ONE GREAT TACOMA DISH: The Meatball Sandwich at Macaluso’s

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By Robert Ettlinger

A meatball sandwich is not a logical culinary choice. It’s hard enough to eat flat double cheese patties or layered cold cuts stacked between two sheets of bun or bread lubricated by mayo or sauce without the filling sliding away from you as you chomp down on the other end. But meatballs? They are even more unlikely to stay stationary, resulting in the humiliation of biting down into the sandwich at one end propelling meatballs out the opposite end like cannonballs at Gettysburg.

Not at Macaluso’s, where the meatball sandwich design and construction are perfectly engineered. The meatballs are nestled within hollows in the bread like eggs in a crate. No danger of flying meatball projectiles here. It’s a solid package that takes both hands to admire from front to back.

Let’s start with the individually baked per order, still warm Italian bread which makes a crunchy leaf-rustling sound as you start your bite, yielding to a pillow-soft inside which insulates the meat, cheese and sauce components. All the insides were as perfectly positioned as the shoes on the shelves at Nordstrom’s. 

These meatballs are not the rubbery, overcooked and usually previously frozen golf balls you may have encountered. Macaluso’s are made from scratch, bulky and moist, chunked with onions, rosemary and garlic, which provide entertainment for the tongue while it directs the flow of the abundant meatball juices. The sandwich is further enhanced by the linkage of mildly salted mozzarella that stretches to your hands at arms-length from your mouth and the lubrication of a zesty, oregano-inspired marinara sauce. If you are an eater with patience who chews slowly you can expect to feel a shard of meatball, a plump fluff of mozzarella and a jigger of sauce within the foamy crunch of bread in every bite.

Chef Matt “Chewy” Spence reviewed with me the many reasons why this meatball sandwich, an original recipe from owner Laura Macaluso, is the best around. First the bread is baked on site daily and the oregano-scented marina sauce is freshly made each day as well. But it is the care taken with these homemade meatballs that explains this dish’s superiority. Made from local Verone’s sausage, both hot and regular, and lean beef, the herbs are blended together to marry prior to their addition to the meat. The binding agent is their own Focaccia bread, moistened by milk, not water. Chef Matt pointed out the importance of combining the ingredients while cold, so as not to release any precious juices prior to cooking, and maintaining that cold while gently rolling the meatballs, not pressing or squeezing them, as that reduces the crevices where the juices collect. 

The sandwich costs $12 and comes with a soup or a salad.

Too bad it’s only on the lunch menu. But there are over three dozen dishes to explore at lunch and dinner. The Chef is particularly proud of the Alfredo Macaluso, (chicken, sausage, mushrooms, onions with tagliatelle) for $21, the Minestrone, (vegetable soup with sausage), for $6, and the Pollo Marsala, (chicken, mushrooms, marsala wine, cream, onions, garlic, vegetables and spaghetti), for $22.

Macaluso’s is located at 5101 N. Pearl St. in Ruston. Call (253) 267-1340.

What is your One Great Tacoma Dish? Write author Robert Ettlinger at roberteettlinger@gmail.com

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