19 Lincoln Square S Carlton, VIC 3053
PIETRO BARBAGALLO. INDUSTRY types have strong opinions on this pizza and pasta wunderkind.
Matt Preston, the former custodian of these column inches, was a big fan, along with umpteen pizza diehards, who keep track of chefs' career hops the way others keep track of AFL footy cards.
I Carusi was where Barbagallo made his name as an artisan pizza pioneer, blazing the trail in Brunswick East. I Carusi II (St Kilda) came next, then L'uccellino (Yarraville) and the ambitious Barbagallo Trattoria e Cucina (city), which shut unceremoniously in March last year.
Now, in a quiet offshoot near Lincoln Square, Barbagallo is back in the kitchen of his family's pizzeria. "Cooking is what I love to do," he says. "I guess I don't know how to do anything else."
Barbagallo has gone back to how it all began with Kaprica and this modest neighbourhood place feels right. There's the right amount of rusticity: stripped-back concrete (because he buggered up the paint job, he will laughingly tell you), whitewashed walls, exposed bricks and beams, deco lights and dark wooden tables - classic and simple.
At 52 seats, it's small enough for Barbagallo to run himself, with a kitchen in the heart of the dining room, the bench loaded up with grill-striped eggplant, artichokes, broccolini and Italian cheeses stowed in the fridges below.
His style is more Sicilian than Neapolitan. His oven is electric and he reckons "the wood-fired thing is a bit of myth", unless you're cooking with olive wood, "but then you're going to be naturally romanced because then you're in Naples anyway".
Whatevs, as the young folk say - the pizza is very good, the base fluffy and crispy all at once; thin but sturdy enough to hold the traditional toppings.
The broccoli pizza is a winner, with a hefty scattering of broccolini, melted mozzarella, chilli flakes, shavings of parmesan and a spritz of lemon.
Capricciosa will please its fans, with leg ham, artichokes, black olives, mushroom and mozzarella. There are breakfast pizzas, too - egg and spinach; pancetta and mushroom.
Potato gnocchi is borderline soft but overwhelmingly yummy with a cholesterol killer of rich gorgonzola, cream and parmesan.
Belgian chocolate - dark, milk, white - oozes from a hot, crisp calzoncino shell, dusted with icing sugar.
I'm rapt Barbagallo's cooking is back on the radar. Now bring on summer and pizza in the park across the road.
Address: 19 Lincoln Square, Carlton (no phone), cash only, licensed
Open: Tues-Sun, 8am-10pm; Mon, 8am-4pm
Cuisine Pizzeria/southern Italian/cafe
Do … Ask about wine from the cellar
Don't … Try to call; no phone yet
Dish … All good; I love the broccoli, and the capriciosa
Vibe … Low-key but not for long
Prices … Pizzas, $10-$17 ($9.50 at breakfast); pastas, $12-$18; desserts, $5-$9 (cash only)