Originally published Jan/Feb 2013 in Oakland.
Though Singing Pizza Elmo still greets you when you walk into Emeryville’s Rotten City Pizza, neither he—nor his anthropomorphic animatronic pizza—no longer dances while singing, “Yum-my, yum-my, that’s a pizza pie.” His fading, sun-bleached fur gives him a ghostly pink pallor, no longer the bright red of ripe tomatoes—a color now reserved for the roasted tomato sauce Rotten City uses on the meatball subs.
The 6-inch sub ($10.50) is a crunchy pouch overflowing with tangy sauce, gooey cheese, and three different kinds of meat. Some may reach for a fork and knife. Please, pick it up; the sweet deli rolls, from Berkeley’s Acme Bread Company, will do the heavy lifting. Rotten City bakes them to perfection, so the crust holds its crispiness and won’t limp into sogginess, spilling all of the good stuff into the papered basket.
Tide pools of roasted tomato sauce collect in the bread, becoming unexpected little pockets of subtly spiced, zesty acidity. Rotten City makes the sauce and meatballs in house, roasting both together so they can soak up each other’s deliciousness as they cook.
The meatballs, a combination of pork, beef, and veal, are juicy and fatty without being greasy. Two racquetball-sized meatballs fill the sub, so that a cross-section looks like a meatloaf wrapped in a pizza. A bubbling top layer of mozzarella and provolone sprinkled with Parmesan seals everything in the roll, while another layer below the meatballs ensures that as eaters nibble away at alternating sides like a woodchuck, each bite includes a little bit of that gooey mozzarella that’s just a few stretches shy of taffy.
Perfectly cooked local and house-made ingredients mixed with an overdose of carbs, cheese, and meat, Rotten City’s meatball sub is the alchemical combination of comfort food and guilty pleasure. It’s just the thing for days when even Elmo is down in the dumps.
Rotten City Pizza, 6613 Hollis St., Emeryville, 510-655-2489, www.RottenCityPizza.com.