Some memories – recent or distant – remain firmly in the mind; others fade and disappear in time. Sometimes memories just get muddled and obscured through the passage of time. Such were my thoughts and recollections of Salvatores Cafe when I recently visited with my Beloved. For example, in my days as a cabinetmaking estimator I was acquainted with the original developer of the cafe; a well respected Italian gentleman who, having been a cabinetmaker himself, taught me a great deal about attention to detail to fit and finish and product selection. And yet I can’t recall how much of the fitout our company did – but nonetheless I recall loading certain elements of the fitout into the ute (pickup) and driving them there myself to take the load off the workshop crew.
Another detail that stands out is the working relationship with the architect who did the interior design. We liaised on many a project during those years. He was a young visionary who had a flair for adapting European trends into the tropical vernacular. And yet I can’t recall ever seeing the architectural drawings for me to price the joinery. I must have seen them…
And the original design and fit out now remains, some 21-22 years later. A little worn and fatigued – but nothing a spring clean and a lick of paint and a complete replacement of light bulbs wouldn’t fix.
Salvatores Cafe (or just ‘Salvatores’ to us locals) is located smack-bang in the heart of Darwin city on the intersection that once housed the Darwin GPO. The location itself is iconic. The cafe is a small, yet vibrant in it’s street appeal. Seating about 25-30 guests inside and a similar number in the al-fresco area on the intersection, one of the first things you notice is the dining tables bolted in place – no ad-hoc grouping of tables depending on the size of the dinner party here.
The menu – like the name, the colour scheme, the interior design, etc – is unsurprisingly Italian inspired. But more surprisingly the menu also deviates into Greek and Australian-pub meals, salad bar menu and burgers plus chefs specials. The cafe is licensed, which means the menu also has a comprehensive beverages list – juices, teas, coffees, shakes, wines, and beers – also a well stocked drinks fridge. Let’s face it, the menu is bordering on being way too large and confusing to read, but having said that if there’s nothing on the menu that appeals, especially at the very attractive pricing, then I’m not sure where we go from here.
But menu options and attractive pricing isn’t everything. Ashamed as I am to say, despite working 200 metres away, walking past the cafe 6 or 8 times a week – and having had a long familiarity with this cafe – I can’t actually recall ever eating here, before now. A situation I made right on the day we were having a weekend stroll through the city at lunch time.
After finding a spare table and collecting a menu from the ordering counter, the Palermo pizza caught my eye. Going back to the counter to order, I was (not) greeted by a rather distracted cashier who seemed rather keen to get the ordering process over and done with in a hurry. A bit abrupt, a bit rude…. a smile would not have gone astray.
The walls behind the counter were obviously once handsome, neat and tidy, but now resemble the general clutter of the menu; glossy adverts with obscure close ups of food, faded photographs of various coffees in glass mugs join the other litter on the wall that conflict with the architects original vision and now resemble a third-rate corner take away.
One of the nice twists at Salvatores is the lack of table numbering. Well, none that I could see. No number on a stick, no number on the salt and pepper holder, the serving staff had no problem bringing out a steady flow of dishes to the correct tables. A short while later my coffee arrived. Not bad. Not good – an average coffee that was really quite enjoyable, but average.
About 10 minutes late the pizza was delivered by another server without smile or greeting. The pizza was certainly not what I expected. The pizza base was squareish in format, which sat handsomely on a suitably shaped plate. The pizza was adorned with fresh spinach on top of a generous serve of juicy pieces of chicken and mushrooms, which in turn were scattered amongst bacon pieces and onion. The sauce was spread right out to the edges – in general, there were no signs of skimping out on anything here.
The pizza was cut into six convenient slices. The base was neither thick nor thin, neither crispy or soggy – just right, with a perfect amount of yeasty bread ‘taste’. Despite the intense flavours of the elements on top, the taste of the base still shone through. If that was just the base, I knew I was in for a wild ride here. And sure enough, the pizza didn’t disappoint.
Lets just forget for a moment, that I was sitting in an Italian cafe eating a square pizza. The way the flavours stood out from each other, and yet harmonised, was brilliant. The cheese wasn’t the traditional overly stringy mozzarella, but rather a blend – and yet not overly greasy either. With the juicy chicken and mushrooms, and perfectly cooked base, the love for cooking by the kitchen staff shone through.
There was some thought put in here – I’ve had pizza many times in the past where the spinach was cooked with the pizza and resulted in shriveled up dried herbs sitting on top – but here was the spinach, presumably tumbled on top of the pizza when pulled from the oven and wilted through the residual heat. Why can’t others do this?
I’m not a big eater – but every two or three week I will treat myself handsomely to a rewarding meal. This pizza gave me just that opportunity. Regrettably I ached afterwards, but it was a heavenly 20 minutes getting through those slices of delight.
And so, all up Salvatores presented a dining experience of mixed memories. Both the staff and premises remain true to the original vision, yet now appear a bit tired and run down. The meal was nothing but excellent value for money though – well priced (as is the rest of the menu) and judging by my pizza, food that is created fresh and from a deep love for cooking.
The only question left unanswered now is why did I wait so long before ‘discovering’ Salvatores…?