The Austin Chronicle

From Nonna's Sicily to Texas Bellies

Jay Maffi's journey to meatball superiority

By Kate Thornberry, June 6, 2014, Food

Juicy Jay's Meatballs


One of the phenomenons of our national food renaissance is the emergence of artisanal foodstuffs, and as the trend has broadened, even convenience foods are undergoing reinvention. Jarred marinara sauce is the poster child of convenience foods; what could be easier than boiling some pasta and opening up a jar? But jarred sauce has never compared to the long-simmered, homemade kind. That is where Jay Maffi saw his chance.

Maffi's family comes from Castellammare del Golfo, a small coastal town in the Trapani province of Sicily. He learned his Sicilian grandmother's recipes from his mother, Josephine Maffi, including the family recipe for meatballs in marinara sauce. Soon after moving to Austin, Maffi perceived that there was a dire need for his meatball expertise in this town.

"You have to use just the right amount of breadcrumbs," says Maffi. "Too few, and your meatball is like a rock; too many, and it will get soggy. The meatball should soak up a little sauce. You can make the best meatballs in the world, but if the sauce isn't good, it's not going to taste good."

Maffi's sauce is amazing, and his meatballs are wonderful. Flavorful and moist, they complement the acidity of the tomatoes with their rich essence, and the long-simmered marinara enriches the meatballs in return. After one dinner of Juicy Jay's Meatballs over spaghetti, I switched my allegiance over to him completely. For a fraction of the price of a similar meal in a restaurant, Juicy Jay's provides the genuine Sicilian article.

Juicy Jay's makes four different styles of meatballs, all made from stellar ingredients. The biggest seller is the straight-ahead Sicilian meatballs and sauce, made with grass-fed beef, pastured eggs, breadcrumbs, and spices that have been simmered in a marinara made from a mixture of crushed and fresh tomatoes. A 32-ounce container holds four big meatballs suspended in sauce and serves four, while the 16-ounce container holds two meatballs. Maffi also makes the delightfully robust Sicilian meatballs with pork and sauce, a heavenly combination of meatballs and slices of pork tenderloin in marinara. For the vegetarians, Maffi offers organic tofuballs and sauce, made with sprouted-soybean, non-GMO tofu; it's often the first variety to sell out. Gluten-free meatballs and sauce used to be available only upon request, but have proven so popular that they have been added to the regular lineup as well. All varieties are priced at $12 for a 32-ounce container, $7 for 16 ounces.

Maffi also makes tall Italian cheesecakes, available by the slice ($5) or as a whole cheesecake in 6-inch ($20) and 9-inch ($40) diameters. For the full Sicilian experience, Juicy Jay's will cater a meatball dinner, complete with spaghetti, rigatoni, salad, garlic bread, and cheesecake. Juicy Jay's meatballs and sauce and his cheesecakes can be purchased at the Cedar Park Farmers Market, the Mueller Farmers Market, the Lone Star Farmers Market, and the City of Dripping Springs Farmers Market.

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