Rao’s Restaurant Meatballs

  • Serves: Make 28 meatballs
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Food styling and photo by Sarah Phillips © Sarah Phillips CraftyBaking.com
I do not know if you have ever heard of Rao's Restaurant? The original one is located in East Harlem, New York City! It's impossible to get into, unless you know someone or are a member of their family, or are invited by someone. I fit into none of the categories. But, when I was a food broker, and they were just starting out selling their pasta sauces to gourmet food stores in New York City, I was one of their first food brokers.

Well, I sold more than any other broker to food stores in one year in the New York / New Jersey Metro area! So, Ron and Frankie (Frank Pellegrino), as he called himself, asked me what I wanted as a present - did I want a few cases of free sauce or a gift certificate or what?

I said that I wanted to eat at their Rao's Restaurant as My gift! So, they looked at each other, and then turned to me and said I could bring my husband, during the week, to their restaurant!
(Both of them were very intimidating looking - huge Italian men who looked like noone should not mess with them! HA! And, they stood around in suits and looked just like they did in their photo, always leaning against the wall in the far corner of the room!)

This recipe is adapted from Rao’'s Restaurant, NYC.

1 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground pork
2 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan Reggio cheese
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 small garlic clove, peeled and minced
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste; I use ground white pepper
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
2 cups lukewarm water
1 cup good quality olive oil for cooking
Your favorite marinara sauce

Combine beef, veal, and pork in a large bowl. Add the eggs, cheese, parsley, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Using your hands, blend ingredients together. Blend breadcrumbs into meat mixture. Slowly add water, 1 cup at a time, until the mixture is quite moist. Shape into 2 1/2 - 3 inch balls.

Heat oil in a large sauté pan. When oil is very hot but not smoking, fry meatballs in batches. When the bottom half of the meatball is very brown and slightly crisp, turn and cook top half. Remove from heat and drain on paper towels.

Lower cooked meatballs into simmering marinara sauce and cook for 15 minutes.

Serve alone or with pasta.

Store in refrigerator for a couple of days. Can be frozen for a month or more.

SARAH SAYS: Going to Rao's Restaurant was an adventure. First of all, they said I could not take any photos. And, we HAD to park our car in front of the restaurant so they (whomever that was) could watch it. Rao's was not in the best of neighborhoods, so I was a bit scared, but Ron and Frankie reassured me that nothing would happen to us and our car in THEIR neighborhood! The streets were completely empty and spotlessly clean, which was strange for Harlem, but I had to remember that they said I was in THEIR neighborhood. We also got to meet THEIR entire family - some cousins, aunts and uncles, etc - while we were there, including Vinny (Vincent) and Anna, which was so much fun!

Rao's only seats a few dozen people, at most, including their bar, and everyone is served family style and everyone seemed to know everyone else. We LET Frankie decide what we should eat, and he brought platters and platters and platters of food. I think we were there for several hours. There were all sorts of "regulars," as they explained it, sitting in the restaurant, and the same ones were there for hours and hours, as well. Noone really came in and out at all. There was an upstairs to the restaurant and sometimes Ron went upstairs with a guest or two, smoking cigars and holding drinks, only to came back down into the restaurant much later. It was also very quiet in the restaurant and dimly lit. It was almost spooky - right out of an Italian gangster movie!

The food was good and there was plenty of it. I had goosebumps throughout the entire meal and it was a blast just being there! I think this was almost 13 years ago ( can't quite remember when), and my husband and I still talk about it as if it happened yesterday! We still feel so privileged to have gone to Rao's, and still think of it as getting into the most ultimate restaurant in New York City, EVER! Ron and Frankie were both the most wonderful hosts, and I continued to sell their sauce for another three years, still being their top salesperson. They never asked me again what I wanted for a sales prize at each year end, but gave me endless free cases of their sauce, instead!

Food styling and photo by Sarah Phillips © Sarah Phillips CraftyBaking.com

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