“I wanted Baller to be more casual, more in tune with the people of Collingwood,” explains owner Matteo Bruno to SBS Food. “I wanted it to be a place that locals would use as their own place, that they would go to when it opens at four. It’s not a formal setting, you can sit down on the couch, even read a book if you want.”
With its relaxed vibe and friendly staff, Baller is the perfect place to stop by after work for drinks and snacks. Just don’t expect anything too healthy. “It’s a bit of a cheeky menu,” says Bruno, laughing.
On the smaller side, there are Beer Nuggets (seasoned deep-fried pizza dough pieces), and Crumbed Baller Bites (mini deep-fried beef and pork meatballs), both served with dipping sauce, as well as sliders.
“I started to fold the dough in a little bit to protect the meatballs in the oven and then that sort of created a hybrid, a bit like an open calzone.”
If you’re after something larger, there are three loaded fries options: Bolognese with mozzarella cheese, charred corn with chicken salt and cheddar cheese, or gravy with bacon and sausage. The pasta also come in three: gnocchi with a creamy Gorgonzola sauce, classic lasagne and tagliatelle with porcini and butter sauce (Bruno’s favourite).
There’s one thing you absolutely have to try, the pizza pie. Bruno was initially trying to create the perfect meatball pizza, but he found that the meatballs were drying out too quickly when cooking. “I started to fold the dough in a little bit to protect the meatballs in the oven and then that sort of created a hybrid, a bit like an open calzone,” he explains. “So I realised I could fill it with meatballs and sauce, jam in a lot of cheese, put the dough right up, and as it cooks, the dough will protect the meatballs, the cheese will melt and the dough will slowly start to open and puff.”
The prices are Baller low, with nothing over $18. Deals are even better during happy hour, from 4pm to 7pm, where you can score a meat and cheese board for $12, a glass of wine for $5, a pot of beer for $3 or a cocktail for $10.
Bruno’s parents moved to Australia from Italy just before he was born. His mother is a great cook and his dad is a cattle farmer, so it’s no surprise he gravitates towards meaty, hearty Italian-inspired dishes at Baller and The Meatball & Wine Bar.
“Pretty much everything that I do is modelled in some ways on the flavour profiles I grew up on, which are predominantly from Venetian and Piedmontese cuisine,” he says.
His focus is on his just-opened luxe Italian wine bar in Windsor called Ines, after his maternal grandmother. The menu, built around the wine list, includes a baked goat cheese with citrus honey, persimmon sautéed in red wine, vitello tonnato and prawn bisque pasta. Things are a bit different this time; not only has Bruno developed the menu, but he’ll be in the kitchen himself.
98 Smith St, Collingwood, Melbourne
Wed-Thu 4pm – 10:30 pm, Fri-Sat 4pm – 12 am, Sun 4pm – 10:30 pm
150 Chapel St, Windsor, Melbourne
In the mood to binge on pizza? We've got the all-new season of The Pizza Show for you via SBS On Demand:
Cooked in a smoky tomato sauce, these meatballs are made with minced haloumi, which give it salty bursts of flavour.