Behind a boarded-up worksite on Gertrude Street in Fitzroy, a new Italian sandwich shop is making fried-bologna sandwiches, saucy meatball subs, and cheesy pine-mushroom lasagne. All you have to do is knock on the door labelled Rocco’s Bologna Discoteca, make your choice and return to your nest to feast.

Alternatively, you can order your meal online and the Rocco’s team will do the knocking for you when they deliver it. They even deliver free if you live nearby.

For those uninitiated into the delicious world of luncheon meat, bologna (often called baloney in the US) is a smoked mortadella-like ground-pork sausage that originated in the Italian city of the same name.

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“We slice it, then fry it and stick it in a bun,” says head chef Josh Fry, who’s cooked at Andrew McConnell eateries Marion and Cumulus Inc, and came up with the idea – originally a pop-up – midway through last year.

The concept grew into plans for a fully-fledged restaurant, which was supposed to open (at a different location) before Easter, but due to coronavirus Fry and co-owners Zoë Rubino and Emilio Scalzo switched to a takeaway-delivery model. Rocco's opened in late March and will run as a pop-up for the next few months.

“To keep some people employed we decided to go ahead and give Rocco’s a nudge and see what happened,” says Fry. “It’s been going quite well, really.”

There are two fried-bologna sandwiches: one with pickles, chilli and provolone, the other with green olives and mozzarella. Other sandwiches include a saucy melanzane made with crumbed eggplant and mozzarella, and an also-saucy meatball sub with beef-and-pork polpette al sugo (meatballs cooked in tomato sauce), Parmigiano and basil.

“The best way to describe this food is Italian Macca’s. We use Martin’s potato rolls, which are really fluffy, sweet rolls,” Fry says. “We crisp that up on the grill, [put in] the fried mortadella with some pickles [and] cheese, and grill it in the sandwich press so it’s crispy on the outside.”

For something bigger, there’s a pine-mushroom lasagne, or a tomato-y ricotta cavatelli (handmade pasta) with chicken. There’s also a range of antipasti; sides of hand-cut fries, garlic bread, house-baked sourdough and salad; and tiramisu for dessert.

The garlic bread may look like a typical takeaway number bundled up in tinfoil, but it’s made with bone marrow for added richness.

“It’s about equal parts butter and roughly chopped bone marrow, heaps of garlic, herbs, and then [it's] buttered through a sliced baguette,” says Fry. “It’s a pretty old-school looking garlic bread … but kicked up a notch with bone marrow, [which] makes it a lot richer and creamier.”

The Rocco’s Dinner Box ($65 for two people, $85 for four) includes one sandwich per person, salumi, olives, Sardinian-style flatbread, salad, fries and tiramisu. There’s no booze to buy as yet, but if you spend more than $100, Rocco’s will throw in a free magnum of Italian wine.

The free delivery zone includes the city and several inner-north suburbs, but those a bit further out can order through Doordash.

“We’re all ready to go for the future. We’re just using our space and skills to try and keep us all employed and entertained,” says Fry. “Just knock on the door and come on in.” (One at a time.)

Rocco’s Bologna Discoteca
81–83 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
0435 236 115

Wed to Fri 5pm–10.30pm
Sat 12pm–10.30pm
Sun 1pm–7pm