Friday, June 25, 2010

Sometimes I Marvel Over…

the way my mind works. Why do I forget anything important but remember the frivolous?

Why do I remember reading that in Japan you are bestowing a great honor when you give someone a gift of SPAM? (Spam is used more often as gifts than chocolates.)

Why do I remember that before that country’s economic collapse, one of highest grossing Pizza Huts was in Reykjavik, Iceland?

Why do I remember that in 2001 green Jell-O was named the “Official State Snack” of Utah?

So here we are in the land of green Jell-O, fry sauce (usually a simple combination of one part ketchup and two parts mayonnaise), and something called Funeral Potatoes (so named because they were often served at luncheons following funerals). Not being familiar with the latter, I did a quick Google and found that this refers to a potato casserole made with frozen hash browns (or frozen Potatoes O’Brien), cream of mushroom soup, sour cream, and cheese. And you know what? I have made these, only under the name of Duchess Potatoes. And they are really good. So it was time to embark on our Utah culinary adventure. But first…

It was time to take a trip back to Philadelphia, at least in spirit, and visit Moochie’s Meatballs and More in Salt Lake City. According to Salt Lake City Weekly: “Joanna Rendi has wanted to offer the food she loved in Philadelphia ever since she moved to Salt Lake City.

And when husband Don MacDonald bought a new building to house his pottery school, she created a niche in the rear of the Circle Pottery Gift Shop to try her hand at making a business out of cheesesteak sandwiches and homemade Italian pasta, meatballs, marinara sauce and salads.”

If Joanna’s childhood in South Philadelphia doesn’t prove her bona fides, she is also the cousin of Tony Luke, the owner of Tony Luke’s on Oregon Avenue and the home of the greatest Philadelphia-style sandwich--the roast pork Italiano (roast pork and broccoli rabe w/ sharp provolone).

Moochie’s is reminiscent of most cheesesteak joints. You order at the counter and then scramble to find an available seat while your food is being cooked. Since Moochie’s was featured on Guy Fieri’s "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives" on the Food Network, we found a seat under the obligatory Guy Fieri autographed poster. And Moochie’s is not large, seating about thirty at tables inside and maybe another thirty outside. We sat inside so as to better observe the action--and action there was. We arrived around 2:30 p.m. and the place was busy when we arrived and was still busy when we left.

While there are some standard sandwiches, the menu is strongly influenced by Joanna’s (her childhood nickname was “Moochie”) South Philadelphia roots. The sandwiches include: the Authentic Philly Cheesesteak (thin-sliced ribeye steak grilled with onions and topped with melted American cheese); Moochie's Handmade Meatball sandwich (handmade meatballs with provolone cheese); the Pizza Steak (ribeye steak grilled with onions, pepperoni, and black olives, topped with handmade marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese); Italian Sausage (mild Italian sausage topped with marinara); Sausage and Peppers (sliced Italian sausage grilled with onions and bell peppers); Sausage Scallopini (Italian sausage and chicken breast cooked with onions, fresh mushrooms, and bell peppers in a light marinara sauce and topped mozzarella cheese); Chicken Parmigiana (slices of chicken breast lightly coated with a parmesan crumb mixture, then grilled and topped with marinara and mozzarella cheese).

There are also hoagie-style sandwiches, spaghetti with a meatball or sausage, chicken cacciatore, sausage scallopini, stuffed peppers, chicken or eggplant parmigiana, and deep dish lasagna.

Chuck, ever the traditionalist, choose the twelve-inch (over the six-inch) classic cheesesteak with American. No sauce, no onions, no peppers. In Philadelphia there is a never ending argument whether the meat should be lightly chopped or left in slices. Fortunately for us, Moochie’s chops their ultra thin sliced rib eye, and from where I was sitting I could observe the grill master executing the two spatula chop as he manned the grill. The meat was tender and juicy, but Chuck wished that he had requested the alternative provolone over the American.

Knowing that Guy Fieri loved the meatball sandwich, I went with the twelve-inch meatball with provolone and fried onions and peppers. Joanna makes these jumbo meatballs with a mix of hot and mild Italian sausage and extra lean ground beef. After cooking, the meatballs are cut in half before being put into the roll. The handmade marinara was just right and wasn’t the extra sweet and extra thick “gravy” so notorious in South Philadelphia.

Well, Guy Fieri may have eaten the entire twelve-inch meatball sandwich, but all I could manage was half. The other half came home, and being curious, I put it on my kitchen scale and found that a half sandwich weighed almost a pound and a half. The whole would have weighed in at three pounds. Egad.

We each ordered fries (couldn’t finish these either). They were hand-cut and great with the bottle of jalapeno sauce that was on each table. I didn’t see any fry sauce on the condiment bar.

The only disappointment was the rolls. They were way too dense and heavy with a medium crunchy crust. How I wished for rolls from Sarcone’s Bakery in Philadelphia or from Altmonte Brothers in either Warminster or Doylestown or from Sam’s in Southampton or even from Amoroso’s Bakery whose rolls are sold in virtually every grocery store in the Philadelphia area. And it was the roll that brought Moochie’s Addie rating down to only a 4.0.

But need we say more regarding the rating?

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