Before there were slick, clean, white-walled cafes serving single origin coffee and smashed avocado across the city, there were cafes like Zappa in South Melbourne. Run by South Melbourne local, Frank Zappa-inspired wild child, Michael Sergi, Zappa is gritty and rustic in a way you almost won’t recognise in Melbourne these days – music posters peel back off the walls, while trinkets and dusty records clutter the place.
Open for over 15 years now, Zappa sits on Emerald Hill just off Clarendon Street, next door to the South Melbourne Town Hall. On sunny days, customers swarm to pick up morning coffees, and return at lunch to sit outside on second hand furniture under red umbrellas. In winter the windows fog up inside as regulars pack into a handful of seats inside, up at front the window or in the cosy back room around a fireplace.
It’s one of those places you’ll walk through the tiny kitchen to the bathroom past a family of Italian cooks working away over a hot stove of cannellini bean soup and rolling out meatballs and sausage rolls.
Baguettes, focaccias and salads sit in the glass-fronted cabinet, but daily specials such as handmade gnocchi on a Thursday or the calamari salad on a Friday are top orders for lunch. The rest of the breakfast/lunch menu is pasted up high on the wall inside and includes French toast with bacon and maple syrup and a mighty steak sanga.
Serge also owns Let Me Be Frank cafe around the corner, but Zappa is the real deal, the original Melbourne cafe, and an experience that will take you back.