Nanna Food: 5 of the best places to find it


Johnny Di Francesco cooks with his nonna Angela Mandarano.

Nanna Lorna’s corned beef was my favourite childhood meal. I could give or take her soggy grey vegetables, but that silverside was always a treat with mustard-spiked white sauce. And it tasted even better the next day between two slices of white bread with farm-churned butter and a generous dollop of home-made green tomato pickles.

My late mum’s “chow mein” was also an accidental winner, using up all the wilting veggies in the fridge with beef mince, soy sauce and chicken noodle soup. I’ve tried to replicate this delicious abomination, but can never do it.

Pizza guru Johnny Di Francesco also yearns for the home-made food from his Nonna’s kitchen, a big source of inspiration for his wildly successful 400 Gradi restaurant group. Johnny is offering a money-can’t-buy prize to uncover old-school dishes perfected over a lifetime by Melbourne’s nonnas, nonnos, yia yias, grandmas and grandpas.

The best three entrants will see their food featured on a special Gradi menu called Piatti Dei Nonni – or grandparents’ dishes. Each winner will have an entree, main and dessert on the Gradi Crown menu from early August. If you or your grandparent have what it takes, enter here with a photo or video of of them with their dish and recipe by July 3.

If you don’t have your own grandparent to cook for you, here are five of the best places to find that special old-school comfort food in Melbourne.

  1. Sweet Greek

    1. Sweet Greek's spanakopita
    2. Prahran Market, 161 Commercial Rd, Prahran, (03) 9826 0608
    3. Kathy Tsaples’ home-made Greek food has a cult following in the deli section of the Prahran Market. The breast cancer survivor decided to turn her love of cooking into a business, and has not looked back. Her spanakopita (pictured) is a mouthful of cheesy joy in every bite. And don’t leave without one of her syrupy cakes.
  2. Bad Frankie

    1. Bad Frankie jaffle
    2. 141 Greeves St, Fitzroy, 03 9078 3866
    3. Almost too cool for its own good, Bad Frankie is a Fitzroy bar showcasing hundreds of Australia’s best boutique spirits, but I go for their jaffle menu.  Starting at just $8, these hot toasties are edible Australiana, with fillings like bangers and mash (pork sausage, onion jam, wholemeal bread on the bottom and mash on top, with gravy on the side). Back it up with a Lamington jaffle (two chocolate sponge cake slices pressed in the iron until warm, rolled in coconut and served with thick double cream).

  3. Stalactites

    1. 177/183 Lonsdale St, Melbourne, (03) 9663 3316
    2. Famous for super fresh souvas 24 hours a day, Stalactites has a rusted-on following for its home-style like moussaka and psarosoupa (fish soup) with crusty bread.
  4. Railway Club Hotel

    1. 107 Raglan St, Port Melbourne, (03) 9645 1661
    2. Most people head to this stylish pub for its exceptional steaks, but locals in the know head to the bar for some old-school fare like lambs fry and bacon (grilled liver on creamy mash with caramelised onions) and the show-stopping rissoles with smoked bacon also on mashed spuds with onions.
  5. Emerald Hotel

    1. 415 Clarendon St, South Melbourne, (03) 9690 4719
    2. Plenty of pubs serve an excellent corned beef, but the Emerald’s take on old-school silverside draws people from all over Melbourne, with the creamiest of mashed, vegetables and seeded mustard sauce.

Nanna Food: 5 of the best places to find it