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Let's talk about great meatball parms

I grew up in central NJ (Lakewood) and although I haven't been there in a very long time (I have lived in Los Angeles for fifteen years) and my palate has evolved since I was a kid, I do have many fond memories of the delicious Italian American food of my youth. Los Angeles has some wonderful food, but truly great NJ style Italian-American staples are hard to find here.

I may be heading back for a family event, and it made me wonder. Does a truly great meatball parm exist in central New Jersey, or are the sandwiches of my youth just a happy memory? Honestly I can't remember where we used to go for great ones, but I do remember places with Italian sounding A-names (Attilios, Antonios, etc.)

I remember great meatball parms were always broiled to melt and brown the cheese over the meatballs and crisp the bread. I always disliked mealy meatballs-- and if an error was to be made, I preferred the springier, chewier ones to the ones that fell apart into mush. Meatballs needed to be well spiced. Oregano was always a plus.

How do you define a great meatball parm?

And I've always wondered about this-- isn't it usually mozzarella on a meatball parm? What about provelone? I always thought it was a bit odd that the sandwich was defined by a cheese that takes second fiddle to the gooey melted stuff that showcases the sandwich.

For purposes of opening up the conversation, I'm open to great meatball parms all over New Jersey.

Thanks for your advice.

Mr Taster

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  1. I grew up in Briarwood Queens and as you, have wonderful memories of many different foods least of which was a meatball parm hero from Alba pizzeria. They would cut the SOLID meatballs in half, put them in a metal baking dish and put them in the oven after covering them in sauce and cheese...lots of cheese. When the m.b's were just about ready they would put the hollowed out roll into the oven and let it toast. Out they both came and the meatballs, cheese and sauce were spooned into the roll. Heaven. Now that I've digressed, I'm sure you can find a good m.b. parm sub in N.J.

    1. Lived in New Jersey all my life, and LOVE meatball parm sandwiches. When you do find a great one, please let me know where it is! I have actually had meatballs so horrible that I faked liking them to ask what ingredients they used, (so that I wouldn't repeat the offense) and have been told, "I don't know, they get them frozen in a bag at costco."

      1 Reply
      1. re: drubenero

        I'm not one to eat meatballs out of my home but the one's they have at Frank Anthony's are great. Meatballs are a personal thing so hard to say what people would and wouldn't like but I can vouch for these..and they do make a parm.


      2. OceanView deli in long branch. This old Italian couple has been there for decades and they know how to make a killer parm sub!

        8 Replies
        1. re: corvette johnny

          corvette johnny - I'm really glad you posted this, as I remember reading a readers poll in a local paper that had Ocean View as a winner in a sandwich category. I remember vowing to try the place, but have yet to do so. A google search however, returns with the name Ocean View Bakery. Is this the same, or am I looking in the wrong place? If it is indeed the same place, there is quite an Italian influence in that are, as it is about a block from Tony's, Tuzzio's, and Nunzio's. Thanks in advance!

          1. re: drubenero

            Yes, it is ocean view bakery and a block from Tonys and Nunzios.

            Joanne is her name and she is a sweet lady. I love her veal & peppers too!

            I would recommend trying her subs. I think you will be impressed!

            1. re: corvette johnny

              Johnny, I may have to stop in one of these days. We do a Nunzio's pie every so often so the 'hood is known - my wife will often order one of these or a sausage parm from Gianni's which isn't bad. I'll get back to you should I order some stuff from them. Thanks

              1. re: JustJake

                JustJake: If you like cheesesteaks, try the cheese steak pizza at Rockafellars (about 1 block from Ocean View.....good stuff and filling. One large pie weighs several pounds LOL

                Ironically, I really don't like their regular cheesesteak subs much...nothing compared to the real deal philly steaks. However, pizza they can pull off.

              2. re: corvette johnny

                Just so I'm clear, this place is a bakery, run by an old couple, that makes killer sandwiches? If so, I'm heading up soon.

                1. re: MGZ

                  That is correct. I don't think they bake bread any longer though.

                  They are probably in there 80s to be honest. They have been there for EVER. Check out the cash register they use. It is hilarious!

                  Joanne and Giro are the owners. Joanne gets so busy she starts to talk to me in italian. I just nod my head and pretend to understand LOL

                  She makes a good fried chicken cutlet with fresh Moz and roasted red peppers (and balsamic)

                  Ask what the special is. They have hot dishes in the back like sausage and pepps, veal and pepps, etc. If you go at peak lunch hours it will be slow. They get packed.

                  She also makes me antipastos with proscuitto, sopressata, aged provolone, fresh mozz and roasted peppers....custom made and about 3000 calories : )

                  1. re: MGZ

                    Ps, this is a "hole in the wall" place. It's a deli and not an actual restaurant. They do have a few small tables though.

                    1. re: corvette johnny

                      Thanks for the heads up. I gotta get there.

            2. The problem with this type of hero is not the meatballs, nor the cheese, nor the sauce. It's the BREAD. Most pizza places use the cheapest, most horrific bread for these heros, hoping people don't notice. (I guess they don't!)

              I want a great bread for my hero sandwiches, and it's just not to be found.

              2 Replies
              1. re: lemarais

                Not a problem. Nobody in this part of the world actually orders or eats a sandwich called a "Hero." If they did, hopefully they should be seriously disappointed. :-\

                1. re: equal_Mark

                  I don't understand... If it's called a "hoagie" or a "sub" or a "grinder" the bread is better??? And BTW, half of the State of NJ calles them "heros".

              2. I like the turkey meatball wraps at Muscle Maker Grill. I would never know they were turkey.

                5 Replies
                1. re: ebchower

                  I know this is a meatball parm string, but eggplant parm is a 1st cousin. You'd be hard pressed to find a better made one than at Ms. DiMaggio's pizza joint (DeLio's) on Broadway in South Amboy.

                  A friend recommended them to me a few years ago, and if I'm traveling anywhere near the place on the way back to the office, I call her to see if she has made a batch - and then will audible and veer into town for it. It's terrific.

                  As for the meatball parm, I don't' often order, opting to make em' at home as my wife makes a pot full of em on some Sunday's (and she's not Italian). - Leftovers from an Italian dinner on Monday has us making Meatball Parm, and it's an awesome meatball. Get some club rolls from Nino's in Oakhurst and it's as good as it gets. Bon Apetit

                  1. re: JustJake

                    JustJake, Have you tried anything else from Delio's? I'd love to here more about it, even though great Eggplant Parm is worth the ride to just about anywhere.

                    1. re: drubenero

                      Their meatball parm :-) is good (they don't skimp on quality as they're principled 'old school' that you do things but one way - the right way, the way momma used to......., but as stated, I go there for the eggplant parm. Slices aren't bad - cheezy and not too much grease.

                      On the Eggplant parm sandwich - it's not always available so call in advance 732-721-7440 to see if she has some made up.

                      1. re: JustJake

                        Thank you JustJake. I'm a big fan of the pizza at Sciortino's, and can't bring myself to go to SA for pizza anywhere else, but on your recommendation I'll try it at Dileo's as well. Uh Oh - I hope I didn't just inadvertently turn this into another pizza thread...

                    2. re: JustJake

                      Thanks for the tip. I take the train from South Amboy & am always looking for a good eggplant parm, so I'll give it a try one night.

                  2. Are there any recommendations for the Matawan/Old Bridge area?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: eleeper

                      eleeper, my go to meatball sandwich place closed - it was Lombardi's on Rt. 34.

                      1. re: drubenero

                        Alas, that is not as helpful as I might have wished. :-(

                        Mark thinks the bread in the subs at La Strada in Matawan (along the Parkway) is excellent, so if it's the bread that matters, that might be the best place. (I don't actually like meatball parms myself, or indeed most subs--too much bread for my tastes. À chacun son goût and all that.)

                    2. Over the past few days I underwent a little Meatball Parm tour of sorts. Nothing like taking one (or two or three) for the team. First I will say the main focus of this post is Meatball, but I will mention a couple of other topics mentioned in this thread. I tried two of the places mentioned on consecutive days, the first being Ocean View Bakery, then the next day Delio's in South Amboy. I walked into Ocean View, and I felt like I walked into an old store in Little Italy (or I guess I should say Chinatown now), or a neighborhood joint on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx. Lot's of character & charm topped of by a few really nice people behind the counter. Onto the Meatballs:
                      At Ocean View the Meatballs in my estimation can best be described as meatballs cooked in gravy. Many restaurants reheat broiled or fried meatballs, spoon the warm sauce over the top, then place it on the bread, top with cheese, then toss it in the oven to melt the cheese & toast the bread. Not at Ocean View, here the Meatballs are cooked in the sauce, then cheese is placed on the bread, topped with the hot meatballs, and served. the bread wasn't toasted, but it didn't detract from the sandwich at all. It's a winner, now we all have our own preferences, and while it was well made, I would have liked it to be a little saltier! A little more seasoning would have put it over the top for me.
                      On to Delio's: just a note - Delio's is undergoing some cosmetic construction, so there is no sign at the current time. Delio's is set up just like a thousand other NJ pizza by the slice shops, but as with Ocean View the folks behind the counter set the place apart. The Meatballs: Large meatballs, sliced and heated and sauced separately (as many places do described above) but were indeed very tasty. Nicely seasoned, good amount of garlic, toasted bread, but the toasted bread combined with the spooned on sauce made for messy eats. Poor me, like i care!) the sandwich was better than most, because it was made by people who care about serving good food. on a personal note, I would have liked the sauce at Delio's to be a little more balanced, it was a little acidic, but it did have good tomato flavor, something you can't get using inferior quality tomatoes.
                      To some it up, but really not trying to compare two separately authentic examples of Italian-Americana (can I say that?) I would have loved Delio's Meatballs, cooked the way Ocean View does it!!!!!
                      The real gem of these two places is the people behind the counter. Both were so similar in that the folks were friendly, and started conversations with the customers, and I love the Italian accents!
                      As for other food, unfortunately Delio's Didn't have Eggplant Parm on the day I visited, and I was told that "I Maka it fresha ifa I donta hava the time I donta make it - I donta usa da freezer, only for a mya yeasta and olda bread" I LOVE THAT!!! I also had a slice of Pizza, that was definitely above average, and I plan on going back with the family for pies.
                      Now back to Ocean View. I did try the eggplant Parm, and they do it the right way. Eggplant Parm is meant to be put together and baked, and thats how it is done here. It was better than the Meatball Parm, and it's what I would travel there for, if they didn't make a KILLER Salami & fresh Mozzarella Sub. Thin Layer of Salami & Provolone, hand cut (the way Italian Grandmothers cut, holding the object in their left hand, slicing towards themselves with a pairing knife in their right - if they're right handed) the usual lettuce, tomato & onion, plus roast red peppers, and a vinegar & oil dressing that she put on the sandwich with a spoon. Nothing quite like a cold sub that makes the paper around it transparent by the time you get it home. Sorry this post has been so long, but these places excited me! When I do in fact make the trip back to Ocean View, it is going to be for a cold sub - and maybe the Pasta Fagiole that I've since heard is really good.

                      10 Replies
                      1. re: drubenero

                        Does Delios have a dining room where one can BYOB do you know or is it basically a pizza place with booths and such?

                        1. re: CatLadyJan

                          CatLadyJan, the counter is in the front of the place, and is square in shape, and there is an area behind it with tables. I didn't notice any booths, and I'm not sure if they have table service (wait staff) at all. When I do make it back in, I'll ask!

                        2. re: drubenero

                          Thanks for doing all of this legwork (and mouthwork!) As I originally mentioned, I am in Los Angeles but you're really making me want to take a trip back home.

                          Mr Taster

                          1. re: drubenero

                            Nice write up! Was this your first time there? Joanne is a piece of work right? LOL

                            I always wonder when they will retire. It will be a sad day but I guess as long as they love what they do and are able to do it, they will continue.

                            If you would like to try a good eggplant parm I would recommend Ciao Bella in Highlands (right next to the Quick chek on route 36)

                            It is a little different you will find....let me know if you try one. I've had quite a few eggplant parms in my day and I think this is one of the better ones around.

                              1. re: corvette johnny

                                corvette, I was going to sneak Ciao Bella in this post somewhere, based on the best Chicken Parm I've had in a restaurant. It was as a dinner, not in sub/hero form. I wanted to get there to try the meatball last week, but it will have to get done in the future!

                                1. re: corvette johnny

                                  Ciao Bella also makes an unreal Chicken Parm sub!! It's my go to CP sub place. And the owner Cesar makes a great pizza.

                                  1. re: sockster

                                    Sockster, I've eaten there a few times and think it's about the best red-sauce Italian in the area, but I've never had the pizza. Now it will be meatball parm sub & pizza to go!

                                    1. re: drubenero

                                      Giorgio is a pizza master....I like mine on the well done side....just ask...and he'll do it!

                                      1. re: sockster

                                        yeah Cesar is a cool guy. I go there all the time.

                                        If you have not had his actual entrees, they are quite good to and reasonable. I am a big fan of their chicken scarpiello.