I'm a Melbourne-based writer and traveller with a passion for good food.
Published October 13th 2012
Authentic and gourmet pizzas in the heart of the CBD
Although I still haven't managed to find pizzas as good as those in abundance along Naples' grungy city streets, the pizzas at Plus39 come pretty damn close.
Cleverly named for Italy's country code, this popular pizzeria can be found on Little Bourke Street in the heart of Melbourne's CBD. You can't miss it – just look for the queue of hopefuls trailing out of the door. Owned by the same family that runs the ever-busy D.O.C. Pizza and Mozzarella Bar in Carlton, Plus39 was practically destined to succeed. Booking ahead is advisable, especially towards the end of the week.
Plus39 is brightly lit and welcoming, with giant jars of nutella (a key ingredient of their dessert pizza) sitting high above the counter with its display of cured meats and cheeses. Daily specials are scrawled in chalk across a prominent blackboard, and tucked away in a corner towards the back of the restaurant, self-proclaimed "pizza specialists" knead and flip pizza dough before nonchalantly tossing the finished products into the piping hot oven.
Having been to Plus39 numerous times, I've found that the service can be a bit moody. From being extremely attentive to vaguely abrupt, it sometimes even borders on the non-existent during their packed-to-the-rafters periods.
On my latest trip one busy Monday night, however, we were greeted by a friendly and charismatic Italian waiter, who charmed us with his accent as he showed us to our table. How he managed to get to it is anyone's guess: Plus39's tables and chairs are squashed together like sardines, which forced us to squeeze awkwardly past other diners and trod on their belongings to the apologetic tune of "excuse me's", "sorry's" and our own muttered curses.
Voted "Best Pizzeria of the Year" in 2010 by The Age Epicure, this pizza joint has since developed a bit of a cult following – and with good reason. Plus39's "designer" pizzas with their thin crusts and gourmet toppings are traditional yet creative, and absolutely delicious. Unable to choose from all the fancy-sounding options on offer, I asked our waiter for a recommendation. And with a cheeky grin, he enthusiastically proclaimed that everything on the menu is recommended, because here you can find "the best pizza in all of Melbourne".
Whether that's true or not, I don't know. But what I do know, is that the mere thought of Plus39's pizzas is enough to make me drool.
Hot favourites include the Salsiccia (Italian tomato salsa, fior di latte, Italian Berkshire sausage, porcini mushrooms and parmesan) and the Tatufata (cream of mushroom, fior di latte, mushroom, rocket, truffle oil and parmesan). For those that are after something a little bit more familiar, the Capricciosa Italiana and the Margherita are always crowd-pleasers (fun pizza fact: the Margherita pizza is named after Queen Margherita – Italy's first queen!).
There is also no lack of authenticity at Plus39. The seafood concoction that way too many pizza places proclaim to be a Marinara pizza (enough to make any Napoli local recoil in horror) is instead the beautifully simple and traditional combination of Italian tomato salsa, garlic, oregano and olive oil.
Your waistline is in danger at Plus39: although their pizzas are large, their thinness means that it's all too easy to polish off a whole one to yourself without even realising it (I know I certainly did). A bowl of Insalata Mista (rocket with citrus dressing) also makes a nice and light accompaniment, along with a glass of an imported Italian wine to match. For something different, try the Sicilian blood orange granita – a refreshing icy drink so tart and citrusy that it's guaranteed to make you smack your lips in satisfaction.
Although pizzas are their specialty, Plus39 also offers a degustation menu that is dominated by sharing platters of cured meats and cheeses, as well as a small selection of pasta and risotto dishes. There are a few dessert options too. The sweet pizza (nutella, strawberries and ice cream) I found to be fairly ordinary in comparison to their gourmet dinner menu, and with crusts that were too chewy for my liking. However, it is generously spread with thick and gloopy amounts of nutella if that's what floats your boat. It's also available in a "maxi" size to be easily shared amongst groups of three or four. Try the Tiramisu if you can squeeze it in.
Cured meats and cheeses for the delights of the degustation menu
As a warning to the budget-conscious, these pizzas veer towards the expensive side (dare I say overpriced…?). However, the lunch menu is a cheaper and abridged version of the dinner menu, with a wide variety of piadinas (Italian flatbread folded over various fillings) and ciabatta rolls on offer.
With a lack of good pizza places in the CBD, Plus39 is definitely worth a visit – or a bit of a splurge! Although busy and chaotic, these simple yet gourmet pizzas on offer won't be forgotten in a hurry.