We need to talk about this meatball sandwich. I mean, seriously. Is it the best meatball sandwich in Seattle? I think it has to be. I can't imagine something better than this.
There are many reasons to eat at LoPriore Bros. Pasta Bar in the Pike Place Market—aka "the Pasta Bar"— but the absolute A-number-one reason is this meatball sandwich.
First off, it's served on fresh-made garlic toast—a Le Panier baguette (baked mere steps away) split in half, spread with just enough garlic butter to make it tasty but not enough to make it greasy, and tossed into a pizza oven for a minute. On top of that they stack a big mound of tender, juicy meatballs. These meatballs are just firm enough to hold their shape until they fall apart in your mouth, like candy. And then the whole towering thing is covered in marinara sauce that's garlicky and fresh and not too thick. (It's just thin enough to get absorbed by the bread.) It's served open-faced, and I would hate to have to watch a guy try to somehow get this thing into his mouth with just his hands—it would wind up looking like the Civil War happened on his face. For $8.50, it's lunch with leftovers for dinner, served on a plastic plate that's seen a lot of action.
It takes a lot of effort to stop thinking about the meatball sandwich long enough to consider the whole lunch counter involved in the making of the thing. There's not a lot of square footage in this nook in Post Alley, behind a Seattle's Best Coffee, but LoPriore Bros. makes the most of it, with photographs of the Rat Pack and an autographed, framed picture of Marlon Brando at his peak. The counter has been in Post Alley since 1985. If, like me, you've missed it so far, you'll be kicking yourself for living without it.
A two-man crew works the counter, slapping together dishes using a steam table, a pile of baguettes that dwindles as the day goes on, a mammoth pizza oven, and a mysterious back room where, presumably, the magic happens. There's no microwave oven. The pasta is flash-boiled just before it hits your plate. The result is some sort of Platonic ideal of Italian food: The spaghetti with meatballs ($7.50 for a more-than-ample small, $10.50 for a large that will leave you feeling nine months pregnant with a happy ball of Italian deliciousness) practically looks like some sort of cartoon, with its tangle of long noodles piled high on the plate slathered in sauce and adorned with five or six of those perfect meatballs.
After weaning myself off those meatballs—have I told you about the meatballs yet?—I discovered that the menu is deep with other pleasures. The lasagna ($6.99 small, $10.50 large) is the way they serve it in the Little Italys of New York City and Boston: dense with thick noodles so the cheese and garlicky meat sauce enhance the quality of the pasta rather than obscure it. And the tortellini ($7.50 small, $10.50 large) is best with the pesto Alfredo sauce (for 50 cents more), a structurally volatile colloidal suspension of cheese and oil that makes every bite slightly different—sometimes you get a mouthful of cheese, other times you're surprised by a burst of basil. LoPriore Bros. also has a combo option for all their pasta dishes ($8.99 to $11.50): a side salad—mostly lettuce, with a house-made Caesar or Italian dressing—a soda, and two big hunks of garlic toast so you can scoop up your carbs with more carbs. It's a classic lunch from the days before the name "Atkins"—you should spit when you say it—elbowed its way into the common vocabulary.
The best non-meatball-related reason to eat at LoPriore Bros. is the people who work there. They chug along cheerfully and efficiently, serving up steaming plates to a curious mixture of tourists and tough-as-nails Seattleites who all seem to wish they were in New York City. Owner Brian LoPriore can't seem to finish a sentence without mentioning his Sicilian heritage: "Sergio's Mexican and I'm Sicilian, so sometimes we don't get along too good," he says of his coworker, before affirming that he's just kidding. ("Sergio's got a head like an iPhone" when it comes to remembering orders, he says with awe.) He'll ask your name, change it if he thinks it could be better—"How about 'Paulie'? That's more Italian"—and welcome you to the exclusive club of people who managed to find this little Italian heaven hidden behind some of the market's less-exciting storefronts. "You're a regular now, Paulie," Brian said after my first visit. "You're in the book."