Beginning in 1954 and for over forty years thereafter….
my family frequented a little Italian restaurant in our town,
along the river called:
Driving past this unremarkable structure,
you might not think of stopping,
But if you did stop, you wouldn’t regret it!
In the early days,
the decor consisted of grapevine and plastic bunches of grapes,
hanging from the ceiling;
painted murals of Portofino on the walls and
on each table- red and white checkered cloths and
a chianti bottle hidden under layers of dripping wax.
Italian music was always playing and
I seem to recall listening to a lot of Jerry Vale!
To this day, when I hear Jerry Vale-
it takes me right back to Terrys.
One of my favorites was “Al di la”,
probably because it was in a 1961 movie called
“Rome Adventure”with Troy Donahue.
I LOVED Troy Donahue.
But I digress……..
The most important thing was the food.
Terry made the
BEST meatballs, pizza, bread, ravioli, lasagna
Servers, coming through the swinging doors from the kitchen ,
their arms laden with large oval platters of delicious food,
always had beads of perspiration all over their faces.
It was like a blast furnace in that kitchen!
Terry had huge pots of sauce and meatballs on the giant old stove.
There were steaming pots of spaghetti,
crusty loaves of bread being pulled from the oven
my personal favorite…” light as air” lasagne ,
bubbling in it’s own little individual baking dish.
It was heaven. All of it.
There were regular patrons for all the years we went there.
We would all meet on Friday & Saturday nights and chat away with each other.
It was a kind of clubhouse for those of us who came regularly.
We bonded over our love of the food and the place itself;
a delightful little secret unknown to most people- but us!
Bob & Terry owned the restaurant until I was in my late 30’s
and without fail- we ate there every week.
Bob attended to duties as bartender and bon vivant
Terry worked in the kitchen,
coming out occasionally for some air and a cigarette!
We used to sit at the “family table” a lot
and they would sit down and talk when they could.
Then, in 1981, they retired and sold the business
to another husband and wife.
She was French, he was Greek.
The food was still good, but
nothing was really ever the same again.
Even in Italy, I never found anything that satisfied
my appetite and my soul
as Terry’s food did.
She gave me her meatball recipe and her sauce recipe,
but even though they were basic and simple to follow,
nothing has ever come close to the deliciousness of the food she created.
My entire life has been a quest to find or duplicate her perfect meatballs.
After years of hoping, dreaming, experimenting,
I’m sad to report:
There is No Perfect Meatball
now that Terry is gone.
I’m sure no matter how magnificent one might be-
it will never satisfy the memory
of those moist, tender, incredibly luscious, perfectly formed orbs
I swooned over so many years ago.
Part of it is the memory of those wonderful experiences we had dining there.
I’m sure the flavor of all that
was some how infused into those meatballs;
a combination never to be found again….
like most childhood experiences.
It’s interesting how many of my wonderful memories involve food and
revolve around meals, picnics, and big family dinners.
Terry’s meatballs may be gone and
I know I will never find anything that compares.
I have to live with that!
Having said that… here is the good news.
All is not lost!
After years of trying every recipe I could find ,
I recently acquired one from the Meatball Shop in NYC
and I find
those meatballs are almost worthy of my inexplicable obsession with
the meatball- as an art form!
The secret is Ricotta Cheese in your basic meatball recipe!
( the complete recipe follows)
So…. fellow lovers of authentic Italian food…
what have we learned from this life long quest of mine?
Yes, that’s right…..
We cannot ever go back.
When something is gone, it’s gone.
The memory of the food, mixes with the experience surrounding it
and it simply cannot be duplicated.
So, don’t compare something against an old memory.
The old memory always wins.
Just enjoy everything, every day!
Perfect meatballs are found but once in a lifetime
and that’s why:
we must settle for merely Great Meatballs.
I think you’ll like these!
Meatball Shop Meatballs
2 lbs ground beef
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
1/2 cup bread crumbs
salt & pepper
1 tbsp. oregano
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
mix thoroughly with hands,
make golf ball size meatballs,
place on a lightly greased (olive oil) baking sheet
make sure meatballs touch each other
Bake at 450 for 15 min.
Remove from oven, add 1 cup tomato sauce and bake for another 15 minutes.
Remove from oven and place in bubbling sauce.