Stefano's at 27 Deakin - Mildura
When you mention the name Stefano di Pieri, immediately you conjure an image of a jovial Italian man tossing things about in a pan on the banks of the Murray River, in Mildura. It's no longer the case - Stefano's is his only by name now. He is still a presence, known and loved by many, but the cafe that bears his name carries on a tradition of hospitality - for the most part.
My two experiences could not have been more starkly different from a service point of view. The first, I felt like an intruder, the second I felt like a member of the family. Very stark indeed. It's really tough in regional Victoria, as it is in most places in the post pandemic environment, to find good staff. Hospitality for some is a means to paying the rent, while for others it is a career of service, dealing with customers who are rude, drunk and occasionally totally bloody obnoxious. While finding staff is tough, manners and courtesy should not be.
Thankfully the niggles I had from the first visit were overshadowed by the second. The food on both occasions was outstanding , bar a couple of minor issues with a rogue dead lettuce leaf and an overabundance of salad on a slab of a delicious tart of local seasonal asparagus, peas, and feta in the most deliciously short and buttery shortcrust pastry I've eaten in a while.
So the more pleasant of the two visits. My mate and I enjoyed a splendid breakfast the following day with solid coffee and terrific service, and the food on this occasion was pretty much flawless. The Calabrese eggs was a hit, poached in peperonata with Naz Tassone’s locally made Italian pork sausage & toast. The flavour profile was superb with hints of aniseed and caraway lingering some time after the plate was all but licked.
A cauliflower tabouli came with some poached free range eggs, chili, a herb salad and some house made flat bread. Loaded with flavour and a good whack of spice, it was a great heart starter.
While Stefano is no longer on the pans and is less of a presence in the venue, the space will continue to bear his name. And now to the niggles. The same person who sat me at a table as a solo diner really didn't care. More interested in chatting to her friends at another table, I had to ask for everything - water, a menu, a drink. I only got attention when I demanded it, and its not a good look.
Secondly, where are the local wines by the glass? By default, the region is a wine producing one, with acres of vines surrounding the region, and some very talented wine makers among its citizens, yet there was nothing on offer. There is a clearly a desire to champion local produce, as the menu suggests but the industry will only survive if it supports itself. Clearly there may have been some bottles on offer but given it was lunchtime, it was a bit early for a whole bottle. In several retail outlets I also asked about local wines, most seemed nonchalant and this bothers me a lot. It is all but inexcusable to sit in the heart of a wine producing region and not be able to enjoy a glass of locally produced wine.
Overall, the experiences were good on day 1 and great on day 2, thanks to Brendon's flawless service. Now if only that could be found every day.
Stefano's is at 27 Deakin Avenue, Mildura.
Open Monday to Friday 7am – 6pm and Saturday 8am – 3pm.