This is a satellite, if you like, of West 48 in Essex Street, so you can expect lovely Allpress brews through a La Marzocco. Jag and Steffan built the cart themselves. Traditional Sicilian bickies are care of North Melbourne's Dolcetti, with a few Dench salted caramel tarts if you are feeling indulgent. Takeaway only, with KeepCups to purchase. (PS: Sims are now stocking Bonsoy.)
When I first moved here, Sims still had the old-school registers that emitted a skinny paper strip for a receipt instead of the snappy laser-printed ones everyone else was doing. If a coffee machine here is not a giant neon sign in the story the inner west's evolution, I don't know what is. But in fact, Sims has been evolving for a long time. I wanted to find out more behind the decision to serve lattes next to the Tatts counter so I got in touch with David Cotter, the co-owner/director of Sims, to find out more.
If you're not a WeFo local, Sims is a completely independent supermarket with two branches in West Footscray and Werribee. What you might not know is that it's been around since the 1930s, including at the same Barkly Street/Warleigh Road corner.
Check out inside, with jaunty wicker baskets instead of shopping trolleys! The Sims family are still involved in the supermarket - that's three generations of the same family until present day.
David's been a partner for 21 years. He's vivacious, enthusiastic and speaks a mile a minute, and is genuinely keen to please his customers. He can sense the changes happening in the area. "For 20 years I couldn't sell nappies here," he says. Now they unload pallet after pallet. "We used to sell one box a week of free range eggs," he says. "Now we sell twenty!"
One new initiative of David's is fresh seafood. Local flake, fresh (not frozen) Tasmanian salmon and more come in daily from a local western suburbs supplier. Check it out next to the tub of baccala - traditional Italian salted fish.
Sims have tried to introduce free range chicken a couple of times over the last few years, but it hasn't taken. Now suddenly some sort of tipping point has been reached and it's apparently viable for the first time ever. James, the butcher, reports that free range Otway pork will be coming back very soon as well.
The Sims meat department is awesome - from lamb shanks to lamb brains, and everything in between! I love this continuing connection to the older generation who are the main buyers of this range.
David's trying to increase the range in the fruit and veg section and make the layout more like a market. I'm digging the yellow wax beans, broad beans...
...and loads of different potatoes. I have to say I've been disappointed with the fruit and veg at Sims in the past, but this looks super inviting and delicious.
When asked about organics, David says, "We could do it but we wouldn't do it well. Go to that little place in Seddon - Pompello, I think it's called. Why hurt his business?"
Um, legendary attitude or what?
This is Irma who runs the deli. She manages all the buying and does so through her own network of small-scale manufacturers and suppliers - no buying from a warehouse or wholesale aggregator here. I'm already a Sims deli believer but wanted to discover some of Irma's own personal favourites.
Italian prosciutto, calabrese salami and more, all sliced to order. (You're welcome to ask to taste anything.) Irma suggests trying the Ventricina for something different. It's a salami that's a little bit spicy and lovely to eat on its own. PS: Free range ham, which made a brief appearance in the last couple of months, will be back soon and hopefully to stay.
This little-known cheese is fresh ricotta that's been salted and pressed so that instead of being soft and wobbly, it's hard and crumbly. Try it instead of Parmesan - the taste and texture is halfway between Parmesan and feta. Irma recommends making a very simple sauce of tomato and onion for pasta, grating loads of ricotta salata over and tossing through. Yum.
Next time you're reaching for the triple cream brie, Irma recommend you try the Fontina instead. It's a lovely, mild table cheese that also melts well.
Another deli hot tip is the range of roast meats, from chickens to pork hocks to gorgeous, mahogany-coloured turkey marylands. Sims also sell quivering hunks of roast pork neck, of which you can have as little as one (warm, juicy) slice.
Halva is a love it or hate it deal, and I adore it. It's a thick sweet made with sesame seed paste, almost like a fudge but with a slight graininess that reminds me of fibreglass. I love the way it makes my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth....and right now you will either be nodding vigorously in agreement or furrowing your eyebrows in bewilderment!
I also love Sims' fresh Turkish delight, rose and lemon pieces nestled in icing sugar (also try orange blossom Turkish delight from Pompello)...
...and check out this new super-soft, flavoured nougat!!!
There are more sweets care of local Polish bakery Erik's - the vanilla slices come highly recommended, but only if you have a fresh shirt on hand for when you've finished trying to manoevre it between your jaws. Nick's in Altona provide cannoli, rock cakes, rustic continental bread and more.
A hot tip - a second bakery delivers "wood oven" bread on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, containing only flour, salt, water and yeast. (You can also buy Sourdough Kitchen bread from Rocco's fruit shop, a little further down Barkly Village.)
When I saw the new development going in behind Sims, I did really worry that our local supermarket might get bought out and become a big, sterile Coles. It seems, though, that Sims is responsive and keen to continue evolving. We are so lucky to have a truly independent grocer, one that has strong cultural roots but is also willing to adapt to the changing demographics. And really, where else can you get a proper coffee, buy a jumbo jar of sauerkraut and groove in the aisles to Fleetwood Mac? Only at Sims...and long may it stay that way!
511 Barkly Street, West Footscray
Hours: Mon-Fri 7am-10pm, Sat-Sun 8am-10pm
Coffee cart open Mon-Sat 7am-4pm, Sun 8am-4pm
Coffee cart open Mon-Sat 7am-4pm, Sun 8am-4pm