A decade ago, it was difficult to get a legit Philadelphia-style cheesesteak sandwich here. There were good subs, hoagies, grinders and even a decent iteration of the New Orleans muffaletta sandwich to be found, but the City of Brotherly Love signature sammich was a tough ticket. And then, in August 2003, Moochie’s Meatballs & More! was born. Problem solved.
This August was a big month for Moochie’s. Not only did owners Joanna Rendi and Don MacDonald celebrate their eatery’s 10th anniversary, but they also opened up a new shop, on State Street in Midvale. They’ve come a long way since building a tiny kitchen in the back of Don’s Circle Pottery & Gifts.
For those who might not know the Moochie’s pedigree, a key to the sandwich shop’s success is owner Joanna Rendi, who knows a thing or two about cheesesteaks. Rendi is a Philadelphia native. In fact, she’s a cousin of Tony Luke, owner of the much-acclaimed Tony Luke’s, which for many aficionados is the holy grail of cheesesteaks in Philly. So, why didn’t Rendi and MacDonald call their business Moochie’s Cheesesteaks? Beats me. I do know that “Moochie” was the nickname Joanna’s father gave her. And, I know that the meatball sandwiches are every bit as good as the cheesesteaks at Moochie’s, if not better.
So, what about those cheesesteaks, now that they are no longer the only game in town? For my money, there are two really good cheesesteaks in SLC, along with a few other contenders. But to my palate—and I’ve eaten many, many cheesesteaks in Philadelphia—it’s Moochie’s and DP Cheesesteaks that are the closest to the real deal. I’ve written about DP’s before, and you can find my thought on those cheesesteaks in the archives.
As with my favorite Philly cheesesteak emporiums like Pat’s, Jim’s and Tony Luke’s, a Moochie’s cheesesteak begins with thinly sliced beef rib-eye. At Moochie’s, the meat is cooked with or without onions (your choice) on a hot, well-oiled griddle, and stuffed into a split hoagie-style roll with American cheese. This is where, in my opinion, things go slightly askew. American cheese? In Philly, most cheesesteak operations offer a choice of cheeses: usually Cheez Whiz (the default topping), Provolone, Swiss and, yes, American. However, at Moochie’s, when you substitute Whiz, Provolone or Swiss, you’ll pay a cheesy surcharge of 50 cents for a six-inch sandwich or a buck for a 12-incher. Ditto if you want roasted peppers, grilled mushrooms or lettuce, tomato and mayo. The cheesesteaks are already pretty spendy, eclipsing even the pricey cheesesteaks at Philly’s premier spots, at $5.99 and $9.99 for a six- or 12-inch sandwich, respectively. Are they worth it? Hell, yes!
While we’re deconstructing cheesesteaks, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the bread. In Philadelphia, the legendary hearth-baked Amoroso roll—a sub/hoagie roll made by Philly’s Amoroso Bakery, in business since 1914—is de rigueur for making a legit cheesesteak sandwich. There are cheesesteak outfits here in Utah that use Amoroso rolls; they’re available nationally, although bagged, not fresh, from the bakery. Moochie’s uses locally made rolls, not Amoroso. However, I don’t really think it matters. Here’s why: If you’ve ever been to Philadelphia, you know it’s humid. We, by contrast, live in a desert. That humidity lends a certain suppleness to an Amoroso roll that just can’t quite be replicated or sustained here. The bread just dries out too quickly. And so, I find the cheesesteak rolls at Moochie’s to be just a skosh drier than I’d like, with a slightly flaky crust. Don’t get me wrong, the cheesesteaks are excellent, but the bread misses by maybe a factor of 5 percent from the real deal, due to our dry air. However, if you get your cheesesteak to go, and microwave it at home for about a minute, the texture of the bread becomes very Amoroso-like.
Of course, that’s nitpicking—but this is what serious cheesesteak fiends do. Just take a look online sometime at the raging debates over who makes the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia. That anyone would even try to produce an authentic Philly cheesesteak in Utah is admirable; that Moochie’s succeeds is remarkable.
However, as the name implies, Moochie’s Meatballs & More! is about much more than cheesesteaks. The meatballs, whether you have them in a sandwich, with pasta, or on a salad—yes, there is a meatball salad—are exceptional. They’ve got humongous flavor, a perfect blend of ground beef along with both hot and mild Italian sausage. And they’re humongous in size, too—about the circumference of baseballs, which is why they’re served cut in half. But amazingly, the meatballs are light and airy, not dense and heavy; I think partly due to using oatmeal for binding, not milk-soaked bread. Meatball royalty.
Order entrees like pasta with chicken parmigiana ($7.49) or eggplant parmigiana ($7.49), and you’ll find the spaghetti blessedly not overcooked. And it’s topped with just the perfect amount of zingy housemade marinara, not swimming in it. Oddly though, the chicken parmigiana I had wasn’t topped with cheese, though there was some on the pasta. I highly recommend the spaghetti and magnificent meatballs ($7.49), which comes also with a roll. But stay away from the Italian sausage, which tends toward dry and overcooked.
Surprisingly though, the single best thing at Moochie’s might just be the housemade Jumpin’ Jalapeño sauce—sort of like jalapeño-spiked aioli. I’m not quite sure what you’re supposed to do with it, so I just smear it all over myself and lick it off.
MOOCHIE'S MEATBALLS & MORE!
232 E. 800 South, Salt Lake City
7725 S. State, Midvale