By Ali Webb

    A stranger once told me about this secret old-school place – a little grocer that I just had to visit. It sounded glorious.

    This person described in great detail; the chocked up shelves filled with international culinary delights, the fruit and vegetables heaving out of their gingham cloth-lined baskets and the condiments, and wall-to-wall condiments that would have me shaking at my knees, drooling in saucy goodness. After hearing about this secret, I had many mornings where I would wake up in a sweat thinking about deli goods and packet pasta whispering names like tortiglioni, farfalle, fusilli and tagliatelle… oh tagliatelle.

    I just had to find out where this secret grocer was, but I had no idea how to track down this creepy-but-dreamy stranger. I tried googling ‘secret grocer in the west’ but I didn’t know what suburb the joint was in let alone its name.

    It wasn’t until I needed some exciting ingredients to inspire me to cook for a handsome man that a friend suggested I try Altona Fresh. I explained that I didn’t just want to go to a normal supermarket and she said – ‘no way Ali, this is a super-secret grocer!’

    The name ‘Altona Fresh’ just sounded so flat. So blah. So… well suburban. But good God almighty, I love a challenge and I had a hairy man and his tummy to impress.

    Altona Fresh is located on Second Avenue. I liked this a lot – it was like I was trying to find Sesame Street. I drove down Second Avenue looking for a massive supermarket but it was just house after house until I came across a large shed shouting ‘Altona Fresh’ from above. It was nothing glamorous, but neither was my courtesy car I was driving thanks to a brief run in with a shopping trolley. Neither were the ripped ‘mom’ jeans I was wearing all morning after a four hour stint in Newport Centrelink trying to sort out a single parent income claim. Neither was my t-shirt screaming the word Oakley as though it had never left the skateboard pit of 1994. Neither was the scab on my elbow from trying to relive that skateboard pit of 1994.

    So I wasn’t in a glamorous state. The exterior of Altona Fresh was a welcome refuge to my unglamorous state. I felt instantly at home. So I entered. With confidence.

    It struck me upon opening the front door – why the hell had I never been here before? A corner of the indoor market was filled with pasta: fresh, dried, skinny, bulk and oh-so-many different types of sauces to make Italian magic. My dreamy stranger’s description of the beautiful fruit and veggie baskets pulsating with gorgeous seasonal fruit made me silently weep with joy. The deli staff in their tidy aprons slicing meats, the carefully chosen produce from all over the world, the donuts in the display window, the breads neatly stacked, the bags of crunchy nuts, the herbs and holy heck the TARAMASALATA in big bulk containers; my brain almost regurgitated retro recipes across the sparkling clean lino floor. I died and went to culinary heaven. The providore had stolen my heart (and my stomach and my wallet).

    I carefully selected fabulous items from the Mexican-styled section (the food theming in this store is out-of-control good); tortillas, black beans, chipolte, avocado, limes and heart-burning hot sauce. I held firm and mentally declined the donut with a bulging heart of custard in the display cabinet next to the register, and while paying I asked the lovely lady behind the counter where the best local butcher was. She said one word with confidence: Gugliotta. And directed me around the corner.

    Back in the Courtesy Car with my Mexican goods I focus on finding this butcher. ‘He is the best’, she had said.

    A & L Gugliotta and Sons literally is just up the road and around the corner from Altona Fresh. Located on Blackshaws Road nestled in a strip of shops with titles like ‘Coin Laundrette’, ‘Hot Bread Kitchen: Golden Oven Bakery’ and ‘Sandra’s Barber’, this fancy butcher got me from the get-go with its fancy storefront lettering.
    I pick up some chicken and receive some wonderful advice from the butcher on how to marinate it and also how to impress a man. There were some delicious looking lamb ribs ready for roasting that I will be back for.

    So I take my goodies home, marinate, chop and prepare my feast. It’s a success. The handsome man eats it. But the best part of it all was telling him about my adventures in the west, exploring two excellent stores, meeting excellent people who love what they do and the produce they are surrounded by. Perhaps Altona Fresh and Gugliotta are not the biggest secrets in town, but they certainly were the secrets to my successful feast!

    You can find Altona Fresh at 62-76 Second Avenue and A & L Gugliotta and Sons at 314 Blackshaws Road in Altona North. Worth a visit, don’t plan the feast let the experts guide you.

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