139 – 141 Lygon St, Carlton
TGIF! After a few long weekends in a row, it was tough facing a full week at work this week. Harder still to be the only one in my team doing so and keeping the ship afloat solo while the others are still on holidays. But I made it, and if you have too, now’s probably the time to start thinking about how to unwind. I find pizza with friends is usually a good way to do that.
Being a proper Melbournian Italian, I spent a lot of Sundays lunching along Lygon Street with my parents and grandparents. The best places aren’t the fancy pants gourmet ones, they’re the stalwarts and the stayers, the ones that have been around since I was a kid and continue to operate today. The pizza plus the memories plus the soul of the place is what makes it good, not the amount of high-brow ingredients on the menu. My favourites are places like Papa Ginos, Il Gambero, Mercadante, Cafe Corretto, La Spaghettata, Cafe Cavalino and the like. So when we booked a table at one of those favourites for a NYE dinner with some friends and arrived only to be seated outside in Melbourne’s searing 39 degree (Celsius) heat, we decided to take a punt on something off the list where we could be seated inside with air conditioning. Enter Universal.
It’s a big space with great air conditioning, prompt and friendly service, and a diverse menu. Our friends started on the bruschetta with fresh tomato, feta and homemade pesto on a pizza base, and husband and I went with the Dal Terra (from the land) antipasto platter – basically, heaven for me. prosciutto and sorpressata, marinated Mt Zero olives and artichoke hearts, mozzarella-stuffed arancini, a mini loaf of super-soft bread and a dish of ricotta doused in more of that homemade pesto. Lactose intolerance be damned, that was AMAZING!! All of my favourites on the one platter (with a very generously sized glass of wine by my side), I was already swimming in happy, woggy memories…
Next up were the mains. Mostly pizzas, because they looked awesome on everyone else’s plates. Our friends had that monster you can see in the top left corner, The Lot without olives I think it was, and the smaller one next to it, the I Am Angus – tomato, cheese, grilled beef strips, roasted red capsicum, onion, jalapeños & a drizzle of garlic mayo. Nice.
We went with an AJ’s pizza without mushroom (tomato, cheese, olives, prosciutto & rocket) and a serve of the calamari. Don’t know why, but I felt like calamari and was hoping I hadn’t made a silly mistake, because looking around, I didn’t see anyone else with seafood. Worries unfounded – they were easily the most tender calamari either of us had ever had. And the pile of fried goodness seemed to be everlasting; no matter how many we ate, the mountain didn’t seem to get much smaller!
We had every intention of ordering dessert when we arrived, much to the amusement of our waitress who told us she’d be impressed if we even got through dinner, and she was right. Pizza was piled into a take away box as we hung our heads with shame and rolled out the front door. Not being one of the “old” places, I was a little hesitant to start off with , but couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised by the end of the meal. The prices were incredibly reasonable considering the enormous serving sizes, and the quality didn’t suffer at all with the quantity. Universal is now officially added to my “favourites” list for Lygon St, and we’ll without a doubt be heading back for another antipasto platter and bottle of wine!
If there are any other Melbournians out there, please feel free to share your Lygon Street favourites, too – new suggestions are never a bad idea!