ... Any pizza

Vibe ... Date night, big group, family dinner — no worries

Twitter: @ninarousseau, or nrousseau@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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3416 Warburton Highway, Warburton, VIC

  • 03 5966 5635
  • Cuisine - Italian
  • Prices - Snacks, $5-$16; pizzas, $17-$22; desserts, $10-$12
  • Features - Licensed
  • Cards accepted - Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
  • Opening Hours - Thurs-Sun, 9am-9pm; Mon, 9am-4pm
  • Author - Nina Rousseau
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29 comments so far

  • No pineapple? Yeah, i'd walk out.

    Commenter
    Heath
    Location
    Date and time
    August 01, 2013, 1:14PM
    • Pineapple is the key ingredient to a good pizza..

      Commenter
      Wizgrant
      Location
      Date and time
      August 01, 2013, 1:36PM
    • And go to Dominos?

      Commenter
      Fred Phillips
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 01, 2013, 3:14PM
    • Pineapple on a pizza is an abomination unto the Lord. Merely asking for it should lead to permanent excommunication from the Church of Pizza.

      Commenter
      Anthony
      Location
      Date and time
      August 01, 2013, 4:09PM
    • +1. pineapple is a fruit, not a pizza ingredient. Shame!

      Commenter
      frank
      Location
      Date and time
      August 01, 2013, 4:29PM
    • no pineapple? we will venture out to the ends of the earth to try this place immediately, for it surely must be worthy!

      Commenter
      frank
      Location
      Date and time
      August 01, 2013, 4:30PM
    • @ Frank..so what about tomato? It's fruit to. I don't see you getting all authentic nor accurate about that.

      Commenter
      Gordie
      Location
      Inner Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 01, 2013, 6:18PM
  • So not having a Hawaiian is some kind of selling point? How does that work if it's ok to have Levantine cuisine on the menu? Food snobbery might be ok if it is based on an appeal to excellence and purity, but when it is just somebody's poorly reasoned ideas about what is 'in' or 'out', then we need to call that for what it is: pretentious.

    Commenter
    Craig More
    Location
    Date and time
    August 01, 2013, 1:29PM
  • OMG, a review of a restaurant more than 15kms east of the CBD!

    'bout time.

    Sounds like fun, I'm gonna check it out.

    Commenter
    Gee Emm
    Location
    Date and time
    August 01, 2013, 1:33PM
    • Yes, a review outside the inner hippy suburbs...how strange???
      Someone in this newspaper has moved into the real world!! Must check it out!

      Commenter
      Alex
      Location
      Date and time
      August 02, 2013, 10:32AM

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