Best Bets: Mama's Meatball Sandwich

Mama’s Meatball Sandwich at Vanelli’s Deli is a family recipe secret.

Photo by Michael Donahue // Buy this photo

Mama’s Meatball Sandwich at Vanelli’s Deli is a family recipe secret.

I love Mama’s Meatball Sandwich. Not my mother’s meatball sandwich because I don’t think she ever made one, but the one at Vanelli’s Deli in Germantown.

“‘Mama’ is our mother, Rose Vanelli,” said owner Charles Vanelli. Rose taught him to make the meatballs. They’re perfect, as far as I’m concerned. Full of flavor, moist with just the right amount of spiciness. The Asiago cheese and the gravy makes them even more succulent. “We use different meats, not just one meat,” Charles said.

One of those meats is the handmade sausage found in their Doc’s Italian Sausage Sandwich. “Doc” is Charles’ grandfather, the late Joe “Doc” Sciara, who owned three Sciara’s Grocery stores.

You can get the sandwich on wheat bread, but Charles recommended white bread, which was perfect. It was soft and soaked up the gravy. I ordered a whole sandwich, so I got a total of six hefty-sized meatballs. It’s filling.

Charles, who is one of six children, said his daily job was to make dinner when he got home from school. His mother worked at the old Fred P. Gattas store. “She had to show me how to make the meatballs.”

I talked to Rose on the phone while I was at the deli. She said her mother taught her how to make the meatballs. “I played around with them and came up with my own recipe,” she said.

If you think you’re going to find out more than I did about the secret to Vanelli’s meatball sandwich, think again. Charles isn’t talking. William Hopper, 16, who works at the deli, said his mom is going to marry Charles’ second cousin, but he doesn’t know the recipe and neither does his mom.

Charles’ sister, Mary Margaret Koch, her husband, John Paul, and their children were at the restaurant while I was there. “I don’t know how to make the meatballs and the sausage,” Mary Margaret said. “I can make the ravioli.”

John Paul knows where the sausage recipe is, though. “I can tell you the recipe is on a card in Charles’ wallet,” he said.

“Before that, it was in granddaddy’s wallet,” Charles said.

One more thing: If you like sweet tea, try Vanelli’s Deli tea. It’s perfect. “It’s my grandmother’s sweet tea recipe,” Charles said.

He’s not going to tell you much about the tea, either. “It’s just a better brew.”

Vanelli’s Deli is at 7873 Farmington; 901-754-2246.

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