When we think of Italian food in Adelaide, it's usually accompanied by a lofty price tag. Whatever happened to those simple homemade meals made with love? Thank goodness for Modinetti.
This little family cafe situated just outside of the city brings back the simplicity and honesty of Italian cuisine. Started four and a half years ago by owner and chef Domenico Maurici and his wife, Hayley Maurici, Modinetti has become a favourite among locals for their baked eggs breakfasts and hearty pasta dishes.
Modinetti - Feeding Plenty
Dom had always remembered his childhood through the food he ate. With his parents originally from Calabria, a southwest region in Italy, Dom was more familiar with home cooked Italian food than the usual Aussie breakfast of bacon and eggs.
As a longtime chef, Dom saw an opportunity in Melbourne's fast growing food industry and decided to move interstate after stumbling upon an open position for a chef that could cater for vegetarians. Before he knew it, he was cooking up meals in a Buddhist institute at the age of 28.
He remained in Melbourne for 5 years before returning to Adelaide. It was around then that his career as a chef was placed on hold and he began to help individuals with mental illnesses.
"I thought that was my path at that time," said Dom, "until a friend approached me and asked if I would like to open a pizzeria with him."
Although hesitant to leave his work in mental health, Dom decided to take the opportunity and see where it would lead. The rest was history. His undying passion for food was reignited and after leaving the pizzeria business, he set out to make something of his own: he opened Modinetti.
Modinetti - Loved by Many
When Modinetti first opened its doors, customers had yet to know what an Italian breakfast of 'baked eggs' consisted of. Today, it's one of Modinetti's most loved dishes. This wouldn't have been possible if Dom had not persisted with a clear purpose: to recreate his childhood memories.
Dom gestured to the pea burger at the counter; his mother used to pack them for his school lunches.
"I never liked it," he laughed and shook his head, "It had such a strong smell. When it was lunchtime, I would walk all the way to the other side of the oval so I could open my bag and eat it. I just wanted to fit in with the rest of the Australian kids and have a 'normal' lunch so they wouldn't make fun of me.
"When it came to pasta, I got bored of our tomato based sauces and begged my mother to make Alla panna or Carbonara - something with cream - which you wouldn't find in the southern parts of Italy.
'Why can't we be like every other Italian?' I would complain to my mother.
But then as I grew further away from my culture, I started to miss these things, I realised it was different and unique. It should be preserved and appreciated. Modinetti is here for this purpose."
Behind every successful man, there is a woman. Dom's wife, Hayley, who is also in charge of the business, is the Patisserie Princess of Modinetti. Her freshly baked treats decorate the counter of the store every morning, her salted caramel cheesecake being a crowd favourite.
"She's the one that keeps me on top of everything I have to do, she is my greatest inspiration." said Dom fondly.
Longtime business partner, Nik Ichalkaranje, has been encouraging Dom to constantly define and refine the identity of the cafe, giving him the confidence to create personal interpretations of classic dishes. From the Tartufo, to the Il papa, to the Big Fat Calabrian Breakfast, Dom has recreated some of the usual Australian breakfast plates through the eyes of an Italian.
"Most of our customers would say our food is traditional Calabrian food, but it's more about how my family and our recipes have adapted to Australia's environment since moving here."
One rule, however, has been kept strictly Italian: simple and honest dishes made with the freshest ingredients.
"We only use vegetables that are in season and change accordingly," Nik explained and proceeded to show us a wooden rack of fresh live herbs, "We even found a way to grow all our herbs in the back!"
From micro herbs to fresh bunches of basil, customers can purchase their own little plant to take home and grow in their own kitchen.
Modinetti - Worth every penny
While Dom and Hayley simply want to continue to bring honest and hearty dishes to their diners, the team at Modinetti have been planning to put the restaurant space to better use in the evenings.
"Since our kitchen is closed at night, we are thinking of letting others use this space as a popup once a month," Nik said excitedly, "Any chef with their own idea can use our venue to trial their concept. We want to build a community and help people start new businesses in this area."
You may be familiar with Italian food, but humble little Modinetti tucked away in the suburbs will give your taste buds a whole new concept of Italian cuisine. From the classic baked eggs to the brodino and pasta, every dish is simple, honest, fresh, and wholesome.
Even the frittata on the menu is not the usual egg based tart one would normally expect. Instead, what you'll find is a warm fluffy herbed omelette with mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, or prosciutto and mozzarella.
Step in and have a chat with Dom and Hayley, there are so many wonderful stories this chef has to share, behind every dish lies a memory and a purpose, what better way to find out than to sit down with a plate of warm toasted bread and creamy baked eggs, am I right?
Recommended Items: Baked eggs sugo, Modinetti Morning, Il Papa, Penne di Zucca, Penne Ragu, Brodino (Dom's Favourite), Lenticchia
146B Henley Beach Rd, Torrensville SA 5031
Monday - Friday: 8:00 am - 3:30 pm
Saturday: 8:00 am - 1:30 pm
Credits to Liam Tang for the photos, thankyou!