234B Russell St
|Opening hours||Dinner Wed-Sat|
|Functions||Accepts Bookings, Licensed, Family Friendly, Groups|
|Prices||Moderate (mains voltage $20-$40)|
|Phone||03 8413 2970|
As for Italian food, my opinion is strong. And if there’s one thing I’d like to shout from the rooftops of Melbourne, it’s this: we have our own Italian culture! Stop copying American-Italian food, itself a byproduct of immigration, while ignoring the magnificence of what has created our own history.
Why do we long to be someone other than ourselves? If I’m willing to forgive this tendency, though, it would be in the company of Michael and Zara Madrusan, owners of the Made in the Shade group.
Heartbreaker, which they opened downstairs on this site in 2015, has always aimed to evoke the special magic of an American dive bar, something that really has no equivalent in Australian history.
(Why should it, when we have every pub imaginable?) Named after Michael’s grandmother, Connie’s was originally the name for the pizza shop that operated out of Heartbreaker. That pizza was rightly based on an American slice joint and became the stuff of the late night legend.
So it’s only natural that if the owners want to expand, they’ll stick with the Americana theme. Connie’s Italian Diner, which is located directly above Heartbreaker, does almost too well to conjure a New Jersey red sauce joint.
Red vinyl booths, dim lights punctuated by the glitter of disco balls, nostalgic 80s posters – even the plumb-line displays on the lights above the booths are amusingly authentic.
The kitchen delivers a menu that is as flexible as it is fun. There are plenty of drink-friendly snacks out there, such as savory fritters called zeppole with anchovies ($8) or fried provolone with spicy red sauce ($11). Veal tonnato ($16) is a comforting classic, the tender meat in the smooth tuna sauce punctuated by crispy capers.
The pizza, which Connie’s launched as a takeout option during lockdown, has been described as “grandma pie,” which may be a nod to Connie herself or refer to the style of pizza known as granny pie in New York and beyond: a thick-crispy pie. , rectangular pizza that Italian-American grannies would make at home.
I’ve also seen Connie’s pizza compared to Detroit-style offerings, but do we really care where the inspiration came from if the result is delicious? And it is: cheesy, crunchy, saucy and, if you order the carne pizza ($30), loaded with pepperoni, fennel sausage, and prosciutto.
The spaghettini alle vongole ($35) is packed with all the wine-infused oceanic magic you’d hope for, the pasta perfectly al dente. Does the dish seem a bit pricey for its simplicity and portion size? Perhaps. I could go for the Hot Pot of Mussels and Clams ($28) instead, which all have the same magic of white wine stock, along with a side of sourdough bread for dipping it up.
If there’s one thing I didn’t expect from Connie’s it was too much restraint, but there are places on the menu where presentation seems to take precedence over taste.
The best thing about chicken alla cacciatore ($26) is usually the stew of the pursuit, the tomato and olives and chicken that create magic in their blending. Here the chicken is served on top of a square of polenta, the sauce is served around it. I missed the gloppy magic of the original.
But, oh, the glory of the very silly tiramisundae ($16), a mash-up I haven’t seen before, but wish I had. It’s tiramisu with a vanilla soft serve ice cream on top, but it becomes more than the sum of its parts, the ice cream that infuses the dessert with a raw sense of childhood fun.
The back room has a dance floor between the tables and the atmosphere is 100 percent party, even early in the evening. Don’t come here if you’re looking for a quiet night out: this is a place for noisy gatherings.
In the summer there is no better place to spend a wild night than on the roof terrace. (This joint serves French 75’s, a cocktail made with gin, champagne, and lemon juice, by the pitcher for $85. Why hasn’t anyone ever thought of that before?)
It might be tempting to think of Connie’s as what happens when Heartbreaker grows up, but don’t worry — growing up doesn’t happen here. Just a lot of joy, a lot of sauce and a great time.
Appearance New Jersey Italian red sauce joint, circa 1985
Go-to dish carne pizza
Drinks Great emphasis on cocktails, but also with a short, fun wine list
This review was originally published in Good weekend magazine
#Review #Good #times #Connies #Italian #Diner