Food and love. When it comes to vegan cuisine, these two elements are combined seamlessly. When it comes to Italian cuisine, the two are inseparable. Customers dining at the vegan and gluten-free friendly Shop 225 Pizzeria sense this right away, from the moment they walk in the door to the time they roll out onto the street, tummies round from the quantity of incredible food they’ve experienced.
Once I take a seat, I’m in full view of part-owner Lorenzo Tron, who is labouring away behind the counter hunched over pizza pans waiting for a fluffy layer of pizza dough before he meticulously places toppings atop sweet tomato sauce. It’s obvious this labour is one of love and Shop 225’s floor-space is laid out to exude a homely feel. Together, the counter and wood-fired pizza oven is the centrepiece of this buzzing pizzeria, just like the kitchen at home; the beating heart that crafts food through love for its customers.
Lorenzo and business partner Roberto Davoli’s customers are treated like family; those who arrive (whether dine-in or picking up takeaway) are greeted with warm smiles and ‘ciao’ from Lorenzo, chit-chat between courses as time permits, and the same once they depart. It’s something that I rarely experience at restaurants nowadays, and is a lost art among restaurateurs. Lorenzo’s thick accent is keen to connect with the local and not-so-local clientele walking through each night.
Heartfelt connection, stemmed from Italian food made from scratch, keeps tables turned constantly, even on Saturday nights when you can only book for one of two sittings. Busily humming away on Melville Road in Pascoe Vale South, Shop 225, it’s mind-boggling how Lorenzo, Roberto and their team have only been open for just over a year. It feels like they’ve been here for generations.
It all started when Lorenzo’s vegan mother visited Melbourne from home in the northeast of Italy. Apparently, Lorenzo and his mum were feeling ‘unsatisfied’ when dining at various plant-based venues around town. Lorenzo decided to open Shop 225 with friend Roberto, and created a menu where 11 of their 13 pizzas could be veganised, as too pastas, salads and desserts. Same goes for four of the homemade cheeses Shop225 uses on said pizzas, not to mention their homemade ‘nutella’ style hazelnut-cocoa sauce that tempts already full customers to choose a dessert.
You could be tempted to choose some options from the antipasti and insalate (salads) part of the menu before pizzas arrive. I know I was tempted, yet I decided to refrain as I knew my husband and I were in for a feast of treats. I needed to reserve as much stomach room as possible. Our warm and friendly waitress suggests we start with a beverage. Chinotto is recommended before two bottles are ferried to the table. This carbonated soft-drink is made from myrtle-leaved orange fruit juice, having a rich and rounded taste to match its dark tones; an individual taste all in its own.
We place our order for two pizzas, so as to get a varied taste of Shop 225’s pizza menu, and both are prepared vegan with gluten-free bases. What separates Shop 225 from its contemporaries is that they make their pizza dough from scratch, using stone-milled flour and left to sit for 72 hours before used in the kitchen. This point of difference pays off, providing customers with an unusually fluffy base, especially for gluten-free customers who may have encountered gluggy, tasteless versions at other restaurants elsewhere. Lorenzo’s meticulous method ensures that even Coeliacs can dine here safely with optimum flavours to match.
Pizza pans, still piping hot from the pizza oven, cradle a Verde pizza topped with lightly baked eggplant, pesto, all crowned by melting plump balls of vegan fior di latte cheese. For something different, a Zio Pino pizza lands on the table before a slice of Verde can even be tried. Mushroom, parsley, truffle oil, crushed garlic and grated vegan grana padano differentiate it from the Verde. Cutlery is supplied, complete with serrated-edge knife, yet there’s nothing more pleasing, nothing more organic, than to eat each slice with your hands. This is the way that Shop 225’s pizzas should be eaten, getting the fingers gritty and having the chin smeared with pesto as this glorious vegan gluten-free pizza is consumed. Simple pizzas that are balanced in flavour perfectly, there’s no need or want for excess layering of ingredients. Shop 225’s style of pizzas is the real deal, and both pizzas couldn’t be more different in flavour or as equally pleasing.
Once we clear most of the pizzas, a vegan gluten-free serve of Maccheroni Alla Norma is placed on the table with a smile from our waitress. It’s a light pasta dish using thin tubes of macaroni, laced by fried eggplant and fresh basil, all coated in rich Napoli sauce then topped by a shredding of vegan grana padano. Servings are spooned onto the pizza pan to eat between slices of pizza as the bowl is consumed. It’s a very simple pasta dish that emphasises Shop 225’s ethos for using the freshest, most local ingredients to bring out the best in flavours for customers.
As plates are cleared, it’s not long before Lorenzo shouts out a recommendation for dessert – Calzone Nutella. It must be said that Lorenzo had stolen a few moments throughout the sitting to come and speak to us, and we learned more about Lorenzo’s commitment to a vego lifestyle. He, himself, is vegetarian but relishes in his business specialising in vegan and gluten-free options. We learned that his mother is now vegetarian, but there’s still a real need for quality vegan options to exist in Melbourne. We also learned that Shop 225’s signature hazelnut-cocoa sauce is now being commercialised under the name Local Craft and stocked in select shops around the country.
Before we know it, a serve of Calzone Nutella is placed on the table while I request a soy café latte to sip. As much as I thought I couldn’t fit another mouthful in, I could easily find room to try this dessert. It’s sided by a generous scoop of homemade strawberry gelato, brightly pink by the threads of strawberry flesh found in each spoonful. My husband and I cut the calzone in half to share. As the knife halves the pastry, ‘nutella’ oozes out like a river. Jars are on display on the front counter, so it seems that at least half a jar is in the dessert. It’s a rich and sweet dessert that finishes off the meal in true Italian spirit; you can only leave if you’re so full – full of foodie love – and satisfied that you can’t move. If you pay Shop 225 a visit, just make sure you yell ‘ciao’ over the shoulder as you leave, while promising to return home soon.
Experience the homely hospitality and vegan-friendly gluten-friendly options at Shop 225 Pizzeria for yourself. 225 Melville Road Pascoe Vale South Victoria Australia 3044. Phone: 03 9077 4904. Monday to Thursday 5.00pm to 9.30pm, Friday to Sunday 11.30am to 9.30pm (sittings on a Saturday night are 6.30pm and 8.00pm). Follow Shop 225 on Facebook or Instagram.
You can book a table here. Take-away and Uber orders are available, too.
For further information about Local Craft’s Hazelnut & Cocoa spread, visit the Local Craft website or socials on Facebook and Instagram. Distribution inquiries can be made by phone 0432 144 302 or email at [email protected]
Disclaimer: Justine de Jonge of Fire & Tea dined at Shop 225 courtesy of the restaurant.