At the top of Little Lonsdale Street, on the fringe of the Carlton Gardens and in the shadow of towering apartment and office blocks, there’s a tiny, colourful eatery. It’s a destination pie shop selling a small range of deli items and take-home meals.
Wonderpop & Deli’s bright interior is full of playful details. A pie "museum" in the front window displays individual pies encased in glass domes. The glow from a neon “Pielicious” sign bounces off the room’s many glass surfaces, and above the serving bench, branches hang from the roof – a nod to chef-owner Raymond Capaldi’s old restaurant Hare & Grace, which had branches hanging from the ceiling. “[We] kept these just here for a little bit of nostalgia,” says Capaldi.
A collection of clocks on the right-side wall display the current time in New York, London, Greece and Japan. “We’ve got friends in Athens who have a pie shop, I’ve got a friend in London who has a pie shop … they’re basically to tell you [that] there’s a ‘pie time’ all over the world,” Capaldi says.
By the window, wooden stadium seating and inbuilt tables allow for quick pit stops. It’s the ideal spot for people-watching, or peering over at Capaldi and the kitchen team prepping.
Scottish-born Capaldi has an impressive CV; he’s cooked all over the world in kitchens including London’s Dorchester Hotel, the Hotel Sofitel in Melbourne (where he started the Sofitel Cooking Academy), Richmond's Fenix (where he was co-owner), and Fitzroy North cafe Marmalade & Soul. About a year ago, though, Capaldi swapped the white-linen tablecloths of glamorous restaurants for Wonder Pies, a wholesale pie business run from a factory in Bulleen in Melbourne’s north-east.
While delivering five-hour beef brisket and butter-chicken pies to restaurants around the country, Wonder Pies unintentionally became a destination for retail customers. So, together with co-owners Jodi Crocker and Dean Joseph, Wonderpop & Deli was born.
Capaldi’s pie recipe has been tried and tested so that when you take a bite it won’t collapse and crumble into your hands. Each one has a light shortcrust pastry on the bottom and a crispy rough puff pastry on top. The pastry is made using organic flour, and vegetable lard instead of butter, so the pie cases are vegan. But Capaldi insists it’s not a high-end shop. “We’re not gourmet,” he says. “It’s just a good pie.”
Some varieties are undoubtedly a little bit fancy, though. A confit duck pie with parsnip, honey and coffee jus can be found alongside the pie-au-feu, a take on the traditional French beef stew pot-au-feu, with chunky beef and a rotating mix of greens. There’s also a mac’n’cheese pie, a vegetarian cauliflower and cheese version, and a vegan pie made with vegetable mince, nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon.
A traditional apple pie made from raw and cooked apple and peppered with raisins is based on a recipe handed down by Capaldi’s Scottish grandmother. There’s also a rhubarb and liquorice version with geranium syrup and a frangipani base.
The pie-centric à la carte menu is prepared in-store and includes pancake pies (pancake batter cooked in pie moulds) filled with banana and custard, and “pieschetta” (bread made from pie crusts, topped with zaatar, tomatoes and cracked pepper). On tables there’s a house-made spicy ketchup and a thick, smooth caramelised-onion sauce. A range of toasties are currently in the works too, but Capaldi doesn’t want to rush these out.
“It’s a life crisis when you get a bad toastie,” he says, laughing.
Above the cabinet, there are large jars filled with giant marshmallows, meringues, crunchy honeycomb and beautiful cakes. The Gucci by Gucci is the first of a rotating weekly doughnut, stuffed with vanilla custard and topped with raspberries, rose petals and dried apples, best served next to a Code Black coffee.
The deli cabinet has charcuterie, terrines, pickled vegetables, salads and take-home meals.
Wonderpop & Deli
18 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
(03) 9639 5515
Mon to Fri 6.30am–5pm