Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Love Letter to A Meatball Sandwich

In my blog last week I talked about my Colorado road trip with PMQ Thinktankers Richard “Daddio” Ames and Steve “Bodega Highway” Hitchcock.  But if I’m being perfectly honest, one of the Rocky Mountain highlights of my July journey was the meatball sandwich I inhaled at Wholly Stromboli in Fort Lupton, site of the Great Western Pizza Summit on July 15.

This iconic, self-styled “East Coast Eatery” is located in a 103-year-old historic building where locals imbibed illegal prohibition hooch. Now it houses a cat’s meow basement Speakeasy where former—long-dead—gangsters and flappers are said to materialize. The beautiful and, dare-I-say, sizzling flappers-waitresses who worked the July 15 pizza celebration and talkfest in the newly renovated Speakeasy at Wholly Stromboli were some scary-sweet tomatoes, see! These ladies were, decidedly, not dead.

Talk about scary-sweet tomatoes—let’s return to the meatball sandwich of my dreams. Co-owner and U.S. Pizza Team competitor Melissa Rickman (above) is a beautiful New Jersey girl. She moved to a lovely small town in Colorado with her sharp husband and entrepreneurial partner, Eric, to offer the game–accustomed westerners of Fort Lupton something unfamiliar. She and her staff cook up classic urban Italian dishes like New York-style pizza, mouth-watering stromboli and, yes, the best meatball sandwich on the planet.

The recipes are lovingly handed down from Melissa’s mom and grandmother. On the menu are improvised mashups like WS’s Peanut Butter and Jelly Stromboli—trust me folks, this sweet, chewy piece of Heaven ain’t just for kids. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to snatch one right out of one of my grandkid’s sticky hands. The inspiring food at WS, and great bar, have earned  Rick and Melissa’s joint mountain cred for the best place around to have a good time. And “around” in Colorado is awful BIG.

But I digress—back to the Wholly Stromboli Meatball Masterpiece. Hand-molded, tender dark globes of fresh ground beef covered in tangy, just-sweet-enough, marinara sauce and gooey mozzarella on toasted Italian bread. Since the day my mom took me to an Italian restaurant in Pensacola, Florida, at age 7, after she sprung me from the Navy hospital following a 3-day stretch for minor eye surgery, I have revered a well-executed meatball sandwich. The kind of ultimate comfort dish I committed to memory that Gulf Coast day is never cheapened with the blunt trailer, “sub,” despite its Naval roots. It is a perfectly balanced mound of red-sauce-immersed steaming meatballs on both planks of a halfed, browned, oven-crusted bread vessel blanketed in bubbling cheese. Sprinkle on some green sprigs of fresh Oregano to sign off the portrait.

That’s exactly what I got at Wholly Stromboli, as you can see for yourself.

So, in the end, I returned from Colorado with great memories of wonderful, passionate pizza makers, an incredible East Coast food Oasis operated with friendly western charm … and those mountains. Yeh, the high, snow-capped ones that John Denver sang about, sure—but also the 3-inch-round red ones covered in golden melted cheese. That’s what I’m talkin’ about!


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