23 Riviera Rd Avondale Heights, VIC 3034
|Opening hours||Wed-Fri 8am-3pm; Sat-Sun 8am-4pm|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9337 7049|
OK, I'm just gonna come out and say it. Avondale Heights has Melbourne's best cannoli.
Originally from Palermo on the isle of Sicily, the geographic soccer ball mainland Italy kicks with its boot, these Italian pastries are made to a family recipe.
"When we first arrived in Australia, we moved to Avondale Heights. We've always been here," says Carlo Mellini who, with his buddy Anthony Calenda, runs Cannoli Bar, a cheery cafe dishing up home-style Italian classics in the suburb's residential backblocks.
In the kitchen are Carlo's mum and dad. Vincenza handles the savouries (arancini, pasta, piadini), while Achille, a Sicilian-born, third generation pastry chef, is on the sweet stuff.
"Avondale Heights is one of those areas that remains intact, in terms of Italian culture," says Carlo, who's lived here since the family migrated from Rome 20 years ago. "My whole street is Italian. Everyone grows lemons. Everyone grows olives. Everyone has vegie gardens out the front and out the back. You can hear Italian being spoken in the streets."
After the Arabs introduced sugarcane to Europe in the 14th century, the pastry shells filled with sweetened ricotta and mascarpone were born.
Made before Lent to celebrate Carnevale, a party-hard festival where people wear masks, play gender dress-ups, and get up to all sorts, the stiff pastry tubes are supposed to promote fertility, while dome-shaped cassata, with a cherry on top, reference female anatomy.
Having spent a few days recently scoffing cannoli in Palermo, Sicily, I'm happy to report Cannoli Bar's are as authentic as they come.
The pastry is made the way Carlo's grandfather, Enzo, taught his father, with flour, lard and a dash of marsala to form a hard shell that cracks and flakes, creating a satisfying mess.
"We make the shells every day," says Carlo. Achille and his brother Pierro are the dedicated cannoli slingers, making enough pastry for up to 2000 tubes each day, which they roll and fry in sunflower oil, then allow to cool.
The tubes are piped with classic fillings – my favourite is sweetened ricotta and mascarpone with lemon, dotted with choc chips one end and pistachio the other. Others take a modern turn: Oreo, tiramisu, Nutella, lemon meringue, almond custard.
It's a rustic place, hand-built with homely touches to recreate "that nostalgia of migration of the golden generation, the ones that started the Italian culture in Australia", says Carlo.
On the counter sits pizza by the slice with a thick base and minimalist, seasonal toppings. Alongside it is scacciata (Sicily version of calzone), perhaps filled with Italian pork sausage, potatoes and capers. Arancini come in four flavours – I love the three-cheese eggplant version, andthere's a daily pasta dish – on my visit it was beef cannelloni.
"I'm lucky I have a very good relationship with my family so, for me, it doesn't feel like work," says Carlo. "We're getting together every day and preparing a feast for people, like the way we eat ourselves."
Go-to Dish: Ricotta cannoli $4.50; pasta of the day $18.