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REVIEW: Loading Zone Café

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Last week was one of those times that particularly ran me down. After an exceptionally stressful work week and a mean case of food poisoning, all I felt like doing was running home to Mum’s place for a free meal and a cuddle. But heartbreakingly, a lack of cash and petrol would not permit me an hours’ drive to my parents and back. So there was no possibility of free food and bear hugs like I hoped for.

[pe2-image src=”http://lh6.ggpht.com/-gDjYz-V2cRo/U-NSenEUUyI/AAAAAAAAG2Y/90xXmJ7rku4/s144-c-o/lz2.png” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108454826374315674707/LoadingZone#6044765810697982754″ caption=”Loading Zone” type=”image” alt=”lz2.png” pe2_single_image_size=”w614″ pe2_img_align=”center” ]

Instead, I ventured to the city to meet with the very lovely Joseph Cataldo, owner of one of Canberra’s best kept secrets, Loading Zone, and an old favourite, Bean in the City.) I had organised a meeting prior to coming down with the worst case of food poisoning ever recorded, and I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to meet the man behind these local businesses.

[pe2-image src=”http://lh6.ggpht.com/-As87B8vvd7g/U-NShvusPBI/AAAAAAAAG20/fkCtkylslcA/s144-c-o/lz8.png” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108454826374315674707/LoadingZone#6044765864562801682″ caption=”Joseph Cataldo (centre) with Loading Zone staff.” type=”image” alt=”lz8.png” pe2_single_image_size=”w614″ pe2_img_align=”center” ]

As the name suggests, the café is located in a loading zone alleyway off London Circuit, so it’s a bit hidden away. Isolated from the hustle and bustle of the city, it felt like my own little safe haven. Its only advertising is a small chalk board on the sidewalk so it’s not a place you come across easily – it’s a destination. And once you find it, you may not want to leave.

[pe2-image src=”http://lh3.ggpht.com/-0vS4rCuW6II/U-NServ1zOI/AAAAAAAAG2I/51IL01DA5oo/s144-c-o/lz.png” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108454826374315674707/LoadingZone#6044765811954273506″ caption=”This way! Loading Zone is hidden away in Odgers Lane, City.” type=”image” alt=”lz.png” pe2_single_image_size=”w614″ pe2_img_align=”center” ]

I had only intended to be at the café for an hour at most, but as Joseph and I sat and ate, we talked way into the afternoon. It felt like a home away from home, and I came to realise that it wasn’t just Joseph and his team who made me feel this way, but it was the food itself.

The menu is based around the idea of communal, home-style dining, encompassing some of Joseph’s own family recipes. You’ll see a bunch of ‘Nonna’s’ sauces on the menu, and every plate of food that comes out of the kitchen has been prepared with a lot of love.

[pe2-image src=”http://lh4.ggpht.com/-uIMmWwWGC7c/U-NSed4_L9I/AAAAAAAAG2E/rrLnRjzGjzo/s144-c-o/lz3.png” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108454826374315674707/LoadingZone#6044765808234541010″ caption=”Antipasto” type=”image” alt=”lz3.png” pe2_single_image_size=”w614″ pe2_img_align=”center” ]

Loading Zone intends to create a relaxed and humble dining experience, offering various dishes designed to share among groups. Joseph and I started with the Antipasto comprised of a selection of prosciutto, mozzarella, marinated vegetables, pesto and olives. My favourite were the beans – super fresh and salty, I almost ate them all myself. The plate was filled with more than enough food for a small group, and this was just an entrée. It was typical Italian dining. It doesn’t get much better.

[pe2-image src=”http://lh5.ggpht.com/-PYFVNu-Q7Qg/U-NSfsSPFEI/AAAAAAAAG2k/qiHr-2wABuQ/s144-c-o/lz4.png” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108454826374315674707/LoadingZone#6044765829278405698″ caption=”Cream of Cauliflower Soup” type=”image” alt=”lz4.png” pe2_single_image_size=”w614″ pe2_img_align=”center” ]

Next we had Cream of Cauliflower Soup. I could only stomach a spoonful or two, as my bowels were still uncooperative from the previous nights’ food poisoning peril. But my god, that soup was tasty. It was bursting with flavour and extremely smooth and hearty. This one warmed you up inside, and not just because it was hot soup. It just made you feel good, like a big hug in a bowl.

As we were eating Joseph had one eye on the other patrons, always making sure to say hello and recommend some food. Everyone who came into the café got a friendly greeting and a menu recommendation from either Joseph or his other staff. It was sincere and genuine customer service, no matter who you were or how long you were there for. When I commented on this Joseph told me, ‘Everyone’s welcome here!’ Speaking from years of experience in hospitality, including owning and operating three of his own businesses, Joseph believes that ‘[a good dining experience] is about showing you care for your customers’.

[pe2-image src=”http://lh6.ggpht.com/-NjY1P2ABoG4/U-NSgN-Cq5I/AAAAAAAAG2o/7_zPWfRkOpc/s144-c-o/lz5.png” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108454826374315674707/LoadingZone#6044765838320511890″ caption=”Fettuccine with Ragu of Pork and Fennel Sausage with Nonna’s Sugo and” type=”image” alt=”lz5.png” pe2_single_image_size=”w614″ pe2_img_align=”center” ]

Joseph talked about how having a skilled team is imperative in his businesses. ‘My chefs are fantastic, and they treat the food with respect’ Joseph says. He speaks highly of all his staff and tells me that his businesses would be nothing without a good team. Then, almost on cue, the manager brings us our third dish of the day.

Joseph had Slow-braised Beef Cheek with Red Wine on Potato Mash and Roasted Fennel. I opted for the Fettuccine with Ragu of Pork and Fennel Sausage with Nonna’s Sugo.

As if the two dishes weren’t already enough to feed a small town, we were also given a beautiful, fresh Cous Cous Salad with capsicum, tomato and chickpeas in a basil dressing. I decided at this point my experience was reminiscent of my Nonna’s house on Easter. Food was being offered to me left, right and centre, and I could almost hear Nonna’s voice in the back of my head screaming ‘EAT MORE! You’re so skinny!’

[pe2-image src=”http://lh5.ggpht.com/-VgR7OVhn7sw/U-NSgB8FWnI/AAAAAAAAG2c/i79I4I8TRGA/s144-c-o/lz6.png” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108454826374315674707/LoadingZone#6044765835091073650″ caption=”” type=”image” alt=”lz6.png” pe2_single_image_size=”w614″ pe2_img_align=”center” ]

After Joseph and I bulldozed through our mains, we finished things off with a coffee. It was not surprising that our food was delicious. I wanted to try everything on the menu and I was glaring intently at every dish that came out of the kitchen. Joseph assured me that there was always something new I could try, as Loading Zone changes the menu daily.

Unfortunately I was too full to take on dessert, but I’d highly recommend the Poached Pear and Ice Cream if you’re lucky enough to see it on the menu. I was eyeing off some of the pastries too, which I learned are from the Flute Bakery in Fyshwick *drool*. Joseph has plans for some more dessert options, which will highly complement the already delicious Italian menu. I can’t say what, but it’s going to be an exciting first for Canberra, so stay tuned…

[pe2-image src=”http://lh4.ggpht.com/-alZciR1OfC4/U-NShEJI2VI/AAAAAAAAG2w/VkXurml5C7E/s144-c-o/lz7.png” href=”https://picasaweb.google.com/108454826374315674707/LoadingZone#6044765852862568786″ caption=”Rather nice coffee :)” type=”image” alt=”lz7.png” pe2_single_image_size=”w614″ pe2_img_align=”center” ]

Eventually, it was time for me to haul my completely overstuffed stomach out of there, but I vowed to be back. Maybe next time I’ll go for breakfast because I’ve heard great things about the Baked Eggs (Editor’s note: best baked eggs in Canberra. Amazing.) Or I could always go for a post-work drink, as Loading Zone is open after dark for cocktails and live jazz.

If you’ve been looking for a genuine, attentive and family-friendly dining experience, give Loading Zone a try. If I could say one thing about this place, it would be that there’s nothing boastful or pretentious about it. Bring the kids, bring your dog, or bring your whole family – everyone and anyone is welcome! It was a refreshing and wonderfully pleasant experience for me. I hope it will be for you too.

the essentials

What: Loading Zone
Where: Odgers Lane, Canberra City
When: 7am – 3:15pm Monday to Friday; 8am – 2pm Saturday
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Loading-Zone
Instagram: @loading_zone

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