Credit: Helaina Hovitz
Oh, how the red sauce is wasted on the young.
When I was five years old, I turned my nose up at my beloved Italian grandma’s meatballs and pasta, petitioning only for pasta with butter.
I have since come to regret that, now that I’ve developed a taste for the good stuff —including the gravy, as we fondly call it.
Fortunately, I did get to taste them before it was too late, and while they weren’t my favorite back then, it’s been pretty hard to find anything that comes close to them now.
It’s also hard to describe exactly what gives a meatball that special something; maybe it’s the right amount of garlic, or the level of moisture, or the consistency of the sauce. Whatever it is, Nicky “Meatballs” Mormando’s meatballs are almost as good as my grandmother’s.
I tried them recently at Polpette, which is celebrating its two-year anniversary on April 1st (no joke!). One of the most endearing waitresses I’ve ever met, Christina, made me feel right at home and then some, walking me through all of the meatball options: Stolen, Sliders, Sauced, Sandwich, and Classic, and bringing out several delicious fried appetizers to go with them.
Named for Nick “Meatballs Are My Life” Mormando, Nicky’s Meatballs officially got their nickname from Jennifer Lopez's sister, Lynda, who coined the phrase during a local NYC cooking segment.
A self-taught chef who learned everything he knows from his Sicilian mother, Nicky began rolling meatballs with his mom at age 10, and first opened Bello Giardino in 1994.
The "Stolen Meatball," sans sauce, gets its name from a specific instance, or rather, multiple instances, of little Nicky stealing the meatball right out of the frying pan before it went into the sauce while his mother was cooking on Sunday mornings. At both restaurants, it’s served as a side, meant to be eaten with your fingers and popped right into your mouth.
If only I’d known about it when I was five years old, which I was—you guessed it—in 1994. Talk about a missed connection.