Meatballs and Bread at the Lighthouse Deli in Kohala, on the Big Island. Sugar says it’s one of the best things she’s ever eaten. © Sugar + ShakeIt often happens that we encounter a dish when we eat out and like it so much, I try to make it at home later. Sometimes this works out, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m not sure if any home attempt will ever live up to the memory of this particular dish: Meatballs & Bread.

Shake and I were on the road, and because of the schedule of things we had to do (it was a work trip), we ended up skipping lunch and spending two hours floating down a drainage ditch. We were wet. We were cold. We were hungry.

Fortunately for us (most fortunately for Shake, because I get reeeeeeeally grouchy when I don’t eat. And then I’m known to pass out), we found the Lighthouse Deli where, thankfully, at four o’clock, they were still(? already?) serving hearty food.

I opted for “Meatballs and Bread”—exactly what it sounds like. Three big ol’ meatballs, covered in tomato sauce and served with a chunk of wonderfully crusty fresh bread. Mmmm… I don’t know if it was hunger or cold, or just the actual tastiness of the dish, but I remember it as one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. So simple, so full of flavor. That’s the original Lighthouse Deli Meatballs and Bread above.

Trying to make Meatballs and Bread, a la the Lighthouse Deli in Kohala. Maybe they need more sauce? © Sugar + Shake

I’ve tried to replicate this a couple times, and to me, it always falls short. Shake insists they’re damn good ’balls, but I think he’s just being nice. I mean, they’re OK, but they’re just not what I want!

For one thing, they’re a bit tough, which could be attributed to one of three things, and I haven’t figured out which yet: a) I use Big Island grass-fed beef, which can be leaner and tougher—I don’t think this is the problem, though, because I also use pork and veal and those are quite moist and tender meats; b) I have a habit of over-mixing (a chronic issue), which can make for tough meatballs; c) I sear them too long and and don’t simmer them in sauce long enough. This could probably be remedied by making them smaller, but then it wouldn’t be the same—they have to be large. Like The Wedding Singer I’ll-pay-you-in-meatballs size.

Try as hard as she can, Sugar cannot get these ’balls to match her memory of the delicious Lighthouse Deli meatballs. © Sugar + Shake

Also, I have decided that I must have proper meatball bowls. Because that will improve their taste and texture. Yes. Pretty, perfectly sized bowls. Just like the ones at the deli. That’ll solve it!

Balls and Bread. Sugar + Shake first encountered this dish at a deli/liquor store in a teeny Big Island town after we’d been on a tour all day.  Sugar’s ’balls are made of Big Island veal & beef and (non-local) pork. Seared in duck fat. Just because. Finished off to cook with homemade marinara sauce. © Sugar + Shake

All right. I guess it’s back to the meatball drawing board for me!