I had some wonderful homemade meatballs between two hunks of bread at Kenny’s Italian Kitchen in Addison several weeks ago and have not been able to top them yet, although I have tried and am still trying.
I take meatballs on bread very seriously, and have been disappointed for years encountering various incarnations of frozen meatballs out of a package in lots of places that should be serving something better. Oh, and most of these places call the thing a “sub,” or a “sandwich.”
Kenny’s waiter, Vinny, could tell that I am a bread connoisseur, as evidenced by the fact that he actually went over to Kenny’s Woodfired Grill to bring be back a popover when I mentioned that I like popovers.
Kenny, who’s from Boston, knows better than to call his meatball sandwich a “sub”. Here, it’s referred to with the proper reverence as a Meatball Grinder. To the people in Southern California behind the counter of a very established Mom-and-Pop Italian eatery who once offered to sell me a pepper mill when I ordered my favorite Italian snack, let me spell this for you: G-R-I-N-D-E-R.
Kenny even makes his meatballs available – like other items on his various menus – in orders of one. That’s right, onesies. One meatball; get it?
There is a long tradition of serving “one meatball” on the East Coast, and the story of how it came to be legendary actually originated eons ago in Boston. I told Kenny the story, and he wasn’t familiar with it, but I don’t care. It’s the spirit of the thing that counts. One meatball at Kenny’s costs $2.50 – but never on Sunday, when it will set you back a mere $1.00 and can be enjoyed alone or as an add-on to an entree.
Someone even wrote a song called “One Meatball,” which my father used to sing to me when I was a little girl. I thought he had made it up, but it turned out he had not. Dad was always coming up with funny tunes; like one called “Choo ‘n Gum.” written by Vic Mizzy, best known for writing “The Addams Family” and “Green Acres” theme songs.
Years later, I would have the honor of leading my band through all of Mizzy’s hits (including “Choo’ n Gum”) – as well as the hits of a dozen or so of his legendary Hollywood songwriting cronies – at a birthday party the composers threw for Mizzy in Los Angeles.
But back to One Meatball.
When I was a struggling chanteuse in the Manhattan of the 1960′s, having eschewed parental help until (oh happy day!) my mother wooed me back into the fold by offering to pay the 47 (yes, forty-seven) parking tickets I’d accumulated outside of my apartment on East 80th Street, I used to come up out of the subway on chilly late afternoons as the lights were coming on all over the city and buy – you guessed it – one meatball on a roll from a pushcart vendor who charged maybe fifty cents for it. The meatball was the kind you may remember from childhood, prepped with day-old bread, milk and eggs then simmered slowly in home-cooked tomato sauce redolent of garlic, onions and love. The roll was what we called in New York a “hard roll,” although it was anything but. This made for a filling sandwich, and the price was right.
Alternating with the lovely dinners people would buy for pretty young entertainers in those days at places like El Morocco and “21,” and the great food served at parties we attended – often delivered to said soirees by my rakish next door neighbor, Peter Munroe Smith, in his famous Yellow Rolls Royce from the movie of the same name – it was enough.
Judy Chamberlain, a professional restaurant critic since 1983, is also a critically-acclaimed jazz singer. Check out her website.