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The Cartel is bringing a slice of Melbourne and more than a hint of Italy to Manly's streets.

This shopfront-turned-cafe is the passion project of two Italian brothers, Nick and Jo, who were born and raised in Manly. You'll find them here every morning, serving up home-style favourites alongside Jo's own coffee blend, Escobar, or at the local pub later in the afternoon. Taking the opportunity of a downtrodden strip, these lads have moved in and set up a hipster haven with odds and ends of retro furniture, display shelves filled with stuffed toys and figurines, bright, bold artworks and a fixie, which hangs along one wall.

But there's more to this place than just the two of them. Their mum, Rita, is cooking out back and her Baked Bacon and Egg ($12) comes highly recommended. In fact, there's few dishes that don't have a name to them: Drew's Mushies ($12) is a plate of pan-roasted mushrooms with herbs and marinated feta, served up on toast, while Scott's 'Pesto In It' Jaffle ($6) is described as 'like Joe's Goey Egg but with pesto in it'.

It's easy to feel at home fast, and we can see why almost everyone in here is on a first-name basis. Belgrave Cartel is clearly the haunt of regular locals. Nick tells us about his favourite trio, who apparently have nicknamed this place 'the anti-taste cafe'. With it's jumbled furniture and lounge room feel, it's a far cry from the shiny cafes that line The Corso.

That's not to say, however, that the food isn't tasty. The Jaffles ($5-8) are the signature dish, available all week. We'd recommend the Benno ($8), aka Eggs Benedict in jaffle form, or the Green Eggs and Ham ($8), eggs and toasted leg ham topped with Rita's homemade pesto. While the coffee should be your top priority, there's also a good range of teas, served up in Japanese tea pots.

On weekends, the full breakfast menu is available, including Rita's aforementioned Baked Eggs with a twist of bacon, served up on Sonoma toast. Next time around, we vow to try the Brekkie Bruschetta ($13), with pan-roasted cherry tomatoes, rocket, ricotta and parmesan on toast, and the Corn Fritter Stack ($13), with avocado salsa and feta. If you're after something simpler, take your pick from the Seinfeld Selection ($4.50): Coco Pops, Nutri-Grain or Corn Flakes.

From Wednesday through to Sunday Belgrave is also open late for Italian-inspired dinner and classic cocktails (including a mean espresso martini). So everyone can get a piece of the Cartel action.

Published on December 09, 2011 by Trish Roberts

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