They may not quite look the part, but feel free to consider Hershy Ash and Dino Esposito your new Nonnas. The reluctantly-titled 'hospitality consultant' and ex-Da Noi chef have teamed up to introduce a little piece of Little Italy to Windsor with Abbondante.
Initially Abbondante moved in with Plenty cafe to exist purely after dark. As such the decor hasn't changed much, fortuitously lending the restaurant an uncontrived, been-here-forever vibe. A few things have been papered or painted over, but a growing collection of black and white photographs from the early to mid 20th century is the main difference. While old-school stars like Bacall, Bogart and Ol' Blue Eyes might make an occasional appearance on Abbondante's walls, the photos mostly document nobodies (fabulous or otherwise) living it up at their local European or American haunt. Hershy likes to think of them as being in "various states of inebriated enjoyment...a little nod to the customer that that's what we expect from them."
Also the opposite of precious is the short, easy menu which changes daily. You're likely to find comforting veal meatballs on offer one day, tender roast lamb with parsnip the next and then classic eggplant parmigiana after that. My heart has already been won by the simplicity of their Spaghettini alla Meer St. dotted with pink prawns and teeny clams. It's Dino's food and he and Hershy prep each day with the help of an anonymous "loose collection of Melbourne all-star" chefs.
Country. Homestyle. Classic. Abbondate embraces this mode of cooking and eating. "There's a necessary time and place for restaurants to push to boundaries and make your night to be about the food on the plate," says Hershy, "that's not Abbondante." It is about good cheer, a glass of Chablis and not thinking too much about the world outside for a while, all to a soundtrack of retro soul shifting to hip hop as the night progresses. A recent Zomato review concluded that Abbondante is "not a gastronomic delight" which gave Hershy a bit of a buzz; "I've taken that totally as a compliment, that's exactly spot on!" They're just trying to do good food as well or maybe even a little bit better than your Mama might make at home.
And now that Plenty is no more, Abbondante can slowly stretch their wings. A new Sunday lunch session features the feed-me style Menu Domenica ("tell us what you don't eat and well just send food"). They'll likely add a few more seats inside and a few al fresco come warmer weather. Saturday daytimes are coming soon.
"It's a challenge for people to not serve eggs, smashed avocado or some fancy chia bircher done in the craziest bowl you can find" muses Hershy. On his idea of weekend dining, "it's about slowly introducing people to the fact that there are people outside of inner city Melbourne and they eat things other than eggs and smashed avo."
His type of hangover food for Abbondante is cacio e pepe, a classic Roman dish of goat's cheese and pepper pasta, "I like to think of what waiters like to eat—something quick that you can eat standing up without chewing—that's the kind of food we want to do."
Abbondante means abundant and if Windsor embraces this local Italian joint the name might be a sign of things to come throughout Melbourne. Hershy hints, "our attitude is: if you're gonna build a neighbourhood place shouldn't every neighbourhood have one?"
Image credit: Nick West for The Urban List