Moochie's Meatballs and More
232 E. 800 South, Salt Lake City ; 801-596-1350
For many, this pottery shop-cum-sandwich shop is considered the mecca for local cheesesteaks.
Cuisine: Italian, Deli
Hours: M-S, 10:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
Corkage: $ 0
Reservations: Not accepted/necessary
Recommended Dishes: Cheesesteaks, meatball sandwiches, Tasty Kakes.
March 11, 2009
Gooey sandwich bliss times three
By Vanessa Chang
The adulation of the Philly cheesesteak is as fierce as the craving for one itself. I saw the veracity of this first hand when I picked up a friend from the airport. Cradled in one arm was a grease-stained brown bag containing two foil-wrapped authentic Philly cheesesteaks, just hours old, from a place called Geno's Steaks.
"Try these," he said handing the heavy sack to me. "Try these and tell me they're not addictive." The night before I had contested the allure of griddled beef smothered with Cheese Whiz and sandwiched in factory-soft bread. He, being born and bred in the City of Brotherly Love, took offense.
Needless to say, since that virgin bite at the terminal, I've seen the error of my ways.
The cheesesteak, like many other beloved foods, is prone to stir up passionate debates about authenticity. This article won't take part in the melee; that would be foolish. But one big sticking point of cheesesteak lovers is that you can't get them outside of Philly. I know a good portion of the U.S. population (living outside of Pennsylvania) who heartily disagree -- especially in Salt Lake City. Three places caught my eye based on recommendations from friends and foodies.
Though each had a different take on this East Coast delicacy, there are a few ground rules any cheesesteak maker or eater should know: The bread must be a soft, elongated hoagie bun; Cheese Whiz or American are the cheese of choice; the beef should be fresh, thinly sliced and cooked on a hot griddle with some grease; and cheesesteaks are always made fresh to order.
Joni's Deli » Inside and out, Joni's is non-descript with decorative Mediterranean references, trellis fixtures and a radio soundtrack that at times blares out tunes such as "Sweet Home Alabama." The restaurant, now in its 20th year, has long been a favorite with the lunch set that crowd the place between noon and 1:30 p.m. It's simple, straightforward food, most of it made freshly in-house by owner Joni Sorenson and her crew. The menu includes specialty sandwiches ($5.89 to $7.09), nostalgia-conjuring sloppy Joes ($5.89) and garlic burgers with wonderfully proportioned condiments ($4.25). But the cheesesteaks ($5.89) hold a great deal of appeal.
A soft, freshly baked Ambassador roll (the only thing not made in-house) contains the mass of chopped beef, melted cheese, as well as griddled bell peppers and onions. It's unwise to place the sandwich back down in the parchment-lined basket. The liquid and the soft bread hold it gingerly together. Joni's version has a pleasurable meat-to-bread ratio and it's among the reasons why Joni's always comes up in the fiercest of local cheesesteak debates.
The first few bites, the bread was distinct from the meat -- it wasn't until the belly of the sandwich that the ingredients coalesced into one heavenly texture. Joni's is the only local cheesesteak that comes with a smattering of mayonnaise and the white stuff does good things with the oozing cheese.
Moochie's Meatballs and More » Meatballs are part of the name and they're mighty fine ones, too. Spaghetti and meatballs may be emblematic of the red sauce cuisine, but meatballs nestled in a little row within a soft hoagie roll ($5.99; $9.99) trumps overcooked noodles in my book. It's Moochie's that attracts many Philadelphia-transplants and Utah natives with a certain passion for the foil-wrapped goodies (among other daily specials and the house potato salad, $1.59; $2.19) that come from Moochie's kitchen.
When it comes to cheesesteaks ($5.49; $8.49), a lot of folks claim authenticity, but Moochie's claims it with the most hefty and grease-laden enthusiasm. "Grease" isn't an insult; far from when it comes to the cheesesteak.
At first glance, visitors might mistake Moochie's for a pottery shop, which it partly is. Pottery maestro Jon MacDonald and his wife (and Philadelphia native) Joanna Rendi combine passions and tastes, resulting in a space that's part bohemian and part mom-and-pop-joint complete with a condiment bar with hot sauce and peppers of all sorts.
At lunch, it's perpetually packed with lunchers (they're open for dinner on weekends), but there's another room where folks can sit down to catch all the residual cheesesteak drippings just out the door in the adjacent yellow building.
At the counter, you decide if you want onions and peppers or mushrooms or both. Six- or 12-inchers soon emerge from the kitchen, cocooned in foil.
The bite is soft and luscious from the start -- for whatever reason, the moisture in Moochie's cheesesteaks disperse evenly. My bet is its brief incubation in aluminum foil makes all the freshly griddled goodness congeal into Moochie's signature claim to fame: They've been featured on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives".
Fillet of Phillies » This hidden spot in Murray is a worthy find. It occupies a strip close to Fashion Place Mall that's laden with chain eateries. Next door to a Beans & Brews, it's a no-frills, clean place that does what it does best -- satisfy its regulars when it comes to cheesesteak cravings in 6-inch, 8-inch or foot-long sizes.
By any degree of dining, the service is downright friendly and accommodating. Owner Jose Gonzalez takes the time to help you figure out if you want the Philly cheesesteak ($4.89; $5.69; $8.99) or the veg-less cheesesteak ($4.89; $5.69; $8.99) and when he has a break from the rush, he goes from table to table, asking diners how their sandwiches turned out.
One thing I'm glad he talked me into were the English chips -- battered nuggets of potatoes that were exceptionally crisp on the outside and meltingly tender on the interior. Alternating bites of English chips and a hot beef-filled sub is the perfect pleasure at a midday lull. A bit over the top, yes. But delicious in its humble luxuriousness.
Fillet has the most cheesesteak variations including the Philly original ($4.89; $5.69; $8.99) that combines chopped cheesesteak beef and pastrami that's as intriguing and filling as it sounds. Lovers of the Utah classic pastrami burger should have no trouble adapting their double-beef love to Fillet's take on a Philadelphia classic.
The venue will appeal especially to those who may prefer a sturdier cheesesteak with generously sized buns that are toasted to a golden brown on the grill. The beef, too, is sliced a bit thicker than at other places. So when you sink your teeth into the freshly made mass, it's a toothier sensation. Not purely traditional, but an incarnation that has its share of loyal followers, especially at this end of the valley.
And so the Philly cheesesteak escapade ends here -- for me, anyway. I have a feeling given the allure of such a classic combination (bread, beef and oozing cheese) many more curious diners will venture to one, if not all three, to see how they prefer tradition to innovation and find a new, worthy local eatery along the way.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.
April 23, 2004
Moochie's is the place for meatballs, cheese steaks -- and pottery
By Nancy Hobbs
Italian Americans take special pride in the food of their culture, often tenaciously guarding family recipes passed down through generations. Count Joanna Rendi -- affectionately nicknamed "Moochie" by her father -- among them. She cooks meatballs and lasagna as taught to her by her mother, which she in turn learned from her mother, and so on.
Now Rendi is taking her personal history and putting it to work with a sandwich-shop venture -- named Moochie's Meatballs -- that opened six months ago.
The kitchen is set up in the back of Circle Pottery, where Rendi's husband, Don MacDonald, used to turn out his clay creations. He recently relocated his wheels and a school for potters into a neighboring warehouse; the front half of his original shop on 800 South is now a gift shop and entryway to Moochie's takeout counter.
"It works out well. They kind of feed each other," Rendi said of the symbiotic relationship. Diners are exposed to MacDonald's artwork as they await their orders; the artist's patrons, some of whom have been shopping and ordering pottery there for the past 14 years, can grab lunch or dinner in addition to a ceramic food bowl personalized for their pet.
Sandwiches are the mainstay of Moochie's menu, and given my experience, also the best choices. The so-called famous meatballs (I always wonder how something attains that status in such a short time?) are very good, especially served on a chewy Italian roll that can stand up to the marinara "gravy."
The same rolls, from a local bakery which Rendi won't name, also are the cradle for Moochie's Philly cheese-steak sandwich, which she says is "authentic" -- just like what she ate growing up in the City of Brotherly Love. Not being an expert on such fare, I can't really vouch for its authenticity. It is tasty, however, loaded with thin slices of sirloin steak and topped with American cheese and lots of grilled onions.
But my favorite sandwich came off the cold side of the slate: A basic ham and cheese, stacked with lettuce, tomato, English cucumber and onions and dressed with mayonnaise and a spritz of especially flavorful balsamic vinaigrette. The ham was top quality and thinly sliced, and Swiss cheese was my choice for a perfect complement. American and provolone also are available.
Other sandwiches on the menu include provolone and red pepper, or feta and tomato on the cold side; a couple of sausage varieties or sausage scaloppine -- chicken breast and slices of sweet Italian sausage in a marinara sauce -- on the hot side.
The scaloppine also is offered as an entree, served over pasta or rice, with the latter being the preparation I tried. The chicken was a bit dry, but the sauce was fresh, with good tomato flavor. The lasagna suffered a bit from overcooked noodles, but was served good and hot and also featured a robust sauce.
Moochie's is designed for takeout, so diners would be wise to have a destination, home or otherwise, to take their grub. A couple of mismatched tables sit out front, and if you can nab one on a warm day, it works fine, though Rendi said there is no service for outside diners. Even the single table inside is intended more for waiting diners, according to the owner. Apparently eating on-site isn't part of Moochie's licensing contract.
Speaking of waiting, there was quite a lag between ordering and receiving our meals, although it seemed to improve on a second visit.
A latecomer on our first visit figured she would order the quickest thing on the menu -- the Mediterranean salad -- in order to catch up with the hot items we had ordered. Surprisingly, the salad took longer than anything else; the rest of us, sitting outside at one of the curbside tables, were close to being finished by the time it was ready.
Although the salad was generous in size and nicely garnished with feta and crunchy English cucumber slices, we all agreed a lighter hand on the balsamic vinaigrette and the addition of kalamata olives would improve it. The accompanying garlic bread was a big hit, with four slices to an order.
If you know what you are craving, call ahead to minimize any wait.
Another option for those in a hurry might be Moochie's take-and-bake meals for two or more. A lasagna meal for two, which includes the entree, a large salad and lots of garlic bread is $15.99; a similar meal with stuffed shells instead of lasagna is $12.99.
Rendi said she is in the process of getting a refrigerated display case with prepackaged meals so customers can grab and go.
Moochie's Meatballs is a welcome change from the ubiquitous fast-food restaurant. A hearty meatball sandwich, Philly cheese steak or fresh Italian sub -- all nicely priced with the most expensive item at $8 -- could be the perfect answer to your next picnic at the park, or even a save-the-cook dinner at home.