Pepe's Italian & Liquor
You'll find cheesy bowls of gnocchi, meatball pizza and giant sundaes at this 1930s New York-Inspired Italo-American joint on Exhibition Street.
After an impressive 12-year stint as Trunk Bar & Restaurant, the site at 275 Exhibition Street has had a big makeover. Off the back of a month-long research trip to the Big Apple, Owner Nick Kutcher has brought some long-held ambitions to fruition and transformed the space into Italo-American hot-spot, Pepe's Italian & Liquor.
Taking its cues from New York in the 1930s and 1940s (think, The Godfather), the reimagined venue has burgundy banquettes, red-and-white chequered floors and a sprawling 13-metre-long zinc-topped bar. A mural splashed across the back wall comes courtesy of Belgian artist Jan Van Der Veken.
Pull up a seat and trip back in time, digging into time-honoured favourites prepared by Head Chef Orazio Cutuli. Expect baked buffalo ricotta matched with a pesto crostino, pork and veal polpette in napoli sauce, and Casino Clams done with garlic butter, guanciale and pangrattato. A solid spread of pasta features the likes of a mushroom fettuccini with parmesan, garlic and thyme, and a spicy vodka rigatoni, as well as a cheesy baked gnocchi.
There's also a lineup of pizza (of course) — with pies topped with the likes of meatballs, eggplant, 'nduja and prosciutto — along with a veal parmigiana and a 12-hour lamb shoulder. For dessert, we suggest the extravagant two-person sundae, toped with Nutella, nougat, black cherry wafer and chocolate fudge.
Classics reign supreme at the bar, too, including an entire page of martinis. Plenty of Italian flavours feature across sips like the American Rose, starring gin from Melbourne Gin Company, eau de rose and grapefruit. And if it's vino you're after, the wine list heroes Australian and Italian varietals, always with 80 labels clocking in at under $100.
And it's business as usual next door at Trunk Diner, which continues to serve up burgers, fries and doughnuts.
Images: Gareth Sobey.