The Cooking Channel show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” finally found its way to Fort Lauderdale to genuflect before the glory of charismatic restaurateur Steve Martorano’s signature meatball.
Premiering Monday, April 1, at 9 p.m., the episode is led by celebrity chef and Food Network star Geoffrey Zakarian, who took a liking to Martorano and the brawny Philly native’s Oakland Park Boulevard landmark, Café Martorano, while in town a couple of years ago for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. The episode will have repeated showings on April 2, April 14 and 15.
Martorano is no stranger to television, with appearances on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” the “Today” show, “The View” and “The Steve Harvey Show,” among others.
“I’m the most famous cook that nobody knows,” he says.
His meatball has been a celebrity since Gourmet magazine, more than a decade ago, touted the flavorful orb as what “may be the best meatball in the world.”
On “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” which brought cameras to Café Martorano about eight weeks ago, Food Network stars describe a dish they feel particularly passionate about, then visit chefs and cooks in the kitchens where the must-try meal is made to divine the secret behind its preparation.
Martorano’s baseball-sized meatball includes veal, beef and pork, with a new batch hand rolled and pan fried every afternoon, and comes staged in a pool of the Sunday gravy his mother used to make, with a salad and dollop of house-made ricotta. Cost: $23. It’s the most popular appetizer at Café Martarano, selling 500 a week, 100 each on Friday and Saturday.
The secret — and the expense — is in the gravy, which includes San Marzano tomatoes, beef and pork braciole, pigs’ feet and sausage.
“The sausage is flown in from Boston, from a place called Bianco, once a week. I’m in Florida. There’s butchers here, purveyors here, but this is one of the best sausages I’ve ever had. That’s the quality we’re looking for,” Martorano says.
“Anybody can make a meatball, and they throw it in a tomato-basil (marinara), it’s just blah,” he says. “[The difference-maker] is the Sunday gravy, and nobody wants to do that because it’s so expensive. But that’s the way I grew up in South Philly. That was your Sunday gravy.”
The dapper Zakarian, the man behind Point Royal at Hollywood’s Diplomat Beach Resort, has been a fan of Café Martorano since the night in 2017 when his party of eight people ate a meal and then watched the restaurant make its traditional 9:30 p.m. evolution into a movies-and-music club atmosphere.
Martorano says Zakarian appeared surprised — then he danced, later asking to take a picture with Martorano.
“He said, ‘Let me tell you something. I don’t know you. You don’t know me. I was told that if I wanted great Italian-American food with an experience we had to come here. Nowhere in the world have I seen anything like this,’” Martorano says. “I’m gonna say this to you, and I’m quoting him, he says, ‘That had to be the best Italian meal I’ve had in over two years.’”
When Zakarian returned with a different group the next week it was for the food. Especially the meatball, which he told Martorano transported him back to the Italian food he ate at friends’ homes growing up near Boston.
“That was the whole idea of my brand,” Martorano says, “To bring people back to a memory.”
“The Best Thing I Ever Ate” episode with Café Martorano can be seen on the Cooking Channel at 9 p.m. Monday, April 1; 1 a.m. Tuesday, April 2; 9 p.m. Sunday, April 14; and 1 a.m. Monday, April 15. Visit CookingChannelTV.com. For information on Café Martorano, visit CafeMartorano.com.