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COZY AND FAMILIAL: Meatball Tuesday scores big from Little Pond

Little Pond Caterers opens their Front Room for family-style dining every Tuesday night, when they serve meatball grinders (below) and one other dish, like chicken marsala (top). Photo by Tom Dorgan

 

I’m a big fan of ritual: Wine Wednesday, Sunday Funday, Meatball Tuesday…

Yes, Meatball Tuesday.

I heard about this Wilmington phenomenon a long time ago, but only recently indulged. Little Pond Caterers has been owned and operated by Tommy Mills and family since 1992. When it was time for one of the kids to go to college, the family figured they would make themselves a little extra cash by turning the front room of their catering commissary into a restaurant—but only once a week on Tuesday. That was about 10 years ago. Since, it has become enshrined as Meatball Tuesday.

My time in Wilmington is rapidly coming to a close (I’m moving to Florida in April), so I’ve been trying to do some of the things that have been on my “to-do” list for a long time. I usually work on Tuesday evenings, but time with friends over big plates of comfort food has started to take precedence. So last week I took the night off for some meatballs. And it was a great night for it.

We arrived at The Front Room at Little Pond, located at 2016 Princess Place Drive, a few minutes before 6 p.m. We were advised to arrive early because the evening has a history of selling out. Thankfully, our punctuality paid off; we were the very first to arrive. The staff generously opened the doors a few minutes early since the weather was a touch miserable.

A warm, homey atmosphere greeted us with big dining-room tables that would be suited for any grand estate. A friendly face was behind the counter, along with a lengthy list of beer and wine, and a concise dinner menu. I ordered a couple of glasses of red for my husband and me while we waited for our friends to arrive.

The setup of The Front Room really does make it feel like family dinner, which doubles down on comfort. We watched as strangers sat down with couples and trios; we had a few folks join our table as well. We were extra delighted when two friends we invited arrived and then two more showed up with their little one in tow. We all sat around the big table like a modern Norman Rockwell painting.

Our foursome were all first-timers so we decided to order the whole menu and share it: Caesar salad; Little Pond salad with candied pecans, shaved feta, craisins and citrus vinaigrette; a 12-inch meatball grinder; and the dish of the week, chicken marsala. The only thing we missed was a 6-inch meatball grinder served with a petite salad of our choice, but we covered all our bases.

 

 

The salads were both delicious and a great balance to the heavy dishes to come. Crunchy romaine hearts and garlicky, peppery dressing, along with super salty Parmesan just makes my heart soar, but only when done well. Little Pond’s Caesar was done very well.

The house salad was not something I would have ordered for myself (give me Caesar or give me death), but I was delighted by it. The candied pecans played well with the tang of the cranberries, just as the creamy shaved feta did with the bright citrus vinaigrette. Plus, it was vegetables! Green stuff: Check. Now, more cheese, please!

There is something so warm and comforting about chicken marsala: meaty mushrooms, soft, minced shallots, thin, chicken cutlets, and the saucy nature of the whole thing, brought together with marsala wine. I. Love. It. I could eat plates of it. I think I was happy with just one plate of Little Pond’s. They brought a southern twist I could have gone without, as it was served over a bed of grits, with pieces of country ham sprinkled throughout. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to chicken marsala; however, I am well aware there are others who love the pop of salty ham and creamy grits.

 

 

The main event, the 12-inch meatball grinder, was a beast of a sandwich. Splitting it between two couples who had just passed around two big salads and another rich dish was the way to go. Allow me to break this down from the outside in, starting with the bread, which makes or breaks a sandwich. This bread made it and then some. Thinking back, I would have liked some to scoop up the extra marsala sauce, or to stuff some salad the way I would with dinner rolls. Little Pond’s bread reached the three c’s of deliciousness: perfect crunch, perfect crumb, perfect chew.

The cheese was stringy mozz aplenty. I was pleased. The marinara added some tang, and wasn’t too chunky or hearty—just a perfect welcome for the meatballs, which were monstrous.

I admittedly could have used more sauce—I’m a saucy lady and I like a messy sandwich. But the grinder was packed with herbs and spices, and didn’t fall apart when bitten into. It also wasn’t so dense it couldn’t be smushed down to make a perfect bite.

We had to rush out the door for another date-night activity. As we did, someone came out of the kitchen, saying, “Wait! You forgot your cookies!”

I protested. “But we didn’t…“

“Everybody gets cookies at the end of the meal,” he assured me.

How wonderful! We scarfed them down on our walk to the car. They were like extra crispy chocolate-chip cookies without chocolate chips. But I didn’t miss the chocolate chips! What sorcery!

The girlfriend who joined us that evening and I bonded initially over a mutual love of all that is cozy. Almost anything can be, if you think about it: Cozy socks, cozy friends, cozy food. Our night at Little Pond proved to be just that—cozy, familial and just delightful.

DETAILS

LITTLE POND CATERERS
2016 Princess Place Drive
Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Open to public on Meatball Tuesday, 6 – 8 p.m.
littlepondcaterers.com

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