A homemade sign recalled from childhood was the inspiration for the name of this quaint inner-urban retreat. “Va piano” (go slowly) it warned speeding traffic on Nicholson Street.
So when Josh Napolitano opened his East Brunswick café on the same street three years ago, he adopted a variation and called it Piano Piano (slowly, slowly). The name matches the mood here: Napolitano is laid-back and relaxed, his café is unpretentious and there’s strong use of recycled materials and respect for the past.
He grew up in Northcote and with sister Sassie began working in northern-suburbs cafés at a young age, in particular Brunswick Street Alimentari, owned by their aunt.
The site for Piano Piano, in a strip of shops across the road from the Triple R radio studio, had been a dowdy office. With the help of a friend, Napolitano refurbished and redesigned the space.
The menu, written on a paper roll behind the counter, defies natural food order and begins with burritos (with chipotle black beans and grilled corn salsa); there are pesto eggs with spinach, feta and grilled asparagus and a nonna melt with basil and tomato sugo on sourdough. There’s also a killer bircher muesli, loaded with nuts and seeds and topped with a splash of poached rhubarb.
Napolitano says organic, sustainable coffee from Richmond-based roaster Espresso Syndicate was a natural choice, aligning neatly with his respect for the environment. A lovingly extracted espresso from the two-group La Marzocco machine will be topped with a fine golden crema and hold juicy notes of ripe peach, caramel and cashews.
On her day off last week, Sassie Napolitano did some baking and made a soup – some of it for herself and her husband, the rest for the café owned
by her brother. She shares the barista role with Josh and exudes natural warmth and friendliness from behind the counter.
Sassie ran her own design and homewares store, In The Woods, in Northcote for a while, and after “acquiring a lovely coffee machine” was unable to resist serving coffee. It’s what she had known from years of working in local cafés.
She has been at Piano Piano for about a year, following her return from an overseas trip, and says the Syndicate coffee blend appeals to customers, who come from nearby art and design studios, businesses and residences.
126c Nicholson Street,
Phone \ None
Barista \ Sassie Napolitano
Coffee \ Espresso Syndicate
Barista’s choice \ Magic (double-ristretto flat white)
Open \ Monday to Friday 7am-3pm; Saturday 8am-3pm
The traffic outside surges past, but inside the mood is more subdued.
It’s a bit like being in nonna’s kitchen. Honeyed tones of recycled timber, splashes of red in a curved benchtop and vinyl-padded stools add warmth, but antique radios and collectibles, an old TV and condiments lining the kitchen shelves bring character.
A box seat takes up the longest wall, magazines are scattered across the window bench and half-a-dozen well-spaced tables cut in interesting shapes fill the tiny room.
Perch on a box stool, gaze out the window or spread out something to read – there’s no rush.