Meatballs make me smile. Maybe it’s that song we learned as kids — “On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese, I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed.” Or perhaps it’s that southern Italian cooking that anyone who grew up in New York knows. (You could throw a dart in New York City and it would hit a place that sells a great meatball hero, vs. in LA, where you could throw a dart and hit a place that sells a great meatless something-or-other.)
In my mind, there are two classic tributes to said meatball, both of which are TV commercials and both of which star a humble hero (in addition to the meatball, that is). The first, known as “That’s a Spicy Meatball,” was for Alka-Seltzer (see it here). It was made in 1969 and raised the modest meatball to cult status. You’ve got to hand it to the actor in this commercial-within-a-commercial, doing heroic multiple takes of eating spaghetti and meatballs. And that oven door at the end? Priceless.
The second commercial, also from 1969, is for Prince Spaghetti (see it here). The commercial is set on a Wednesday evening, as Anthony’s mother calls him home for dinner by shouting from an open apartment window in Boston’s North End neighborhood, “Anthon-eee! Anthon-eee!” Our hero Anthony comes running breathlessly home just in time for his plate of Prince Spaghetti and, one imagines, meatballs. As a result of this ad, any kid growing up on the East Coast in those days could tell you, “Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti day.” And Anthony’s smile at the very end could tell you all about the joy of being a kid and playing outside until the very last minute.
So here’s to meatballs (spicy or not). To heroes (young or not). And, of course, to meatball heroes (extra sauce or not).
©2014 and 2021 Claudia Grossman