December 18, 2014

Appetite

“The Food Is the Show”

Can you start off by saying I used to be better looking and thin?” asks Salvatore Basile, the burly owner of the best Italian restaurant in Lee County, Two Meatballs in the Kitchen.

Sal doesn’t have to look like a Calvin Klein model. In fact, I’d be suspicious of any so-called Italian restaurateur whose buttons didn’t strain the outer limits of their holes. And since Sal hails from Brooklyn and launched both Taste of New York and Bella Rosa (named for his wife) during his 30 years in Lee County, he’s earned his girth.

“They say you can either eat Italian or wear Italian,” my mother likes to tell me with an arched eyebrow, usually while she’s having the waiter trade her pasta for some steamed vegetables. I did not inherit her willpower. Until Prada comes out with a new line for zaftig figures like mine, I figure I might as well enjoy my marinara, which brings me to Two Meatballs’ new location on Salruse Lane in Fort Myers.

Two Meatballs’ original location, now the home of Sal’s The Crazy Chef and his deli/market Full of Baloney, seated 72. The new location—right next door—comfortably seats 200. Why the move to a larger space?

“We have 68 employees,” Sal explains, “but the wait on the weekend is still about 35 minutes.” To make a reservation, you must have six or more in your party. 

So what’s all the fuss about?

For me, it all begins and ends with the bedrock of every good Italian restaurant: chicken parmigiana ($10.95 lunch/$13.95 dinner). For a very modest price, you get two massive cutlets, expertly breaded and sautéed with mozzarella and parmigiana, adorning a plateful of pasta and excellent marinara sauce. For $1.99 more, you get a sizable house salad with the house vinaigrette, or a Caesar, or a bowl of soup. I’ve spent more for a plastic-wrapped sandwich, some fruit and a soda at the fancy local market than Meatballs’ sumptuous feast.  

The menu tops out at $21.95—the lunch and dinner price for the seafood fra diavolo—but most dinner entrées hover around $13.

“Your prices are very reasonable,” I tell Sal.

“You don’t want to drop $150 on dinner all the time,” Sal explains. He’s right, we don’t.

You’ll never be disappointed by Sal’s wild mushroom ravioli ($13.95), sautéed in a pesto cream sauce, or by his tortellini Maria ($12.95/$15.95), served with chicken and shrimp, also in pesto cream. I skip right over the appetizers, but no one should leave without trying the fried mozzarella squares ($5.95) with marinara.

Sugar addicts should skip the cannoli ($5.75) and the chocolate cake ($5.50)—especially the cake, a moist, light, unique treat—unless they want to become insatiably obsessed with both. Consider yourself warned.

When I ask Sal if there are any events our readers should know about, such as live music, etc., his answer proves revealing.

“The food is the show here,” Sal says. “I’m a family man. Live music is loud, and families want to hear each other. Keep my son-in-law [General Manager Paul Torocco] here until two in the morning with a lone woman nursing a drink at the bar? For what? No, thanks.”

Sal’s right. The food is the show at Two Meatballs in the Kitchen. Take a seat in the front row, brandish your fork and don’t let the curtain go up without you.  

Two Meatballs in the Kitchen
8890 Salrose Lane, Fort Myers;
(239) 489-1111, www.2meatballs.com.
Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Lunch daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dinner daily from 4–10 p.m.
Reservations for parties of six or more highly recommended.
Free parking. Credit cards accepted. Handicap accessible.